Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

May 10, 2009--The good news is that we are now 200 miles from Nuku'alofa, and we are wearing shorts, t-shirts, and going barefoot. After looking at the weather forecasts, we decided to bypass Minerva Reef because of large swells from the west and southwest as well as unsettled weather. This could make the west facing entrance difficult to enter, so we sadly decided to head directly to Tonga.

The bad news is that on Thursday we found ourselves in light winds, and it was a challenge just to keep the boat moving. We were now seeing the negative side of having the smaller headsail. When going dead downwind our main sail blankets the jib, so we have to deeply reef the main and use the whisker pole on the jib to keep that sail filled. With this sail reduction, we do not sail nearly as fast as with our 130 percent jib. On Friday the wind picked up, so we were able to put up more main sail. That evening I came on watch at 11 p.m., and Steve said that a few small squalls had gone by. Then at midnight we got hit with a squall that made the boat heel to about 30 degrees and put the rail into the water. The water was bubbling past the coach windows, and we were sailing at over 10 knots. The wind was registering at around 25 knots, but because the mast was tilted so much, the anemometer wasn't getting a good reading, so we felt that the winds hit closer to 40 or 50 knots. Everything was getting a bit crazy, so we pulled in the jib completely, and then let the boat come into the wind a bit so that it would settle down. Once that was done, Steve went on deck to put the third reef back in the main and reefed the jib, which allowed us to sail much more comfortably.

The ugly news is that Saturday found us looking at a large, dark-gray line of clouds off to our port side. We couldn't decide if it was a weather front or just another squall, so we turned on the radar and saw a large, black blob on the screen that stretched for about 10 miles. One piece of it hit us a few minutes later--this was the worst yet. This time again we heeled over to 30 degrees with wind gusts close to 45 knots. In addition to all this, it started to rain heavily and the seas were up to about 10 feet. After about 15 minutes, the squall passed, and we relaxed a bit. The radar showed nothing, so I made some lunch. Not 10 minutes after we finished lunch, another large blob appeared suddenly on the radar. The second squall was as bad as the first. By now we had waves hitting the deck and coming in under the enclosure, which doused everything in the cockpit including us. This one also passed in about 15 minutes. We thought that we were done; however, a third squall came through. All of them came from behind us and went right over the top. The last one stayed with us for some time, and we wondered if we would ever get away from it. Once it did move on, it also sucked most of the wind with it, so we were basically dead in the water. We started the engine just to get the boat moving again, and after 15 or 20 minutes we were sailing again.

Now through all of this, we are getting very little sleep. We both were up Friday night through Saturday and by Saturday evening we were getting a bit punchy. I made a meal of Thai Lamb (packaged) over rice, did the dishes, and then went to lie down. The boat was now rolling because of very light winds and a large swell. I used pillows all around me in order to keep me from rolling around on the bunk, and Steve did the same on his off watch. We both got a good night's sleep and feel much better today. The boat handled these situations very well, and we feel that we did too.

The moon has been waxing for this whole trip, and it was full on Friday night. It is so beautiful when the light from the moon is reflecting down on the water or moving behind some clouds so that its light is radiated out. The lovely rainbows we had also helped us to see the beauty around us and not linger on the difficult moments. I kept thinking of Little Orphan Annie singing, "The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow," and it did!

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