First of all, a big thank you to everyone who sent me birthday wishes. I even picked up some from email as we passed the bottom of Kyushu – although I couldn’t reply. It was a lovely day, and I’m rather glad we weren’t surfing waves at 33.9 knots, as that would have made mothering very difficult!
If the rest of this race continues in the pattern of the last couple of days, there won’t be much time for blogging. While I had quite a restful day mothering, the rest of the crew were working hard with sail changes. I’m sure I helped untangle the windseeker at least 3 times, and there were spinnakers being wooled too, as well as the yankee 1 going up and down on deck. The pattern continued through the night, with extra hands from the off watches being woken regularly to help with changes. Yesterday morning we awoke to hazy sun, and the A3 went up. In no time there was a call for all hands on deck as the tack line tripped itself, meaning we needed a swift drop. THe A2 went up instead, and fortunately turned out to be the right sail for the morning watch.
In the afternoon, it was our watch’s turn (port). We went up expecting more sunny, warm conditions – but things began to change. The wind built, at first it was fun and exciting flying along over the small waves with speeds often reaching the low 20s. Henrietta seemed to be impersonating a dolphin, trying to leap from wave to wave – as she was going faster than them, she often ended up belly-flopping into the next wave, rather ungracefully. Eventually I found myself helming with gusts to around 30 knots – too much for the A2. SUre enough we had a couple of knockdowns – when the sails overpower the boat so much that she stops responding to the helm, and is pinned on her side until we can release sheets, the vang, the helm – everything! THe sky changed from hazy sun to angry grey, and the dark sea was slashed with white foam crests as far as we could see. Again it was all hands on deck to get the A2 down, not easy in so much wind, but accomplished safely. I was still helming as we ran along at up to 15 knots under main alone. Eric and the team were preparing the A3 for a hoist – I must admit, back at the helm on my own, I wondered if this was wise! A ship from the opposite direction was passing us to port, upwind, as we raised the A3. Sure enough a big gust took control, and we had a big round-up (like a knockdown except the boat spins its nose up towards the wind). I was not happy lurching towards the path of the ship, completely out of control. But as always, Henrietta came back to her senses, and we once again started flying over the increasingly disgruntled looking waves. In fact the wind very quickly dropped back donw to something reasonable, giving us great surfing conditions as the swell increased. And we saw a whale! We exhorted hoim to head west to California, where he’d be in no danger of being eaten, as he spouted a couple of times, flipped his tail at us, and dissappeared.
OUr difficulties continued through the night – we caught sight of Switzerland in the dog watch, and swiftly bore down on them, until just as we felt sure we would pass them, the wind became too great for the A3. Another all hands drop, and up went the Yankee 1 (saving it from being washed off the foredeck, as it had threatened to do when we dived through waves with the kite up). We flew the Yankee 1 into the night, adding reefs to the main as conditions got more difficult. In the end though, it was all hands on deck again, at about 2:30am, to drop it. Just as we strufggled to get up on deck, the Ynakee sheet broke, making us choose an even faster drop tan plnned. ANother half hour of sleep, and we were on watch again. This time it ws magical, hrtling along in bright moonlight, with the right sailplan, all under control. We passed from silver to shadow, huge waves obscuring everything around us as clouds scurried across the sky. And this morning, even mor splendid siling, bright sunshine and some handsome birds. If this is the Pacific, it feels good so far!