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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Fear of the Storm

There would be no mistaking those huge monster waves!' I said looking out to sea. Dark silhouettes would form along the horizon confirming the wave height. I wasn't seeing any. The darkness of night didn't help either and made it difficult to make certain. I remember a night like this about a year ago. Coming out of the breakwater, I looked along the edge of the sea and saw these massive forms of water suddenly break out of the dark horizon. Those were the big cresting waves crashing forward with white water as they moved speedily ahead. But I wasn't seeing that tonight. I also looked for white caps too but there was none. The wind wasn't blowing hard enough yet. The weather report had said the wave height was five to seven feet tonigh! And the wind report had been for at least 20 - 30 MPH winds and gusts. Could I be so deceived? Surely I wasn't wrong. So I steered my Columbia 22 cautiously out into the waves. A couple minutes out. Not getting that 'big wave' sensation. But there was something. What was it? I looked up at the next wave coming my way. It was deceptively bigger than it looked! 'Must be five or six feet!' I thought. There also was a significant valley below the wave too, which confirmed my suspicions. The wave wasn't breaking and the intervals between it was long - which took the fury out of it. Still it was definitely bigger than the average and I would need to keep my eye on these.

I tacked the boat to the northwest on a close reach and suddenly I caught a lot of speed. 'This is amazing!' I thought watching how the boat tore through the wave, cutting white water as it went. And yet because of the waves size, it almost seem to squirm up to the top! A very strange feeling! The sailboat must not have had as much wind at the bottom of the trough but as it made its way up, it was hit full on by the increasing wind. Then it would suddenly lean heavy into it giving it this 'squirming' like feeling. It was fun! I crawled out over the deck and knelt at the bow watching the boat approach each new wave. Yes, the swells were definitely bigger than they at first appeared. Suddenly the boat began to heel heavily and I held on tight to the safety rope so I wouldn't fall off into the sea! 'Man alive, we were going fast!' The wind was gaining power before my eyes. 'I better get back to the cockpit.' I thought. 'If anything goes wrong...'
Quickly I exited the safety rope and held on to the bottom of the boom as I jumped down into the cockpit. Taking the tiller in my hand, I turned the yacht downwind a bit and steered it from going so fast. It sure wasn't a storm yet but the sailing was incredible!

I tacked into the headwinds, going out to sea in a northwest direction. The ocean was very dark and foreboding. I had seen it this way many times before and calmed my spirit with the assurance of experience. Nevertheless, its important to remember that just when you think you can handle the sea, the sea can turn it up to the next level on you. This thought always keeps me humble. The wind would just have to increase to 20 MPH and the game rules would change. Right now it must be blowing 8 - 10 - so not so bad. I had my small storm sail all set up and ready to hoist in case things changed too. As it was, my little jib was up right now - but things would have to get a lot worse before I raised the storm sail. Nevertheless, it was true. I was flying along this fast with my small jib. It was after 9pm too. 'Hmmm. Warning signal.' Usually the wind calms at this time - but the wind was just getting stronger. I got a ways out to sea and was greatly enjoying the ride. But I wasn't going to be foolish tonight and either wait for the storm to really hit or for the winds to die. So I tacked back. On this reach, I was close hauled heading directly for the red beacon signal, with the big waves thrusting the sailboat forward with every interval. Nothing seemed to be boring tonight. It just kept getting better and better. I had to keep a watchful eye out because at anytime it could cross the line from 'better' to crazy. Ok, at least I was ready.
And within half an hour the 'crazy' began. Out of control gusts and this 'howling' noise in my ears. Thankfully I was nearing my slip by this time. 'What's concerning me is the angle of the wind! It's coming out of the north east and very hard. Because I don't have an engine, I use the sails all the way into my dock. And I usually ease out my sail as I come in to slow the boat down. But that's not going to work tonight! What to do? I'll have to take the main sail down just before I turn the corner to the dock!' I said trying to figure out how to take it down that fast and safely so I wouldn't crash into the half million dollar boats that would be nearby.
Ten minutes later when the time came to really take the main sail down, I knew I would literally only have 20 seconds to make this work. So I headed upwind into the gusting wind, jumped up on deck and tried to drop the wildly beating sail. I pulled down on it with all my might - just hoping against hope it wouldn't get snagged! It didn't. The wind was now pushing the boat fast sideways and in less than a minute would have me bumping into a docked sailboat. So I turned the boat 180 degrees and entered the last small 'finger channel' where my dock was. I came in to the slip - going super fast as if demons were on my heals! Unclipping the lifelines, I jumped out onto the wooden platform and ran with all my speed to the end so I could slow the bow of the boat down. As it approached the wooden dock, I was just able to stop it from hitting! Imagine how fast I would have come in if I hadn't taken my main sail down? With my main sail up and the wind pushing directly behind, it wouldn't have been pretty!

Albion

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