Uncontrolled Gybe in 7 Meter Seas and 30knots of Wind


Evening all or should I say morning all as it is 10am here.  Given that I am now waking at midnight and going to bed at midday I am now halfway between two days so this is the blog for the 30th and the 31st my time and I will be on Australian time from then on.

Yesterday almost right after I emailed the blog home the auto pilot decided that it didn’t want to play anymore and sent the boat into a hard downwind turn.  I was sailing in 30 knots at the time with 2 reefs in the main sail and the storm jib up.  The swell was by this stage quite large so as soon as we veered off course the next wave got us and took me the rest of the way through an uncontrolled gybe.  Surprisingly the preventer line held and prevented the boom from slamming to the other side of the boat, I dashed to the controls to acknowledge the alarm so that I could change the course we were on.  I hit standby with the working pilot and auto on the spar pilot and then altered the course so that I was back sailing on the right tack.  When the boom came over the top of the sail whipped hard into the spreaders snapping my no 2 batten in the main sail.

After I had a second to catch my breath I took stock of boat to see if there was any further damage done.  Yes, the turning block for the preventer line was shattered.  This was the block on the starboard side of the boat, it was the port side that took the damage to the rail the other day.  Luckily because I put those safety strops for just this reason there was no further damage done to the bow rail but if I hadn’t had that strop on I would have likely ripped up the starboard side as well given the forces involved, of 30 knots of wind on the wrong side of a sail...  Given the time and how rough the conditions were at the time, I just ran the preventer line through the pad eye on the deck.  These are strong points around the boat and have a 2 ton breaking load so I didn’t think that this would cause any troubles but I was worried about chafe, however I figured it would get me out of a hot spot for a night.

It had been my intention to put the third reef in before I went to bed as the storm was forecast to get worse. While I was trying to sleep, and given my recent gybe, I decided that there was no time like the present.  So now I was sailing with 3 reefs in the Main, Storm jib up and the swell was the most dangerous factor given that I was now sailing in 5-7 meter waves. The boat was getting shoved this way and that as we tried to hold some sort of course...  The winds were from the NW and were expected to back to the W and then SW with the next section of the system, I was also expecting stronger winds in this section so it was some surprise when no even an hour after putting in the third reef the winds dropped back to 15 knots and occasionally 12 knots causing the boat to flounder in the larger swells.  I was hoping that this was a faze and that the winds would fill back in as expected so I just gritted my teeth and managed as best as I could in the washing machine of swell.

Almost 2 hours later the winds finally started blowing above 20 knots again, however my stable winds of 30 knots with gusts in the 40-knot range never did arrive.  The average winds were 25 knots with the biggest gust recorded of 33.5 knots.  I was quite frustrated as in these conditions, I would be quite able to sail with the No 2 reef in the main and make some good time.  It was well dark by now though and as I couldn’t see the swell I was not wanting to shake out a reef in the dark where I would need to place the boat beam on to the swell in an at risk position…… so I just settled in for the night.

At sunrise the winds had abated to 20 knots, there was blue skies and it was easily reef 2 weather, there were heavy squalls around though and when they catch up to me the wind jumps up to 30-35 knots really quickly so I was not even thinking of shaking out to reef 1.  Once there was enough daylight I went on deck to assess the conditions.  The swell was now at its peak of just over 7 meters and was really impressive to watch.  The photos never capture it well but I tried.  That pic is of me on a 7m wave.  These huge rolling waves the size of houses would pick me up and roll underneath me.  I would be staring back at the trough that looked a long way away and then when I was sitting in the trough I would look up as the looming tower of water, occasionally the tops of the waves would crumble into a frothing wall of white wash causing me to brace of the impact.  When this wall of white water would hit the boat, it would shove me to windward and the boats auto pilot alarms would go off screeching that I was off course.  Climate Action Now would right herself and with a little shake carry on.  It was in these conditions that I needed to shake out to the No 2 reef in the main sail as I was now traveling too slow.

Surfint 7 meter waves

Surfint 7 meter waves

I needed to time my rounding of the boat to windward so that I was between the bigger sets of waves.  There was no way that I was wanting to turn into one of those big waves but I knew that once I had started the process of shaking out the reef I would likely be still in that position 5-10 minutes later.  As I winched the sail up, I was just hoping that I wouldn’t get a mother of all waves and hoped that I would complete the manoeuvre unscathed.  I prepped all my lines and turned the boat up into the wind and started winching up the mainsail.  It was one of the hardest reefs I have had to shake during this whole trip for a few reasons. One, it was still extremely cold and the air temperature was 4 degrees so my hands were already on fire. Two, I was feeling low on energy. Three, because the boat was rocking so hard as it went over the monster waves it was really hard to keep my balance and also to get in a good position to use the winch properly and get my body weight behind it.  In the end, I needed to winch the sail up just using my arm strength, normally I can use my whole body which makes it a lot easier.  With arm strength alone I was going to take a whole lot longer.  I kept an eye out over the starboard side of the boat and my heart was in my mouth several times as a huge curling wall of water would come at me. I was knocked down at one point to almost 90 degrees by a wave but Climate Action Now being the amazing boat that she is just popped right back up again.  By the time I was finished, I just needed to sit in the cuddy for a minute as I was shaking from the adrenalin in my system.

At least now the boat had more control in the waves and was able to sail a bit more safely.  I did look at whether I also take down the storm Jib and put the no 2 head sail out but the forecast is for more bad weather tomorrow as another Low-pressure system passes over me so I decided that I would leave that one and prevent the need for me to be on the foredeck in these conditions.  For now, I am sailing in 15-20 knots so again a bit slow but I am still managing to average above 7 knots in boat speed and still get the odd surf by the swell so I will sit this one out and know that I am all ready for the strong winds tomorrow.

Given that it is so cold I have also taken to walking around looking like I have a baby in my belly...  I have been stuffing the hot water bottle down my Zhik midlayers to keep my core warm and I am pleased to say it works a treat.  I have also taken the time to eat a good hearty meal in the lull so that I have some more energy for the next storm.