Day two to Chuuk
01 February 2009 | North Pacific
What an ugly 24 hours. Hideko's shift started at 8PM and by the time it was over at 2AM we were surrounded by squalls. We were getting hit left and right with the wind going from light and variable to 20 plus knots, with an array of directions as far as 90 degrees off of the forecast gradient wind. We tried to pick a window to sail for Chuuk with as little cloud forecast as possible, so much for the cloud cover data in the GRIBs.
Squally nights are a drag for short handed crews. If you are racing, just just assign trimmers to squeeze every inch out of the wind wherever it comes from and at whatever the strength. If you are a couple trying to get somewhere, you want to reef down, set course and alternately with your partner, sleep or enjoy a quiet watch. Squalls, particularly strong ones, make both of the later hard to do.
By mid way through my shift I was seeing a fair amount of lightning and some large solid shapes moving about on the radar. I began tracking a really big rain mass vectoring in on us at about 5AM. We had reef one in the main, standard night protocol, but something told me that wasn't going to be enough for this one. Just as I started to reef down Hideko came up to check on things. "Want some help?", she said. Yes please! We got reef two in the main just as the storm came on.
As they often do, this one hit like a wall. Calm, then 10 knots and quickly 15 and some rain, then rapidly 20 knots and pounding rain, followed immediately by 25 knots and a total black out, then 30 knots. You never know how far they are going to go until they stop going, and you never know if you've got enough reefs in either. Reef three on this boat is a go forward and collect the main sail at the mast affair, I was hoping not to need that. The wind howled up to 35 knots and the already moderate seas began to get really peaky and unpleasant.
We were progressively rolling more and more jib up but I couldn't take up too much because I had to balance the double reefed main some. Too little jib and we would have a hard time steering. I had the boat pinched and mostly stalled (around 3-4 knots SOG) to keep the apparent wind under 40 but it was gusting up there anyway. Just as I was starting to formulate a plan for putting reef three in, so that we could still make progress if things kept building, the system settled in. I could tell it didn't have any more in it.
It was a big nasty thunderstorm though, and it wasn't over in a minute, like the run of the mill squall. It kept pumping out 30 some knots of wind and the accompanying seas for almost an hour. Every now and then a blast of light would illuminate everything around, a startling contrast to the total blackness otherwise extant. As nasty as it is when you're in it, there's nothing you can really do but protect the boat and head for the exit as best as possible. So Hideko went back to sleep and I just drove the boat. I was kind of tired so I went back to the auto pilot but it took me a while to get used to riding it so that we didn't tack or go beam onto the wind. I got a little lazy at one point and we ended up crashing through waves at 13 knots.
Two hours later when the wind finally came down under 25 knots we got a nice ride for an hour or so before the wind went light again. It was overcast the rest of the day with minor squalls everywhere. This has been perhaps our gloomiest passage to date. Odd in the northern hemisphere trades. Oh well, we are still on schedule for an arrival in Chuuk late tomorrow so hopefully we'll see some stars tonight (I'm not holding my breath).
Hideko Says: "zzzz, sleeping"
158 nm to Chuuk