Sailors everywhere know the disappointment of the whims of the wind. In the Pacific Northwest if you don't motor sail you don't sail. No matter where you're headed it seems that the winds are on your nose until that is you turn around to go home and then they shift and are on your nose for the return trip too. The Pacific trade winds are usually an exception to the rule yet once again the winds are not cooperating.
First the winds were too light and for days our sails were banging and popping as they filled and dumped the bursts of air. They also evidently only wanted to send us anywhere except west. Then they began to fill in, lots of wind free for the taking but now they blow from directly behind us and with our broken whisker pole and the lost halyard we can't go directly downwind. For every inch of west we could scrape out we had to accept the penalty of also moving north.
Then as the winds built so did the swells. Because of a high pressure ridge to the north of us and another system to the south though the winds are from the north east we have two sets of swell one from the NE and another from the SE. Let me explain what that means: hours on end of sailing merrily along while being pushed around first from the NW and then from the SW. The boat rocks back and forth steadily until it doesn't quite know which way it wants to throw our 32,000 pounds. It is immensely uncomfortable. It makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to move around, sleep, stand up, sit down, climb the companion way, make a cup of tea or put anything even close to a real meal together. One wrong move and the effects of gravity and motion take over. Thankfully no real injuries but the constant pin-ball effect is defiantly leaving bruises.
Now at least we are moving which is great except we are still going in the wrong direction. The winds have now ramped up and the washing machines like seas are close together, unorganized and 6 to 8 feet high. Speed is no longer the issue. In fact we are doing all we can to slow the boat down. Trying for control we are sailing along with just our head sail or stay'sl and a reefed main.
Each night I sit my watch in the cockpit and watch the "windicator" rise: 12mph, 14mph, 17mph, 22mph - last night to 30- I lock my eyes on the chart plotter and watch our speed ratchet up. The normal speeds when it comes to sailing are relatively slow. Our hull speed is 8.4 knots. We travel under power at around 6.5 knots and are pleased to average 5 to 6 knots while under sail. The wind and waves has us surfing down the wave crests at over 10 knots. Speed is not your friend.
In the middle of the night your perceptions change. You can't see the swells coming but all around you they crash and swoosh, hitting the side of the boat, sometimes slapping spray into the cockpit or across the dodger windows and occasionally we take one hard across the stern. The wind whistles in your ears and the boat groans and creeks as it rocks off a swell. There is constant noise from down below as the contents of lockers rattle and clank and occasionally some item reaches its limit and goes crashing across the cabin, somewhere. It's eerie and a bit scary as you're true speed gets very distorted. It sounds a lot like you are rocketing along on a freight train.
Now for four days now we have been sailing along with nothing but a little bit of a hankie sail in order to keep our boat speed down and add some level of comfort. In the mean time the swell gives us the added benefit of crashing into Island Bound and sending cascades of water every which way. Yesterday afternoon Bill asked if all the cabin hatches were dogged down so I scurried down to check. Sure enough the one over our bed and the one in the main cabin were closed but not locked. So I locked them. Later while I was trying to catch a little nap we took a big wave which instantly informed me that the hatch over our bed was not dogged down but rather was in the one inch open but locked mode. Saltwater poured in soaking pillows, bed spread, blanket, sheets and mattress.
We have had water in the boat before but this is the most we have ever had and the absolute worst timing. The salt water doesn't dry it just leaves a sort of sticky dampness which spreads to anything it touches. In order to set things right I will have to rinse everything multiple times and then hang to dry. But I can barely walk the cabin so my bucket washing system is out of the question. Where would I hang wet laundry to dry? Not outside where the salts spray is still raging. Don't forget, the next laundry mat we see will be months from now.
So, let me honest with you here. This put me into a bit of a tizzy. The aft cabin is my refuge. I bought lovely sheets, made black out curtains so I can sleep on my off watch even when the sun is out and filled it with down pillows. The bunk is designed so that no matter which tack we are on I have a wall to scrunch up against. There aren't many rules in our house but there are rules about this bed on passages….no daytime clothes in the bed, no dirty feet in the bed, no icky sticky, just- gutted-a-fish on the back deck hands and feet, and of course everyone takes a shower on clean sheet day, no matter what. I'm really not neurotic I just have always been a little particular on this point.
So, here I am coming up on ½ way to Hiva Oa. Yes only half way! I've had no more than 3 ½ hours of sleep at any one time in the last 11 days and ever movement in the last 6 days has needed to be choreographer. I tore out a chunk of my toenail, bashed my head on the roofline above my bed, tried to tear out a piece of flesh on the companion way hasp, haven't really cook much of anything for days now and, AND my bed is full of salt water! I didn't really take it well, and worse yet it was all my fault.
Today was better. I got over the wet bed thing. I didn't have a choice really: nothing to do but strip the bed and pile everything together on the floor of the head to keep it out of the way and move on. The saltwater has migrated throughout the boat making everything it's touched a little sticky. We are doing only that which has to be done. Everything else goes to the end of the line. Last night the roll got so bad that when I went to relieve Bill for watch we discussed simply heaving to and getting some sleep. Heaving to is a sort of survival move, you backwind your headsail and your main and it stops your forward progress. When done right you simply stay in place or slowly move downwind. Screw forward progress.
We looked around into the darkness: 12 foot waves rolling and crashing by, no moon, slick decks, tired to beat all. But and the main sail was down. Our boat doesn't heave to without having the main up. To risky to go forward and raise the main in 30 knot winds so Bill went to get some sleep and I sat in the cockpit in the rain, on wet cushions, under a soggy wool blanket and waited for the sun to rise.
Today looks better, a little. We put up the main, triple reefed just in case. Good to keep our options open.