A Very Rough Night At Sea

April 2, 2010; 293 NM from Uligan, The Maldives

A calm sunset after the seas calmed. True, we have no photo of the rough seas that we were battling earlier, because no one feels like taking pictures when you’re living inside a washing machine!

Certainly, passages are never boring. Take last night for example.


We’re still close-hauled to the wind, unable to make much better than 60 degrees to our target, Uligan, in the Maldives. When the wind is moderate, being close-hauled is just a little bit bumpy, as you’re coming as close as possible to meeting the oncoming seas head on as you can. But when the wind picks up, it can get uncomfortable quickly. At 15 knots its OK. At 20 it is less pleasant. At 25 and above it can be downright awful.

As the sun set last night, it was blowing about 18. Before Paul went off watch and went to sleep, we agreed that it made sense to put a single reef in the main and jib, just in case, which we did. During the course of the evening, the wind did in fact pick up steadily, so by the time that Paul came back on watch at Midnight, it was blowing 22ish. That’s still OK with a single reef, but it begins to push it, as the boat begins to lean considerably, throwing its rail into the water. Off watch, down below, with the boat crashing sideways and slanted into the waves, it sounds like someone is taking a baseball bat to the hull, just outside where you are trying to doze, and gives a more solid CRACK! from time to irregular time. We hadn’t had seas like this since our arduous passages to and from New Zealand.

When you try to move about in this situation, gravity plays tricks. The floor is sideways, not down, and the wall is down. Well it was. Now the wall is sideways! Nope, wait. It’s down again! Quick, hold on as you try to walk to the head. Forget about peeing standing up, as the pee naturally flows down, but that’s not where the commode is! So you sit, with arms and legs braced against walls and floors, like a spider in a rotating web.

On deck, Paul listened to the wind generator scream like a banshee. This banshee didn’t sound like it was way off in the Irish moors, however, but right next to your ear. If it is screaming, it means that the wind is picking up to 25 and then 30 knots. The boat was now healed over considerably, and the whistling and pounding magnified. Paul ground his teeth and tried to hide under his pillow. “I don’t want to reef the sails.” Paul knew that he had to put another reef in, soon, but tried to delay the inevitable. It’s no fun doing it at night in seas like this.

First step was to shut down that pesky wind generator, which does no man no good, but does ratchet up the stress level. In over 30 knots of wind, it just shunts itself off, providing no electricity, but the noise of a jet engine.  Really. The only way to get it to stop is to climb atop the life-raft case, which is mounted to the arch, and lean up and out to grab the back of the thing, pull it sideways to the wind so it stops spinning, and bungie-tie it to a stopped position. A difficult task, not unlike rock-climbing, but made more difficult by the boat pitching back and forth, and made all the more intimidating by the screaming blades (“What are you f—ing crazy?” asked a passenger, when we first did this in the Caribbean.) But it got done, the screaming stopped, and Paul moved to the main sail.

We usually turn the boat down wind to do these tasks, and that takes some of the wind out of, and pressure off of, the sails. Usually it goes pretty quickly, but sometimes a sail batten will get caught up in our lazy jack lines, requiring you to climb around or jump up on the boom to pull things loose. This one went well, and Paul, wearing his life jacket and tether, as always, put another reef in, secured the lines, and went back to the cockpit. Our jib is more easily reefed, and can be controlled from the cockpit. With the sail area reduced, we turned the boat back into the wind. Now, with less canvas presented to the wind, the boat’s leaning diminished, and we had it easier for the rest of the night.

We tacked the boat at about 4 a.m., just 20 miles from the bottom of India, and continued to crawl sideways towards our goal. With all this work, what do we have to show for it? Not much! We sailed about 80 miles yesterday, but made only 34 miles good (!) towards our destination.

Beating is not much fun, and we look forward to getting away from these westerlies. The forecast calls for the winds to moderate now, and so we think that the beating against strong winds is just about over. Already, they’ve begun to moderate, and today has been an easier sail, coasting in easier 12 knot winds.

It would be nice to be bored for a little while.

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