Our First Gale – 3rd Time’s a Charm!

Alex, Jim, and Joe

19 August 2010 | On our way to Tonga

Wow sorry guys there must have been a bad character in the blog message bc it happened again 😀 Third time is a charm though – Enjoy!

(On our way to Tonga a couple weeks back)

The winds went from 6 knots to over 36 in a matter of seconds. The only sail we had up at the time was the jib and Alex immediately began cranking her down. Bubbles has serious weather helm, which means as she heels over she tends to turn up into the wind. Generally, it’s better to sail at less than 30 degrees of heeling over, so if the sail area is producing more than that you need to bring her in some. As Alex began cranking her down the winds got stronger and stronger. At one point I looked down and saw wind speeds being clocked at 57 knots! (like 70 mph!) At this point in the blog we’ve decided it’s only right to each blog our version of our first gale.

Jim – “Ok so I’m at the helm and this wind starts going nuts. Alex is cranking in the jib furling line and I’m turning her downwind (fighting the weather helm which is trying to bring us upwind). The waves at first were quite short (probably because the weather picked up so quick they didn’t have time to build). But the rain or water being swept up from the waves was smacking our backs so hard I thought I was in a hail storm. The waves built up to around 5 meters (yeah that’s like 15, 16 feet), but we eventually got the hang of it and just rode it. Our course was determined by what kept the wave crashing to a safe level (riding downwind – straight north) and trying to keep our bearing of due west. This went on for a few hours and we ended up only about 10 nm off course. In retrospect, it was a crazy and great thing as an experience, but if you can avoid it you should.”

Joe – “With all the gusts of wind and waves crashing against the sailboat it took a lot of energy to keep the boat on course. So we decided to move our usual three hour shift to a one hour shift giving us two hours off. (The best two hours of my life!) Since it was so loud in the cockpit from the wind and waves we left the handheld radio on and used it to talk to whoever was in the cabin. When I first started my first shift (which was nothing compared to what Jim had to go through) I was a little worried about getting tired but that thought quickly left. The 6 meter waves that were coming left the boat rocking but Bubbles was built to take waves like that. It was the waves that came right after another and at the right angle that would bring in green water (Water that crashes over into the boat). So every now and then I would be brought to my senses from a splash of water (leaving me completely soaked by the way). I was getting a little board so I decided to sing to keep myself entertained. “God Bless America”, “The National Anthem”, and old camp songs was all could think of. So I sang away! I hope I wasn’t singing to loud to keep Jim and Alex from resting. After what seemed to be multiple hours, I thought for sure my one hour shift was up. So radioed Alex and it turns out it had been just as it felt; 2 hours. It was my fault anyways, I wasn’t watching the time.”

Alex – “Yarrr!”

Later on in the night (probably around 3 am) we heard the radio start to clatter. From what we could tell the Kiwi Rescue Aircraft was having a conversation with another boat but we could only hear the KRA’s signal (it’s stronger and higher in the sky). We got on the radio to find out what was going on and learned that a catamaran and capsized just 60 nm south of us. Without a motor and staring at 60 nm of beating straight into 40 knot winds we could only standby. One sailor was in a life raft tied up to the cat and the other was still inside the capsized hull talking to rescue. Apparently these cats are designed to be livable while capsized and have special life boat escape hatches built into the bows. Pretty gnarly stuff but I think it puts things in perspective. Let’s just say it was our first gale and hopefully our last. Tonga here we come!

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