The express route to the southern hemisphere has closed. Yesterday my sole focus was on getting south with as much momentum as possible, driving towards the problem are of the ICTZ almost with the naïve hope that if I was going fast enough I could sling shot me and Medallia through.
The writing has been on the wall, forecasts showing gaping wind chasms opening up in the route ahead and although there was still a part of me that was holding out hope I might get an easy ride through this area like the front of the fleet.. the game is up. Just as dusk fell yesterday evening so the first ominous cloud arrived and started to play merry hell with me and Medallia.
The problem with the doldrums is that the lack of wind is punctuated by clouds that can have lots of wind underneath them, coming from completely random directions and in the pitch black, it is not always that easy to spot them sneaking up on you, even with the radar on.
My first cloud must have been blown over from a land mass somewhere as the air smelt sweet, of flowers and foliage and ahead of the cloud a whole heap of insects landed on my boat, little bugs, a dragon fly and a tiny baby bird with webbed feet that tried to nestle into the spinnaker while I was putting it away. I tried to pick up the bird and relocate it to the cockpit but it flew off and i never saw it again. Meanwhile the cloud did a proper job on me. Big bertha (my biggest spinnaker) was up (of course) and as I watched the wind direction change and increase rapidly I knew I had to wrestle her out of the sky as soon as I could. As I set things up for this drop, the wind direction changed, forcing me to run due West instead of South and it started to rain. Bertha last night was compliant, I got her down with only a moderate fight, shoved her down the forehatch then went to grab my Down wind zero as a replacement. All the while the rain chucked it down, soaking me through my
shorts and t-shirt, making it hard to see if my halyards were clear at the top of the mast with my spotlight as the light reflected back at me from every huge raindrop.
The zero went up, the wind changed again, now we were sailing upwind and fiercely, it was completely disorientating in the total black of the night. Only the colorful letters on my instruments gave me any clue which direction I was sailing in I could have been heading anywhere.
The upwind sailing felt like it was there to stay, and I was acutely aware I had my whole sail wardrobe stacked on the back of the boat. I started to drag them out one by one, pulling up against gravity to the windward deck, then dragging them along to the forward hatch. Half way through this procedure, and still in the rain, the wind shifted by 90 degrees, effectively the wind had tacked, but the boat had not. I was left with the keel and sails on the wrong side, hanging onto a sail bag to stop it from sliding over the side. In these situations there is a little part of me that wants to shout at the sky..'oh come on!! really!! Just back off!!' I have done this in the past but can report that nothing changed... but it does make you feel a bit better.
Bit by bit, I put the boat straight again, keel on the right side, sails trimmed, ropes tidied. By now I had been at it for two and a half hours, seemingly just moving sail after sail, pulling one rope hen letting the same one off, constantly getting set up and then having it all thrown up in the air again. with every change in wind strength and direction I had to look at the instruments and say to myself - what is the fastest route south, then set up for that.
Eventually at one in the morning it calmed down and I was left with weak Northerlies. Bertha is being rested for the evening, though these are her conditions, I can't risk getting into trouble in a squall and I needed desperately to get some rest after my four hour cloud messing ordeal.
I could have another two days of this ahead as from the most recent forecast it looks like this area may stretch as far south as 4 degrees. I need to steel myself, it is my worst sort of sailing. It's frustrating, soul destroying and the thwack of the mainsail , followed by the associated jolt as the main violently flops from side to side in swell and no wind - well that is enough to try anybodies sanity.
Today will be a challenge.