Tuesday 4 December 2012

ARC Day Six

After six days of fast but boisterous sailing we have covered over 1200 miles, averaging almost 200 miles per day. This evening the sea has calmed, the wind has dropped a little and we are reaching at around 8 knots through the starry night in relative comfort. Occasionally a gust hits us and we heel as we take the punch, then surge forwards before settling back into our long legged stride.

 Today started quite differently and as I came up on deck at 6am Kim was reefing the sails and preparing for a squall. Squalls begin their life as harmless fluffy white cumulus clouds drifting across the oceans and develop into drug-fuelled aggressive adolescents by drawing their opiate from the warm sea water which they store as latent energy in the form of water vapour. As the water content increases, they become menacing black clouds which obliterate the horizon with a column of dark air. The reason for this is that the squall has become unstable, releasing its energy in the form of pecipitation and as it starts to rain the cold air falls, accelerating until it hits the sea, fanning out in all directions with the strongest winds at the leading edge of the squall. 

This morning and for most of last night we have been surrounded by these marauding thugs which roam the oceans becoming more and more powerful until they seem unable to contain themselves any longer and vent their fury on any unsuspecting yachts that sails into their path.  As well as being able to spot these brutes visually as they bear down on us, we can pick them up on the radar about 10 miles out as an angry purple patch, together with their speed and direction of travel. Most of them charge by either in front or behind us but this one is heading straight for us, five miles across and loaded with venom. Kim and I reduce our sails until we have only a tiny headsail and triple reefed main and then we wait in the ominous calm before the storm. As the squall gets closer the sky darkens and we can see the water beneath being whipped up by the winds only half a mile away, but still there is an eerie calm on board Juno and Kim and I wait, armed for the encounter in foul weather gear, lifejacket and harness. The first sign is the anemometer which shows the wind speed climbing from 20 knots to 25, 28, 30 then 36 knots as we feel the brunt of the squalls opening attack and even with our heavily reefed sails we surge forward as the rain hits us blotting out the sky and we huddle under the fluorescent hoods of our jackets waiting to see if there is more grievous bodily harm to come. Then within moments, almost as if it has lost interest and is seeking out a more worthy adversary, the squall has moved on to hunt down its next victim, leaving us once more with no wind but with our decks nicely rinsed and a strong appetite for breakfast.

The weather is changing, the water is getting warmer, Andrew is in his swimming trunks while Kim and I drip dry in our foulies after our morning shower. The chart plotter shows us mid-Atlantic and Paul is doing his washing on the aft deck.


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