Words by Bryson
Latitude: 20 deg 30' S
Longitude: 173 deg 34' W
3am, he start of my shift. I heard the rapping on my window, I guess Hugh doesn't want to come down. Slowly the haze of sleep evaporated and the reality starts to seep in. Feeling around in the darkness for my headlamp, I began to remember the night. I can hear the steady upbeat percussion of raindrops on the deck, crawling out of my bunk I am slapped in the face by my soaking wet raingear. Pulling on my wet thermal top (Thanks Lex and Jarrett), my long underwear and putting on my wool toque and am less than enthused by the current situation. Over top of my warm underclothes, I slither into my rain jacket and pants, closing all the cuffs tightly to stop water running underneath them. Deep breath... here we go !
When the weather is poor, the companionway (main entrance to the cabin) is blocked off and only the sliding roof moves. So one needs to slide the roof open, clamber out and close it again before too much rain makes it's way into the only "dry" place on the boat. This requires dexterity and ninja-like skills not normally present at 3 am and often we find ourselves caught halfway or tumbling into the cockpit.
I open the roof to a welcome dosing of firing rain in the face, and jump out to relieve Hugh. The darkness is total and complete, only the soft red glow of our headlamps is present. At first I couldn't see Hugh, but huddled in a corner, looking down (to stop the rain-in-your-face effect) he sat. I took my position on the opposite bench and started to take stock. I do not think I will ever forget the scene in my life.
The two of us sitting there, all decked out in our leaky rain gear, just taking the full brunt of this downpour. Absolutely nothing we could do about it. The wind was howling and someone needed to be on deck at all times. Sitting there, looking across at each other, getting pummeled by the rain there was very little to be said. Just sit and take whatever came our way. The deck had a river of rain running over it, everything was soaked, and the rain wasn't abating. After a while, Hugh quietly says, "I have a new definition of when it is raining hard. When the rain falls so heavy and continuously that the ocean surface phosphoresence lights up." Looking out into the squall, we could see probably 15 feet before the rain was too heavy to see through and true enough the surface of the ocean was aglow with phorphoresence. Hmmm...
Well, not only was it raining that night, but the wind was howling 30 - 40 knots, the waves were a bit bigger than comfortable, and we had been sailing in this weather for 3 days. The cabin was absolutely soaked, the humidity inside was somewhere near 99 %, no-one had a dry bed, and there was abandoned rain gear lying everywhere...
The passage from Rarotonga to Tonga was looking to be nothing special, maybe even having more light winds than we were hoping for, but as always with the weather, the only thing that is certain is that it will not be what is predicted ! After 3 days of heavy rain and winds gusting to 43 knots, we had a day of cloudy overcast weather and a break.
That evening however, I was on the sunset shift when the wind started to blow again. Slowly increasing with every gust, and making the sails flutter and tap the mast. This creates an uneasy noise to accompany the gusts. You feel the wind in your face and you can hear the frequency of the tapping increase. I got off shift and passed over to Hugh. He in turn passed over to Ryan at about midnight. At this stage the wind was still slowly building and now was consistent blowing 35 - 37 knots. Ryan got the shift of the passage and, as always, he stoically sat outside and expertly sailed us through the peak of the winds for the next 3 hours. The winds were howling, the tapping had reached fever pitch and none of us wanted to be outside. At the beginning of my shift, I was not excited. Climbing out, Ry gave me a cheery welcome, "The wind is blowing us to 45 knots, we have had 4 waves break into the cockpit and it is still building." My heart sank and Ryan began to howl with laughter. "Just kidding, bro. Winds are dying, seas are great, we are through it !". Ryan is great at lifting the mood just when it is required. Nothing makes everything seem easier, than a little laughter.
Rite of Passage. Khulula and ourselves have been very lucky up till this point, we really have had pretty good sailing weather and have managed to avoid any major winds. We knew it had to come and were somewhat prepared for it. The passage to New Zealand is notorious for everyone getting a couple days of foul weather and we expected it then. Oh well, now that that is finished, it is great to know Khulula can handle the weather easily and hopefully get have some good karma on our side now for the final passage. Time to get to Tonga, dry the boat out, and sleeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.