Day Seven: Mother Nature High Fives Us!
(Rob writes) After nearly a week of glorious sailing, delicious fish and “fire-balling” (the only phrase I can come up with that nearly describes night time sailing far offshore with screamingly bright phosphorescence seeming to fly past the hull at impossible speeds) we got a weather fax that said Gale. The report was for 35 knot NW winds with 12 foot seas in 48 hours. This we can deal with, we thought, that’s staysail sailing. So onward we go. Less than 12 hours in the wind was at 40 – that’s 48 hours early… A few more hours and the wind was at 50 and climbing. The sun was just beginning to set so we decided we needed to make a decision 1. Staysail through the night 2. Heave to and continue on in the morning when we can see the seas (which were starting to build). After our first large wave that I named Everest hit us mid decision we decided “Heave to it is!”. We struck the staysail and hoisted a reefed mizzen. I check the anemometer. Winds were now in the mid 60’s. We felt good about heaving to. However, possibly because of the surfboards and other gear forward, we were not able to get to the desired position of being hove to. Hove to, or Heaving to – the act of stalling your boat out in a storm by flying a sail at the back of the boat which points your bow about 30-40 degrees off of the wind so that you drift away from the wind stalled out and create a “slick” in the water that mellows out the waves hitting the hull. This mostly worked. It stalled the boat out but because of a variety of possibilities we were not able to get more than about 80 degrees to the wind – which put us nearly side to the wind and building swell. But we did stall out and have the tiller lashed which allowed us some hands off watches through the night. Ben and I took 2 hours shifts while sea sick Kai stowed herself as comfortably as possible in the pitching Vv down below. We hove to through the night and although the boat rail was mostly under the boat felt very safe. Some waves came over the boat a few times but we were never worried for our safety. Comfort was the only thing we craved – but that would not be provided by this storm. The forecast was for the blow to last 3 more days. We wanted none of that! At 6 am I came back up on deck after a 2 hour “rest” of watching the anemometer willing it down (anemometer – we have spinning spoons at the top of the mast that feed a signal to an analog meter in the boat that tells us the wind speed. I don’t know how it didn’t blow off that night 🙂 ) When I popped my head up to see Ben (side note – for the entirety mostly of this storm it was clear and beautiful with sunny days and starry nights) so back to popping up and seeing Ben, I hoped he would say “seems like it’s dying out” but the sentence sounded more like this “seems like it’s getting worse”. Hmmm. Okay. Something you don’t read about in heavy weather tactics at Sea is to drop sail and fire up the engine and get the hell outta there. We were lucky that the water intake for the engine was on the low side with the way we were healing. To sail in that would have continued to be wet and dangerous because of the heavy winds. The highest wind we saw at this point was 72 knots. So our plan became to drop the mizzen, get out of being hove to and make way towards shore – which happened to be Bodega Bay some 80 miles away – and we were about 65 miles off near Cape Mendocino ( a sketchy Cape we had heard lots about where the sea floor ridges up out several hundred miles from shore and likes to stir up the Seas). The engine fired up and also liked the plan. So off we go. Motoring 6 knots parallel to the swells (now ranging between bout 15-20 feet with some tops breaking). I took the first shift. Steering was not as hard as I thought it could be. I put my back to the swells because reading them and adjusting the boats position didn’t seem to affect the effect of the swell/waves on the boat so I decided I’d save the mental processing and physical energy it took to try and steer to the oncoming wave. So onward we went like a big surfboard cutting down the line with spray and the occasional wave over me and the boat. The mighty Velella velella was doing beautifully! After a long three hours Ben slid open the companion way hatch and popped up for his shift. I was greatly relieved to be done and hand it over. It was 9 am, sunny and still blowing 60. It been about 24 hours since the Gale first hit us. Ben came up, closed the hatch behind him and I was filling him in on the situation of our heading and what I had been seeing out there.
Here it comes:
We didn’t see the wave. But I heard it.
This is where mother nature must have bent her knees, stared at the elbow, jumped up and full swing slapped Velella velella and her crew a High Five! We got knocked down. I’m under water at tethers length inside the cockpit, held secure by our stern pulpit and weather clothes. Ben’s up to his thighs in water and Vv is on her side in the great Ocean. Moments later, seconds, she’s back up vertical and still motoring along. Kai pops up out of the hatch immediately to make sure Ben and I (mostly me, just kidding Ben) are safe. Which we are and are actually laughing. This is still not scared for our life Mom. The boat is incredible. Okay onward. I knew that waves in the open ocean when of large size can and will combine energies and form a large wave that stands above the others. That’s the one that hit us. I also knew it was very unlikely that another one was behind it. So we decided to keep going. I handed to tiller to Ben, sat back to take it all in and breath and laugh and stare at the ocean and think and stare at nothing and laugh and look at Ben and look straight and be like “Holy Shit that was CRAZY!!!!” Then I laid back in silence and POOF! my self inflating life jacket went off. “A little late isn’t it” is something like what Ben muttered. And we laughed some more.
After about 12 hours of motoring the swell started to die. Oh! BTW. We knew that the offshore conditions were Gale and the near shore were for Small Craft Advisory. We want that! Which was a lot of the reason we headed for shore. If the near shore was also Gale we would have had to keep offshore to keep safe sea room.
The sun was out. Kai and Ben were down below. And I felt charged. Just then two dolphin were astern of us surfing the waves telling me “You made it Ee Ee Ee”. An albatross soared over Vv into the distance looking left and right and a grey whale breached off the bow and another surfaced off the starboard side. We were clear of the storm and mother nature wanted to show her support.
It was glorious and now we know what the boat can handle. And Kai and Ben are the best crew ever. They never lost faith or trust in what we were doing or in the boat that took care of us. They are both press ganged into many more sea miles. And we can’t wait to get back out there after some exploring SF for a bit.
If you want to read an article about a boat that didn’t fair as well check out Three Sheets Northwest, the story of the Gypsy Soul that was out there somewhere in that same storm. We said goodbye to them at Neah Bay after they fueled up. They ended up taking on water and got rescued by a coastguard helicopter in that same storm.
Yeah Velella velella!!!! And Yeah everyone that helped us make her bomber! You know you.