Rock and Roll Time
10 April 2011 | in the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone
We are in the Zone, a.k.a. the Doldrums. As darkness fell so did the winds, to less than 6 knots, so we were obliged to motorsail from about 9 PM until Midnight during Francois' watch. There was a light rain. At midnight Francois handed the helm over to me for my Midnight to 3 a.m. watch, saying, "I don't think you'll be needing the foulies, the rain is petering out".
No sooner than Francois had gone down to his cabin than I noticed that the wind was picking up, since I could hear, for the first time this evening, the wind generator running. We had about 12 knots of wind and the rain was starting again. I shut down the engine since it was no longer needed.
By the time I got my foul weather gear on the wind had increased to 20 knots. I watched the knot meter as it rose steadily in just a few minutes, to 25, 30, 35 knots. The boat was screaming along at 8 knots with a double reefed mainsail and jib, making great time. The seas were relatively flat. I steered a southwesterly course that kept the boat on a downwind run with the wind 120 degrees off the bow for the most comfortable ride possible.
Meanwhile visibility was reduced to zero as a huge cloud passed overhead blocking out the starlight and moonlight. I could see nothing but our own bow wave and its phosphorescent trail. We were in one of the ITCZ's famous squalls, known for going from a flat calm to 40 knots in a few minutes. This is exactly what happened.
The squall lasted about an hour. Finally around 1:20 a.m., the winds calmed down to about 16 knots. I could see a patch of stars ahead. As we entered the clear sky area, I looked back, and all you could see was a huge blackness which was the squall we had just been through.
Fortunately, as the sun set earlier in the evening and we doused the spinnaker, we could see some weather systems on the horizon, so we set a double reef in both the mainsail and the jib. If we had not done so I might have had difficulty dealing with those winds and would have needed help to get the sails reefed.