Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Storms of Life

I got another update from Martin this morning.  I have to say that I got a little teary with this one just knowing that Martin is out there wrestling the elements while still fighting off seasickness in the middle of the North Pacific.  As reported in Martin's previous post, they have a broken bowsprit which made flying a spinnaker impossible in fair winds, but after reading this post, it looks like they won't need one for awhile anyway.



"Yesterday I woke up to the sounds of the crew frantically moving around up on deck. From my bunk on the leeward side, I hear the water rush by my right ear and I knew we were moving fast and heeled over hard. Soon, the sounds of water surrounded me and I listened with fascination as the water rushed down the deck just inches above me. Was I trapped? Then came the call: “All hands on deck!” As I scrambled out of bed and put on my foulies, I then heard a second call: “All hands on!”

The scene on deck was an exciting one. The wind was howling and the waves were a frothy white. The third reef was in the mainsail but eight of the crew were up on the bow trying to drop and secure the headsails. I clip on to the safety lines and crawl forward on the slanted deck, dragging a big black sail bag to the bow with what I thought was the storm jib only to be told that it was the trysail. Foolish rookie mistake, as the name is stamped on the other side of the bag. I crawl back and get an identical black bag with the storm jib and drag it forward. Next I'm on the winch, grinding the sheet to trim it. Winds are 55 knots – with gusts at 65 – but I'm hot and sweaty. The wind literally blows the top of the waves off into the air and prevents them from building too big. Greybacks, as these waves are called, are hitting us broadside and pitch the boat side to side as well as up and down; frequently, they crash right over the side and we get soaked each time. Somehow water runs up my right sleeve and soaks my inner layers that keep me warm. With the sails now set for the storm, there is nothing to do on deck but hunker down and ride it out.

Because we are still in a race, as soon as the wind backs down some, Huw, our skipper, calls for the storm jib to be moved from the inner to the outer (front) forestay in lieu of a Yankee sail, and for the staysail to be set up again. Now I'm called to go forward to the bow with Tino and Dana to set the sails. Tino is from Barbados and is the kind of guy who doesn't always adhere to the boat routine but who you definitely depend on when things break down in the middle of a storm. Dana, a tax accountant from Los Angeles, is about five feet tall and is the closest thing to the Energizer Bunny I've ever seen. She is always the first to volunteer to take on the hard jobs.   Tino hanks (clips) the storm jib on to the forestay as Dana and I feed it to him while keeping it under control in the wind.

Meanwhile, we are getting doused repeatedly and bouncing up and down approaching liftoff velocity, where we could be thrown in the air. The storm jib gets hoisted and we then pull hard to hank on the staysail on the inner forestay. Once it gets hoisted, I lean against the forestay for a moment feeling elated that I had experienced the storm, did my job, and all was well. It’s one of those memories I'll cherish. Greybacks were still plentiful, but their ferocity had diminished. Just as I move aft, a big wave launches Dana and she goes flying up in the air and crash lands hard on a cleat. It caught us by surprise, and she doesn't know whether to laugh or cry with the pain.

Sitting on deck with my back to the wind and spray for an hour leaves me cold and nauseous. I sit down on the floor to get out of the wind and endure another hour, but the nauseousness builds despite my focusing on the clouds and horizon. I go below and as soon as I'm inside, the nausea overtakes me and I start repeatedly puking while laying on a sail. I lay there for several hours realizing how drained I am until our watch is finally over and my bunk is free. I drag myself to bed.

The next morning, my appetite has returned and I try to rehydrate. The seas have calmed and the sun is shining. It seems to be a whole new world outside, and my dread of nausea turns to lightheartedness. The day is spent organizing and drying out our gear. We joke that only 15 hours before the storm, the Pacific was calm enough to swim in.

Late in the day, we get a weather update. There is a huge low forecast to reach us by tomorrow night, which means another storm is coming. This one is expected to easily last three to four days. Here we go again!