As we approach St Lucia the passage has given us a last reminder of ocean sailing. Approaching the islands overnight the clouds have built up. At around midnight local (4am UK) we saw two large squalls approaching separated by about 4 miles. It looked as if we'd pass between them but being prudent we decided to furl and drop the downwind sail and let them ride over us on jib alone.
Our well polished routine kicked in action, Mike and Lucy handling the foredeck (very large and safe with the wide trampoline), Anne-Laure halfway down the deck helping with the halyards and relaying messages, Sarah and myself in the cockpit on the sheets, halyards and steering. Everyone clipped on, wearing lifejackets and secure.
First we turn the deck lights on so we can see what we are doing and watch out for each other (the short term loss of night vision isn't a priority); jib rolled out to provide a lee (take the wind out) for the downwind sail; furl twizzle (downwind sail); drop the twizzle onto the deck; get soaking wet as the squall hits us as we are tidying up (salt water on shorts and underwear for Mike and Lucy from waves splashing through the trampoline, fresh rain water on shirts for all of us) and reconvene in the cockpit to pat ourselves on the back for a manoeuvre safely accomplished.
It turned out to be a good call as the squall had over 30 kts of wind, not extreme but better safe than sorry (40-50 kts is possible). The squall passed through in only 15 minutes and then we reversed the whole operation and were back to twizzle and 8kts boat speed again some 45 minutes later.
This is where some of the more hard core boats have gained distance by keeping their spinnakers up at all times. We had a email from one of the other front boats who'd kept pressing the whole time, even in the 30kts on days 2, 3 and 4 but they had blown out one spinnaker and then broke their boom in a gybe! We, however, are on a ra, ra, ra....(you know the rest!).
In daylight it's easy to see the squalls visually, and sometimes at night but harder, however if they are raining we can see them clearly on the radar, which we can overlay on our electronic chart plotter.
The black boat in the image is Offbeat, the red and orange blob is the squall about 3 miles away, and the photo at the top is the squall itself passing by on our port side; taken only 10 minutes after the radar image, this squall had already dropped most of its rain, earlier you couldn't see the horizon beneath the cloud.
Keeping a good watch for squalls sometimes means that, if we spot them early enough, we can alter course to avoid them entirely or at least avoid the worst of them. It's now 0900 and we are dodging one about every 30 minutes. We hope it starts to clear up as the day warms up.
We are all delighted to have finished our last night watches and are looking forward to a quiet stable bunk in the marina tonight.
We've now only got 48 miles to the finish line, which we expect to cross between 1400 and 1500 local time (1800-1900 UK). Watch out for a live stream on the Facebook page if we can.