It’s 12:15 A.M. My arms are wrapped around the boom holding on tight like I’m wrestling an alligator. I’m scared, but loving it too. Wind tries to rip me off with the help of the bouncing seas. Cold rain pelts my bare back stinging as it hits. It’s so cold and hard and big it feels like hail. I’m screaming to Lindsey at the top of my lungs, who is only nine feet away but can’t hear me well, to tighten the mainsheet. It takes about ten seconds and then I’m really swinging back and forth on the boom.
A minute and a half earlier, I was sound asleep in my room snuggled up to Lindsey. Damian calls down to get me; the wind is acting strange he says. When I look at the helm, the wind has clocked around and is now directly behind us. An accidental jibe, where the boom gets wind from the other side and slams to the opposite side of the boat, is now a distinct possibility. I turn Rivers2Seas 20 degrees to port. I yell to Damian to pull in the jib while I loosen it. As we manage that, Lindsey is on scene donning her PFD.
Engines are started and Lindsey turns the boat around so that we can go into the wind to drop the mainsail. With the large following seas it’s a bit tricky to time when to turn and miss a wave hitting us broadside. The complete darkness makes it almost impossible. I have my harness buckled to my PFD and am making my way to the mast, clipping and unclipping my two straps to the jacklines surrounding the boat. The key is to always have one clipped in. With the jib pulled out to the side, I must clip and unclip eight times before I’m to the mast. By the time I get there, Lindsey has us into the wind, which is now up to 36.2 knots. Lindsey is focused on the boat displays and steering. Damian is trying to focus on me; he can’t see me. All he can see is my headlamp dimly through the rain. Luckily, he doesn’t see it go overboard.
Quickly pulling the main halyard off the brake and lowering it quickly, the mainsail plummets. There is no nice flaking of the sail tonight. Get it down, fast is all I can think. Once down I try to get it into the sailbag but can’t because the sailties holding the reef in essentially get rid of the sailbag. I try to pull the sail in doing a crappy flake job when the boom slides quickly towards me. The sail is being pulled up by the wind. I jump aboard and hold on. That’s when I started yelling to Lindsey to pull in the mainsheet, which would steady the boom.
She couldn’t see me or see what I was doing. She’s nine feet away and the rain is so thick we can scarcely see each other. Wind is truly howling around us. Alarms about the wind speed are going off and she is trying to maintain direction. Normally, we loosen the mainsheet just before dousing the main to help it slide down with the wind. She had no idea that I had already taken it down – certainly an all-time speed record on my part. So when she told Damian to loosen the mainsheet, that’s what we normally would have done. This wasn’t normal. That’s why I’m flying around on the boom being rocked crazily back and forth. My screams to “tighten, TIGHTEN!!!” were finally understood and the boom stabilized. I wrapped a line around the sail, called it good and made my way back to the cockpit.
We turned the boat around again to go with the seas and wind under motor. Radar showed that this wasn’t that big of a storm only about six miles across, so it should be over soon. It’s wasn’t. Rivers2Seas was screaming along at 9-10 knots with the engines on 2000rpm (about 2/3 power). Even without sails a sailboat can move in high winds. We were following the storm and staying with it. Turning the boat around to go into the waves and let the storm get in front of us didn’t work either. No matter what we did the storm stayed directly above us. We resumed coarse again and watched the lightning show.
Most of the lightning is off in the distance, but some is within a mile. Lindsey and the kids head down into the hulls for safety. She was worried about the situation and decided to put the kids’ wetsuits on. I suppose there were some good wave crashes and we caught some big surfs on the waves. We even recorded a 12.5 knot surf down one of the big ones. So I suppose her being worried and proactive was a good thing. A good friend of ours Eric has a saying, “if you’re not scared now, you’re not paying attention.” I am paying attention. The kids wanted to read the Little Mermaid, which starts out with a boat being hit by lightning and blown to smithereens. Somehow they liked it.
Putting the handheld GPS and VHF radio in the oven is the last precautionary measure I can do. The theory is that the oven can act like a Faraday cage when lightning strikes and protect the instruments inside. Every other electrical object with a computer chip will be destroyed. I hope we don’t test the theory.
I have been wearing only shorts and the cold rain has me shivering uncontrollably. Rain blasts at my eyes that now have clear sunglasses on to protect them. But my skin must be blue. Luckily, every once in a while a wave splashes over the rail and douses me with the 86-degree seawater; it feels like a hot tub. I head to our cabin for warm clothes and finally get to wear my Denver Broncos wool cap. How far south have we gone?
The storm stays with us for two hours slowly deteriorating. Damian has gone to bed. Lindsey and the kids are “sleeping” in our cabin. Neither liked the lightning. Chase didn’t like the stuffy cabin and was throwing up in a bowl. So, nobody was all that comfortable. My shift ends at 5AM, I wake Damian, then collapse onto the sofa.
It’s one of the many times we are thankful to have Damian here. Passages are difficult. Sailing with kids is difficult. Doing both together can tax a couple. Having him here has taken off some of the load. The kids love “Worm” too. Chase especially likes throwing him overboard. They tell him innumerable stories of life with great enthusiasm. He has also become chief dishwasher, which has helped too. Pitching in with everything and enthusiastically – he’s a great team member aboard Rivers2Seas. We should have him back when it’s vacation time in easy islands. One of these days I wouldn’t mind having a mechanic onboard. My brain and knuckles could use a rest.
Somehow, the starter on the port engine has now failed. Frustrating! Tests and curses have confirmed that it’s bad. My book on how to fix everything from Niger Calder saves the day when he says that I can “push start” the engine using the propeller. Put it in neutral, turn the key, then slam the throttle forward. Rev, reeevv. The engine hums to life. I have always been impressed with Lindsey for push starting a school bus for me once. Now, I can boast about push starting a boat. “You have to kick real hard…maybe wear some fins to push the 15 tons.”
We make it into Santa Marta Colombia with a fast passage of 2 nights and 3 days. The kids never asked once “are we there yet” during either of our latest passages that totaled over 130 hours of sailing time. We have our little sailors. I’m proud of them.