Kitemare and Yankee Doo-doo

‘All hands on deck!’ – 2 nights ago I had the dubious pleasure of twice making the call to wake everybody below – twice one night. It’s been a busy couple of nights and days since I last wrote, and it’s already difficult to remember things in the right sequence.
It was first night watch. We were having some fantastic sailing with white sails up, reaching along with frequent surfs in the mid to high teens. The helm was light as a feather; our new, new rudder bearings have given Henrietta back her Rolls-Royce feel. SO we were absolutely roaring along the sky star-splashed berween tall clouds, phosphorescence in the flashing wake behind us. Meg was down below (with the lurgy), James was enjoying his birthday/mother sleep, and tooards the end of the watch Nick too went down to get some early rest. That left me, Nico, and new legger Colin, who took over the helm for the last half our.’TIme to conquer the mighty Pacific’, he said, and after standing by for 10 minutes or so I could see he was happy and comfortable with the helm. It was going to be an easy 20 minutes and then we’d be tucked up in bed…
Then suddenly, the sound of a flogging sail. We were momentarily confused – our course had not changed, and the man was still full and driving. But it was soon obvious the yankee sheet had broken, and the sail was fogging free ont he foredeck. That was the first ‘all hands’. A flogging yankee, still pinned to the windward side by the lazy sheet, takes the shape of a large paper bag and can soon destroy itself in high winds. THe lazy sheet too can easily cause injuries as it whips around dangerously near the cockpit crew. So we turn downwind to ‘blanket’ the yankee behind the main, getting the wind out of it slowing down the boat, and let go the halyard so the sail just drops, partly on the foredeck, and usually partly in the sea. So all hands are then needed to get it under control, heaving it out of the water and back so that it is not jammed between the inner forestay and the stanchions. THen we can reattach the sheet and rehoist.
But this time on the rehoist, Morgan thought he saw sky through a hole in the sail. We had to drop it again. THis time it also wrapped itself round the forestay, making our job even more difficult. Then we had to unhank and pull back the sail so that we could properly flake and inspect it on the high side near the cockpit. As our 20 minutes before bed stretched to an hour and a half, there was some gallows humour – Heather, CHris, Kevin and I sat near the mast holding down acres of white cloth in the rain – lit by the gentle glow of our steaming light, it felt exaclty like some bizzare picnic, with the wind trying to steal the table cloth. Only nobody had brought the cheese and wine. THat was the moment we minted the term ‘yankee doo-doo’ for the white sails equivalent of a kitemare. ANd eventually, it turned out there was no hole, just some black marks from previous adventures, so we got about half our off watch to sleep in.
Our next watch was the 4 to 8am – almost light from the start now as we have not changed our clocks to match our western progress. By now we were flying the A3 in light and unpredictable winds, our angle to the wind to tight for the light or medium weight kite. Some dark clouds started to pile up behind us. We were sailing faster, then all of a sudden, we slowed, and the kite seemed to disappear. As I was just in the companionway to check radar, and do the 3.30am wake call for the other watch, I got to make the call again, ‘All hands on deck, all hands!’. THis time they were a little confused, not quite able to believe that there was a snapped sheet, as the boat was sailing quietly and the spinnaker was flying like a flag from halyard and tack, rustling and shivering gently ahead of the boat. THe problem was to get hold of something to pull the sail back in – the lazy sheet, set up in a ‘letterbox’ ready to drop, had been pulled free by the wind and was now trailing beside us in the water, unreachable. Eric went out onto the bowsprit and attached a sheet to the tack of the sail – getting clobbered a few times by the heavy tack as the sail streamed and flopped out of control – and we were able to free the tackline, lower and pull in the sail from the tack.
In the middle of it all, standing on deck in the light drizzle, I saw that we were heading straight towards a silvery sunrise – no sun, but dazzling light making interference patterns with the continuous crumpling of the dark grey waves ahead. THere were albatrosses soaring in the distance. Even when it’s crazy, it can be beautiful out here, and we got to bed only about an hour too late.

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