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  • Writer's pictureTwo Drifters

Marquesas to Tahiti-Black As Thunder

Visualise the deepest, darkest shade of black you can, and that’s the colour of the cloud that is crossing our path right now.

The stars are completely blanketed by blackness. It’s 8pm, and I’ve been on night watch for an hour and a half, barely enough time for Skipper to get his head down, let alone get some quality sleep. I don’t want to wake him, but I’m rather worried about the size of the squall line approaching on our port side. On the radar, it measures 12 miles long by two miles wide and there’s sheet lightning all around. There’s no way I can dodge this one by myself. It’s no doubt going to need a sail change and for that I have to wake Skipper up.

On the basis we were likely to get squalls, for night time sailing we already have one reef in the main sail and one in the genoa (front sail). On Skipper’s advice, we put the second of three reefs into the main, so if there’s a lot of wind, it won’t ove rpower the boat. The squall line is slow moving, so there’s still time to take the cushioned seats off the bridge, put the wet weather gear on and prepare for showers.

The boat is on a heading towards the centre of the cloud, so Skipper manoeuvres it across to the right of the squall line; to the end that has the less energy and lightning. Frustratingly, the imposing dark clouds just seem to run with us, not wanting to let us out of their sight. The wind picks up, as does the sea and the boat speed. It’s seems to be a race. The clouds throw us a cheap shot and the rain descends.

Admittedly, at this stage, I choose the dryness of the inside of the boat, abandoning Skipper on the bridge to deal with squall. I watch through the windows as the wind increases to 30kts, and the lightning becomes forked; neither are a welcome sight in a storm. I unplug all our electrical equipment and put the essential communications devices into the microwave – a makeshift F araday cage should we get hit by lightning.

For 35 minutes, Skipper and the boat battle the elements together. Eventually, the noise of the wind abates. We are out of the other side of the squall line.

I wish I could say that’s the end of it, but sadly not. I eventually give up hiding inside for every storm – of which across the night, there are many. Enough to say that it’s the most prolific squalls we’ve seen in our six years of sailing. I re-join Skipper on the bridge, and he accompanies me through the rest of my shift; resting down on the seats between squally. My shift ends, but I sit with him during the first hour of his. Solidarity during a time of wet, windy, squally, stormy weather. We chat, keeping spirits up as we watch the mass of lightning clouds light up the sky around us.

The boat decides against hanging around for anymore bullying from the storms; as much as we try to slow her down, she just hurtles forwards in excess of 8 kts of speed. I just sit there, holding on for dear life as we get chucked around on the bridge by the force of the waves under the boat. I’m want to get off; I’m not enjoying this ride one iota. But I have no choice; it’s going to be a very, long night.

What’s unnerving is the speed that the boat is getting up to under the storm clouds. The wind keeps dragging us away from our intended heading. At sunrise, we had planned to be nearing the islands of the Tuamotus, which are on our way to Tahiti. These islands are particularly low lying, so a good visual is needed. From our chart plotter, at this excessive speed we were careering straight towards one of the islands, and will hit it, dead on in the dark.

It took a lot of gumption, but Skipper again proved his skill with handling the boat, which he eventually slowed, like a horse being reigned in, to a more stable pace. The wind dropped temporarily so we were able to turn away from the island and on a heading towards one of the passes that would eventually take us on the path to Tahiti.

Skipper pulled an all-nighter as he dealt with the remainder of the night shift. I joined him at first light, just as another squall hit us, while we were trying to enjoy a cup of tea.

We welcomed the new day dawning and the light brought a respite from the squalls. We’re more than tired; fed up of rolly seas and longing for calm waters and sleep. But we’ve weathered it, the boat (and Skipper) looked after us well and, aside from a few leaking hatches, and more rips in the clear-window of our genoa, there’s no damage done. Just a reminder that being on a yacht, isn’t always plain sailing!

Total miles sailed in 48 hours: 295
Dates: Sunday 19 April


Sent from Iridium Mail & Web.

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