We are still standing. A very bad night. The violence that the sea can heap on a boat is not describable. Think Joseph Conrad’s ‘Typhoon’.
It was bad when the front was approaching, we were heading east, going across the seas, with a north wind, and thus a north to south sea train. The boat would leap off some 15′ wave and crash in the trough, and why the mast stays up or the keel stays on is beyond me. The boats are essentially flat-bottomed and when they land – it is like a car crash, or, actually, like a continuous car crash.
Then when the front arrived, and the wind started to go from North to North Northwest to Northwest to West Northwest, we followed it around, keeping at right angles to it. The problem then is that we end up sailing directly into the sea that has been built up and the crashing gets much, much, much worse.
You can’t stand up on the boat without holding on with both hands, which makes doing things in the cockpit nearly impossible. And you can’t sit down at the chart table without holding on with one hand, which makes it difficult to type. The crashing shut down the computer monitor a half dozen times last night, which meant I had to go behind the chart table and reboot the laptop, which sounds simple, but its just a flat surface to sit on, and you could get thrown 8′ in either direction quite easily.
So this is what I think happened to start more chaos.
I’m sitting at the chart table, watching instruments, including the barograph, which will tell us where we are in the storm, and when we get past the midpoint, and the front. I’m holding on with my left hand, I reach out with my right hand to push the button on the barograph that will dim the backlight, the boat crashes off of, or gets crushed by, a breaking sea, or whatever, a big crash, and my finger moves off the barograph, across the keel canting control panel, and stabs the Standby button on the autopilot, which is about 8 inches away, which turns off the autopilot, so the boat then crash tacks, everything in the cabin comes flying across the cabin, the boat lays over on the other side, 4 tons of ballast water on the wrong side, 3 tons of keel bulb on the wrong side, the mainsail and boom are held by the preventer, the storm jib is backwinded into the daggerboard, the boat lies at 50 degrees of heel, and sits there, going sideways, making a bow wave with the side of the boat.
Or at least that’s what I think happened. Other possibility is that – after the crash tack, the pilot alarm goes off with a message Active Control Unit Missing. So maybe there was a cosmic level coincidence of timing of a pilot failure and my stabbing the wrong display at the chart table. We’re checking with the pilot people.
Eventually crash tacked back and continued. But when front went through, we had to change direction. I think that Jean Le Cam said that: ‘you can’t win the Vendée Globe with a good gybe, but you could sure lose it with a bad gybe’, and so he tacks always in the south, as does Alex Thomson, and likely many others. We have a good maneuver that works for 25 knots or under, but at 30, or 35 knots, not so well. And last night it did not work. It is an intricate maneuver, whereby the autopilot tacks the boat. But you have to drain the ballast tanks, and center the keel beforehand, so the boat is laying over at literally 50 or 60 degrees of heel, going forward enough at 70 degrees to the wind to make you think it might actually get through head to wind. It did the first time. But then when I decided to go back and continue north, it didn’t.
It’s pitch black dark, blowing 35-40 knots, 15-18 foot seas, and the boat is pinned at 60 degrees of heel going sideways. I was working things sitting on the cockpit floor, clipped on inside the coach roof protection because I was afraid that if one of these huge waves clobbered the bottom of the boat, that it would just launch me over the side of the boat into the water. It was stomach turning scary. But there is nothing to do except keep trying, otherwise, the boat will just sit there going sideways until – who knows – something breaks? It won’t fix the situation by itself. So I keep trying, and eventually, after about 30 minutes, and about 10 tries to come back up into the wind, we get through the tack, with the boat going just 1 knot. I turn off the pilot, jump to the tiller and pull to try to bear the boat away, and now of course I can’t do anything else because I’m back at the tiller steering. But we made it. Utterly Exhausted. Sorted the boat, got going where we wanted to go, went into the cabin, closed the door, climbed into the sleeping bag, and left the boat to do hopefully, the right thing.
Back inside, the cabin was a mess. One sleeping bag went 18′ from starboard bunk to port bunk. I eventually found everything except the Fuji camera. I knew it had to be somewhere on the port side where there are 2 bunks, and a space underneath the bottom one. There it was, underneath the bottom bunk, and underneath my laptop briefcase which was underneath the bottom bunk. Take your room at home, put it into a giant cement mixer, rotate, and see where stuff goes. That was last night at sea.