Over the course of the day the winds have been a mixed bag with winds at 7-8 knots from the NW for the morning and I was sailing with the full main sail and the NO 1 jib out, around lunchtime the winds built to 15 knots so I changed over to the No 2 jib but kept the full main sail up. By mid-afternoon the winds were again below 10 knots. The boat was still making steady progress east and I have been closing in on the meridian line and currently have less than 70 nm to sail. With all the shifting winds during the day, my time of sleeping at the moment, it meant that I got little sleep so I ended up napping until 7pm.
When I woke up I made my normal porridge and waited for the weather to come in. I was expecting a shift to the SW today and was surprised that it hadn’t arrived yet, but kept an eye on the instruments waiting for it. I had been able to hold mostly 090 True course all day and when the winds backed to the West I altered my course to the ENE. Finally, the shift arrived around midnight and with it was winds. My 10 knots of wind steadily built to 25 knots in the span of 30 minutes so when I went to put the first reef in I ended up also putting the second reef in. Just as I was finishing off the second reef I started getting gusts reaching 30 knots so it was a perfectly timed reef.
Over the early hours of the morning I enjoyed a nice dinner of tomato soup and I even cooked up some bread in the skillet. A nice hot meal went down a treat in the cold of the pre-dawn. I was trying to motivate myself to go on deck and put the storm jib up as I am sailing on the edge of a low-pressure system and I have a cold front due the following day so my winds were only going to keep increasing and were forecast to give me gusts up to 47 knots. I ended up deciding that it would be a much more pleasant job to do in the first light of the morning so I set about waiting for dawn.
Even once dawn arrived it was another hour before I was motivated to face the cold bleak morning. When I did climb out on to the deck with the storm sail in tow. I was greeted with dark grey storm clouds all around bursting with rain. Surprisingly, it wasn’t raining on the boat at that moment in time, so I took the gap in the weather and sent about getting the storm jib up. I had been sailing on a beam reach as the winds were now blowing from the South and I was sailing east so I decided to help keep myself dry I would bear away to a broad reach and flatten the boat off a touch while I mess with setting this sail. On my much flatter deck, I took the sail forward and set it up.
I was lucky and missed any big waves over the decks and able to stay dry. My face was starting to burn from the cold wind. Normally it’s my hands that burn first but this time it was my face stinging in the wind. Back in the cockpit I hoisted the storm jib and furled away the No 2 head sail. The boat was now almost perfectly set for the stormy weather that was arriving. When the winds get to 35 knots and above later today I will need to go and set the third reef in the main as the final task. The swell is forecast to build to 7 meters but I will be sailing on a broad reach by then so I will hopefully not have a need for the drogue.
While we are discussing storms I just want to spare a thought for those who are suffering extreme weather with cyclone Debbie making landfall. Airlie beach and the Whitsundays is where I learnt to sail and will always hold a place in my heart. It is sad to see that those communities are once again suffering storm damage not to mention the sad sight of all the damaged yachts. I would also like to mention something that a lot of people don’t seem to be talking about in relation to this storm. That is the added stress that the huge seas are giving to the reef.
My very pregnant friend Cherry is sheltering form the storm in Airlie and she let me know that Hardy Reef, the outer areas of the Great Barrier Reef were experiencing 11 meter waves tearing it apart. That is after two mass coral bleaching events in recent times. I was working on the charter yachts around the Whitsundays more than a year after cyclone Yasi and could still see the extent of the damage to the reef from the storm surges. So as communities band together to help, also spare thought for one of the greatest wonders of the world struggling to survive.