The cold front arrives

It was only 20 minutes after finishing my last post, towards the end of the first dog watch when the cold front arrived. A change of wind through 90 degrees in a matter of minutes, and it was ‘all hands on deck’ to put in reefs and drop the yankee. Just in tie too, as soon we were rollicking downwind with gusts in the 50 knot range. A big change like that causes a confused sea, and it was of course as dark as the inside of a black merino wool sock out there. Eric was on the helm to start with – and for a large portion of the next 8 hours, in fact. With the steaming light on you could see a fine mist of spray being whipped up from the water and rising half way up the rig like smoke.
Starboard watch were first on last night – Eric and Morgan shared the helming through the first onslaught of the new wind. Then it was port’s turn, and Nick and I were the helms. At first I was downstairs, sitting on top of the engine with my head in a rck of drying laundry, hand pumping fuel into the day tank. But that;s really another story, one best not lingered over. As I was getting ready to go up Eric appeared looking very wet but perfectly happy – he told me that it was ‘light’ now, and fun. I knew he didn’t mean daylight or moonlight, and since I could clearly hear the wind moaning and screamng through the rigging, I didn’t think he meant light wind, either. He clarified that the helm was not too heavy – and he thought we’d be fine.
It was in fact quite fun helming – the wind mostly in the mid thrites and sometimes forties. The waves had built up a lot – with the steaming light on you can’t see anything outside our little circle of light, so all you know of the waves is what you can feel, except for the roaring crests that get lit up as they pass by, or the ones that suddenly appear in your peripheral vision, towering above your shoulder. We had waves big enough to pick up the entire boat and bury the bowsprit briefly, before hurling as forward at surfing speeds near 20 knots. Others, coming more from the beam in the confusion, dumped swaths of spray over everything. One particularly large crest roard right over us – I was up to my chin in white water, thinking ‘what happens now?’. In the end what happenned is I just hung on to the wheel and kept trying to point the boat in the right direction. James, backup helm on the low side, was buried waist deep, and even Colin, usually a man of few words, yelled from his post on the vang that that was ‘a VERY big wave’.
But no harm was done, and by 3am I began to see some sky at last – silvery cracks in the enveloping darkness heralding the arrival of daylight, and even some somall patches of clear sky between the clouds. THere was no sunrise to speak of, the blackness just shifted imperceptibly to grey, and the day crept upon us. It revealed a huge expanse of roaring white and grey, with the usual two or three Laysan albatrosses still scouring the surface for food. Seeing one of those huge birds, tiny against the face of a wave, helped crystalizre the size of the waves. For port watch, it was bedtime, and a well deserved rest until breakfast time.
Today Heather and I mothered together. THere was sunshine, rain, hail, sunshine again. The crew on deck gradually increased sail, until the full main and yankee three were up again. Mid-afternoon I was sitting on the high side in the saloon checking email, when suddenly the boat was pinned down on her side for what seemed a very long time. It is unusual to look out of the companionway and see only water, no sky at all – I sat trying to capture it in pictures as Eric quickly grabbed a lifejacket and went up on deck. We must have been held down for 3 minutes altogether – the team finally released the yankee sheet and Henrietta stood up again. THen it was all hands on deck again to reduce sail. APparently the wind had suddenly gone from 30 to 60 knots – and we definitely din’t have the right sail plan for that.
It was beautiful up there though – the sun, already low in the western sky. highlighting the towering waves; the sailsand the bright reds and yellows of foul-weather gear lit up in sharp contrast to the dark grey sea. THe mighty Pacific is certainly putting on a show for us!

3 thoughts on “The cold front arrives

  1. Just wanting you to know, Sarah, how much my husband and I have enjoyed your reports with our morning coffee over the past few months. Sailing with the Henri Lloyd crew, if only from very comfortable armchairs in Mexico, has been a gift to us thanks to your amazing descriptions and Eric’s skipper reports. I so look forward to meeting you in San Francisco when Eric’s mom, his aunt Julie, and his “sailing aunties” for the past 30 years will be there to celebrate our friendships, our love of sailing and the Clipper fleet’s remarkable adventures. Until then, may the Pacific give you and all the teams much joy as well as challenges. Of course, you know which team we’re cheering for. Go, Henrietta, go!

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