That One Bit Us Pretty Hard

20 Jan

January 18, 2019/Day 139

Noon Position: 45 43S  93 42E

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ExS

Miles since departure: 14,762

Avg. Miles/Day: 139

Yesterday began at two-thirty in the morning, when the effects of the approaching low started to become apparent. The barometer had been dropping fast since 10pm, from 1010 to 1002mb in four hours, but now a gentle, 20-knot breeze went decidedly N of NW and quickly hardened to 25.

At midnight I’d taken down the poles and put up the main. Now I dropped the main instead of reefing it (no reason for half measures), lashed it to the boom, and went right back to my bunk. This would be my last chance for sleep, I knew.

By 4:30am, winds were a steady 30 knots, and the barometer had fallen another four points to 998. Now there was light enough to make out the action beyond Mo’s gunnels. Seas were smack on the beam but plenty manageable. The sky, a color between charcoal and cement, felt as though it were pushing down on the water.

The system’s front hit us at 6am. Winds 35 to 40 with frequent and long, pumping gusts of 45. A heavy, pelting rain. Barometer down another two points. I tightened up the working jib to my “fourth” reef position and wondered if I should take more.

Within an hour the front had passed, and then the low settled in to do its business, blowing a steady 25 to 35 from the NW. Seas began to heap up and fall inward. During gusts, the tops were blown off. Long, wide crests broke together and stained the black water with large patches of cream and ice blue. The barometer kept on sliding. At each two-hour log entry, it was down another two points.

Then, ever so slowly, wind began to back into the W. We reached the top of the low at 2pm, when the barometer finally flattened out at 989. But the wind pressed harder–40 to 45 was common. The log reads, “Seas big; some plunge-breaking, often heavily.” Two hours later, “Crazy, mish-mash heavy sea. Pyramidal.” At 5pm, “Long gusts to 50. Working jib down to a hanky. Speed down to 6 and 7 knots, but Monte has much better control.” At 5:45, “Our first roaring surf down a wave.”

To this point, Mo had handled the seas with a sure-footed grace; always at the center of the surrounding chaos, her decks seemed as still and solid as mother-earth. Yes, there were times when she stumbled, fell off a sea and was thrown over to the windows, but she came back to rights and shook things off so quickly that the fall seemed hardly worth mentioning.

This changed after dark.

Unlike the first Figure 8 attempt, this time around most of the lows we’ve encountered have come to their maturity during daylight. Just so, this one. And having spent the day engaging it, I felt I had a sense of the field of action and could gybe around with confidence when the time came.

By sundown, the barometer was up six points from its lowest and wind had eased into the low 30s while continuing to back SW. All according to plan, I thought. The wind was pulling Mo further and further abeam the sea, and at 8pm, I judged it time. We gybed around from a course just N of E to one just S of E.

Within the hour, winds returned to blowing in the 40s, and soon Mo was being thrown down hard. One time, as I was entering the pilot house, a sea broke smack on the starboard quarter. I remember hearing it come out of the blackness. I remember looking up as if looking at the sky, and there was a white wall heaving at us. It hit with a slam. Mo went all the way over. Water everywhere. Down my foulies and past me into the pilot house. Cockpit a bathtub. Lines pulled from their coils and thrown over the side. A mainsail reef line at the mast ended up trailing aft and fouling the hydrogenerator propellor all the way at the stern. The jib sheet (the one in use) wound around the heater flue.

I got the message. I put Mo back on her original course of NW. No more knocks. Luckily the water in the boat hadn’t done any damage to electronics, and I soon had the area mopped up.

By now it was 1am. I’d been up for twenty hours; was wet through, achingly cold, beginning to feel undone. Wind had eased significantly; the time had come to start adding back all the sail we’d withdrawn so long ago, but I did not. I left Mo with but a handkerchief of a jib, tore off my foulies and hit the sack. I didn’t even set an alarm.

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage


  1. Steven DIONNE

    Great story and great photos! Thanks for taking the time to share your experiences with the armchair sailors!

  2. Gus van Driel

    Randall, you are a much, much tougher guy than me. Compared to this, waterboarding almost sounds like it would be fun.

    Be safe and thank you for sharing your experience with us. I wish you well on your journey!

  3. David Walsh

    I am finding it fascinating reading your posts and updates. I pray that all goes well for you and that you complete your voyage safely.

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