The past week has been an interesting one out here on the Southern Ocean. Six days ago we crossed the 2000 miles from Cape Town line and just yesterday we made that 3000 miles from Cape Town. Turning around and looking the other way, it’s about 4000 miles yet to New Zealand. So on we go!
Early in the week, a series of cold fronts and low-pressure systems brought prolonged heavy winds and big seas for days at a stretch. Each day was pretty much the same as the one before it … more big winds and more big seas! Bodacious Dream and I handled it well, but we sure could have used a bit of a break. Like them or not, these are the prevailing conditions at the moment, and until I get about 500 miles further east, they will likely continue.
In the meantime, getting to experience storms up close, you begin to appreciate them not only for their great strength, but also for their great beauty; the size and shape of the waves, the rhythmic intensity of the winds, the swirling curtains of rain and the constantly shifting watercolor shades of grey. I try to capture some of these elements in my photographs, but they rarely show the bracing brilliance that you feel moving through the storm-charged air. As I’ve never before been in such extreme conditions for such an extended period of time, I am finding it all just mesmerizing. (I’ve shot quite a bit of video though, and once I’m back in Internet range, I’ll begin to upload some of it for you to see.)
So, what do you do when it’s storming out? Basically, you hunker down! You keep yourself wrapped in your foul weather gear, and at the ready to kick into action to address any situation that arises. In between times, I often sit below in the companionway and watch the storm (and time) go by. Occasionally, I read a bit from one of my books, but it’s a challenge to let your mind relax and drift away when all that’s going on around you is of such pressing importance and so incessant in its demands on your attention.
Not having a new video to send you, here is a video shot in the days before arriving in Cape Town taken in the gray morning after a long night of wet and windy weather.
Dave doing some hunkering down from the end of Leg 1
One of my little tricks to stay focused is to draw up a time schedule for extended storms. On it I mark for each hour the things I need to do; charging batteries, checking for water, navigating, making notes in the log, circling the deck and double-checking my gear. When each hour has passed, I cross it off. I do this on the sidewall of the cabin down below, and I find it helps to pass the time … but more importantly, it’s my way of making sure I don’t forget something very important in the process.
In harsh weather, the simple act of preparing and eating food takes on a new level of difficulty. Boiling water in rough weather is not so easy and can even be dangerous. Fortunately, the freeze-dried packaged foods CAN be eaten with cold water … but they’re certainly a heck of a lot better with hot water! So it is that cookies, crackers, cheese, beef jerky, chocolate and candies become your go-to snacks, though I sometimes have to scold myself to not eat so much of the candy!
When the wind is building up, one of the more difficult tasks is getting the mainsail under control. This is the large sail on the mast. It has a number of what are called “reef” points that allow you to reduce the size of the sail so that there’s less of it there to catch the more bullying winds. When the winds get to 30 knots or more, I pull the mainsail down to the storm “stub,” which is just a small bit of sail material above the boom. Sometimes, I take it down all the way. This can be rather difficult because when you get to that point in the storm, the winds are pushing the sail against the mast and rigging, making for a lot of friction which requires a lot more effort to take control of the sail. I occasionally find myself hanging my entire 210 pounds from the sail and it not moving at all!
When that happens, I have another system I use. I go up to the mast, climb up on the boom, hook a line over a part of the sail as high up as I can reach, and then bring the line back down to a winch, and then winch down the sail. Then I do the same thing again, and again a third time until I have it all down to the boom! It’s quite the physical feat, especially when you throw in wind, rain and waves, but it’s a necessity too … so you try to do it sooner than later. That’s not always a choice though, as sometimes the wind will just show up unannounced, in which case, it becomes a super handful of a job. But the good thing is that once the sail is down and tied to the boom, the boat becomes a lot easier to control because the small sail on the bow “pulls” the boat along, like it was a trailer behind a car as opposed to what happens when the mainsail is doing the work, where it’s more like a car “pushing” the trailer.
You know, now that I think about it, there are a lot of conversations going on between me and various parts of the boat … and the one I have going with the mainsail is among the most … well, comical I suppose, because it’s a bigger beast to tame.
By the way, in the Explorer Guides that we launched this past week in our previous BDX post, there is one called “Sailboat Glossary” that shows a picture of a single-masted sailboat like BoDream and shows you the names of all the main parts. Check it out, if you like.
From one of our new Explorer Guides
Well, it’s getting close to dark here, and predictably, the winds are supposed to build up again tonight and then even more tomorrow, so I want to get all my gear and schedules in order so I can keep control of this here boat. I guess sleep will have to wait until another day. I do get some sleep though over the course of the day, but it’s not easy when the winds are up and storms are shaking the house.
I’ve heard a lot of you have had it rough too with the recent and fiercely cold winter storms. I sure hope it’s breaking where you are and that the temperatures are starting to climb up again.
Be back as soon as I can …
- Dave, Bodacious Dream (and the soggy) Franklin
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