Palarran Takes A Beating
14 May 2012
Our bad weather story really started with the Black Pearl. When I was talking to the Captain he asked our destination. When he heard it was Horta he made a comment that we were in for some bad weather as we got close to the island. I remarked that it looked like it would hit on Saturday and we hoped to make it by then. He replied that it was due earlier than that. After downloading another GRIB file we did see a large wind pattern that we would hit, but the maximum winds were forecast at 30 knots.
Friday morning we were sailing along with a following sea. It was a beautiful sailing morning when I took over from Skinny. Three hours later the wind had shifted 180 degrees, flattening the large rollers we were running with and built stacked waves that where very steep. Dave came up and we were discussing the change when a large steep wave picked us up broad side. It felt like we were going over so we decided to run south. For 6 hours we ran from the building seas and winds until Stosh said we would never get to the Azores on this course. So we turned and started reaching with the sails. Friday brought very strong seas and winds. I hadn’t wanted to post how bad it was because we didn’t want to frighten our families. As I wrote before, Dave was broadsided twice with breaking waves and I was feeling sea sick. The weather data didn’t look good and we had to make a decision on a route. It was to continue on our same course. I’m not sure anyone of us would choose that option again.
By Friday night the conditions had deteriorated. We were still sailing with the main triple reefed and just a corner of the jib out. The waves were so big that as Palarran would hit the trough we would have to rise up about twice the boats length to get over them. And the weather still got worse. We dropped the main sail and followed Christophe’s advice, using both motors to power 10 to 20 degrees off the wind at about 3 knots. Spume and breaking waves were all you could see. The wind peaked at 48 knots and never went below 30.
As Stosh and I were talking on the deck a breaking wave hit us near broadside. The pressure was so great that we both were uprooted, along with about everything on the boat. The port windows on the side of the boat basically blew water through them. They didn’t break but everything inside the port hull was covered with water. It was screwed up and I must admit, I was scared. I’m sure Dave and Stosh were also as they slept on top of their lifejackets. We motored through the night and awoke to more of the same on Saturday. The wind and waves became confused with multi-direction swells hitting us at will. In the evening the wind dropped to 20 knots and we raised the main sail again and headed directly East. This reprieve would only last until daybreak on Sunday.
On Sunday on my watch again the wind piped up with a vengeance. This time it didn’t drop below 35 knots and was usually at 40. At this point I felt we couldn’t fight it anymore so we turned south, put a sliver of jib out, and ran away. Well, we didn’t exactly run away, we just ran with the wind and waves. The change in tactic was immediate as Palarran stopped slamming into the waves and instead allowed them to hit her slightly abaft the beam (on the back corner). We didn’t have to do anything more than that all day as the wind drove us South. The jib kept the front going in the right direction and the autopilot made slight adjustments. The only incident we had was the breaking wave filling the cockpit with 6” of water. It drained very quickly and all in all, we felt fairly confident. Dave and I stayed outside all day in our foul weather gear telling stories and philosophizing about life. This was Dave’s, “You have to feel you are out of control to know when you’re in control”. Sunday night the front broke and we were set free. We motored straight east against a 15 knot wind until this morning.
So, today is a great day. Palarran is close reaching under sail alone at 6 knots heading east. We have fishing poles in the water again and Stosh just had a bite. We should get to Sao Miguel on Thursday, but we really don’t care too much anymore about time lines. Our problems all, IMO, developed from what I’ll call “Rhum Line Fever”. We made decisions based on getting to our destination, not fully understanding the possible consequences.
To end this post I have to comment on Palarran. She took an absolute beating. Merciless and unrelenting the sea broke on her and she kept going. Not that she didn’t get bruised, we had the rear arch bend slightly when hit with the breaker, our main halyard winch is acting funny, a batton car came apart, the second trampoline blew out, and water came in from places it never had in the past. So we have scheduled a spa day for her when we get to port. A good freshwater bath and some tlc will put her back into shape.