The Voyage to Nowhere

Heavy Weather and Boat Problems (continued)

I took these pictures about midday when I went topsides for my watch. I'm huddled under the dodger, looking aft and to starboard. From this perspective, we are looking downwind and "down wave" at the giant waves after they have just passed under the boat, heaving us up and down and rolling us, and we're watching the backs of the waves as they roll away from us. Although it's hard to tell from the small pictures, some of the bigger waves are in the 15 to 20-foot range. All four of these wave pictures (on this page and the next) were taken within the span of one minute.  


Finally the night ended and I went topsides for my morning watch. The seas were downright scary—steep, disorganized, and many with breaking tops. It was an angry sea. There were some showers now and then but this wasn't a very rainy weather system. The barometer continued to drop and the winds and seas continued to build.

For a while now we've been sailing with a triple-reefed main, and at the start of my watch I tried to sail slightly into the wind, quartering up the steep waves. This was an easy point of sail and felt reasonably safe, but the boat was taking a bit of a pounding. Next, I tried running before the wind, but that soon became problematic. The boat developed a lot of weather helm from the unbalanced sail plan (main with no headsail), and even with the rudder hard over, the boat would irresistibly turn into the wind. We would then wind up sailing (or lying) beam to the winds and seas, which is not a good orientation (there is a risk of capsizing in a rogue breaking wave). I thought quartering into the wind was tolerable, but David and Marcie decided to heave-to. The boat will nearly stop when hove-to (making only a slight leeway) but at only a shallow angle to the waves (that is, nearly broadside).

Well, the rest of the day was a nerve-wracking hell, for me. The winds built to a steady 30 to 35 knots (with higher gusts), and the seas built to 10 to 15+ feet (with some greater). I was definitely out of my comfort zone and was, quite frankly, scared. I haven't been in this type of heavy weather before, and it was dramatic and impressive. There is so much energy in an angry wave, and there were angry waves all over the place. I kept wondering which one had our name written on it, and I had an extremely unpleasant feeling of impending doom. During the day, I regretted over and over not leaving the boat at Easter Island (I had been given that option since I was beginning to feel homesick). There are twice-weekly flights to the mainland on safe comfortable jumbo jets. Now I was stuck in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a small boat that was being hammered by a gale. There was absolutely no way out (except through fantasy) so I just had to go through with it.

Part of the problem was confronting the unknown. Without any weather forecast, we had no clue what was coming. Was this a huge storm bearing down on us, or was it only a brush with a storm farther south? Would the winds and seas continue to build, and if so, for how long? What could we expect for tomorrow or the next day? We didn't know, and for me, fear of the unknown can be much more worrisome than fear of the known.

At one point, the bimini fabric started to come loose as a seam in the fabric started to rip. The bimini fabric had loosened, and the fabric would flutter up and down violently in the strong wind; the fluttering eventually overstrained the seam. David and Marcie lashed down the bimini fabric by passing lines back and forth across the top and tying the lines to lifeline stanchions; the fluttering stopped.

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