04 August 2008 | Papeete, Tahiti
Dodging squalls in the South Pacific seems to be a skill that takes years to master. We're not very good at it, but now that we're safely in Tahiti, I thought we would share our tactics for handling these monstrosities. Our process goes something like this.
You look at the radar and it's clear and, quickly, decide that after making this small effort, that a nap is in order. The sky is blue, there nothing on the radar, and the sun is warm on your face. After 20 minutes, or so, you decide to do a cursory check of the sky and notice that there's now a black area off out in the distance - a rather large black area. You check the radar and notice a blob that measures 6 miles in length; it's heading right for you and its 3 miles away. You also notice that there's not another squall within 24 miles of you.
At this stage you enter a state of denial. "It'll miss us!" You shout to everyone. "It's going the wrong way." You make up a lot talk using fancy meteorological terms so it sounds like you know what you're talking about. "There's a high pressure system in Hawaii that's affecting the dew point causing changes in the barometric pressure that's intensifying convection, but it'll soon dissipate." Everyone around you is reading and completely ignores you and the situation that's developing.
You keep staring at the radar and its clear that the squall has some how plotted an intercept course to your vessel. You mutter to yourself, "It's like the crystalline entity in Star Trek episode 67." Something needs to be done. You walk away from the helm, sit down, and issue the following command in your best Captain Picard imitation. "Evasive maneuvers."
Number One [Kathy] looks at you quite annoyed because you were just at the helm. You give her a look conveying that you are indeed the captain and should not be subjected to such menial tasks. That you are higher in the social order and need to keep alert of the developing situation. The stare-off continues for a few seconds and Number One, reluctantly, spins the autopilot knob in a random direction.
Several options exist at this point. You can try to outrun the storm; you can turn away from the storm using the radar as your guide; or you can turn into it and hope that it passes quickly. Each option most always has the same result. You're going to get hit as if the squall is some sort of Borg ship attacking. You wonder if you're going to be assimilated. At this point the show and real life start to diverge (Just a little).
The wind is increasing and you feel your stomach turn. You become un-Picard like, and immediately blame Number One for not reading the radar correctly. "Come on!" You yell in anger. "It's so obvious!" You refuse to take control of the helm because you know that: 1) you're wrong; 2) its not easy; and 3) you don't want to be at the helm when the storm hits. At this point Number One just walks away, mumbling something about how you're always freaking out, and you're forced to take control. You complain that they never did that in Star Trek. You're all alone in the cockpit now.
You notice that the swell is getting bigger and the sky is ugly black. You feel your knees begin to shake. You turn into the opposite direction because you have no idea of what else to do. The sails are now full, the boat is healing 15 degrees, and you here the crashing of dishes from down below.
This usually leads to a state of depression. Your thoughts turn to how you suck at sailing. That you're in the middle of the pacific and we're going to get walloped by this huge storm; that you really should have taken some more lessons; that after 10,000 miles of sailing, you still don't know what you're doing; that you're no Jean-Luc Picard.
Ensign Casey usually comes out at this point and asks, "Why is it raining? When will it be over? Why is it raining? Why did we pick this day to be on our passage? Why is it raining? This sucks! How long do we have to be in this? Why is it raining?"
Number One yells from down below, for the millionth time that we need to scotch-guard the canvas.
Ensign Tara adds that it doesn't rain in Australia (like she really knows) and it's not her turn to do the dishes.
You start to pull in the headsails and complain, to yourself, because it's really hard now that they're full of wind.
The wind is now 25 knots and you're being pelted by massive amounts of rain. You look at the radar, and it's all black. At this point the boat is moving as slowly as possible and it's your hope that the smiting will be over quickly. I begin praying and trying to make futile deals with God in hopes that he'll allow me a brief amount of pity, even though I don't deserve it. Out of the family's view I start pleading: "Please Lord! Make it go away. I'm really scared. Please don't let anything break. I'll be a better person. I promise!" You hear the rigging groan under the strain of the wind which causes you to double your efforts.
You sit under a leaking bimini in a full downpour now. You're wet, cold, and miserable. You put your hands under your armpits and rock back and forth. You've accepted that you're now stuck in the middle of the squall and as you rock back and forth you mutter to yourself that you're livin' the dream. You begin to laugh to yourself at the irony, and the family stares at you from below wondering if you've gone completely insane.
So that's "A" process that can be followed. I'm not saying it's the best process, but it seems to work for us.