Mystery Storm from Nowhere

Evening all,

For most of last night the winds maintained 15-20 knots from the East so the sail arrangement of the No 2 reef in the main and the No2 jib with 1 tuck in it worked well until I got a rude awaking mid-morning.  Out of know where I was suddenly in 30 knots of wind building to 35 knots.  When I started seeing 37 knots I knew that I needed to get out of bed in a real hurry and get the jib furled away some more and the no 3 reef in the main.  It was freezing especially after just leaving the warm comfort of my sleeping bag I didnt have time to layer up only time to get my Zhik foul weather gear on along with my life jacket and on deck asap.  The minuet my head cleared the shelter of the cuddy I coped a nice, freezing face full of salt water.  Morning...  Well I was finally awake and set about getting the jib in first.

As you remember I have a no 1 jib on a Pro Furler for light winds and just inside of this on the inner forestay (rigging) I have the No 2 sail for stronger winds.  Because the sails are on furlers I am able to reef the sail by rolling a part of the sail away.  I have since worked out what I am comfortable with for the different conditions.  Again, I would think that I am being overly cautious because I don’t want to blow out a sail.  In fact, I always tend to keep one turn of the sail on the furler to take the pressure of the bolt rope that attaches it.  Whilst I know that the sail is designed to be all the way out I worry, mostly when I am trying to sleep, that I will get a big gust out of nowhere and break it so when I woke to the boat laid over and a howling gale outside my first thought was 'please don’t break, please don’t break, please don’t break'. I repeated over and over in my head as I got dressed hoping I would get on deck in time to save the jib.

With sea spray slapping my face and wind howling in my ears I eased the jib sheet slightly and winched in on the furling line.  Now that the jib was furled away enough that I didn’t think it would blow out in the pressure, I took a minute to look around and try to decide if this was staying or passing over quickly.  As far as I could see was a low lying dark grey cloud and sheeting rain all around.  The wind had blown up white caps all around and I couldn’t see anything that resembled a squall.  My conclusion……. the low pressure system that was behind me has caught up. 
The only real puzzle was that I was experiencing strong winds but the barometer hadn’t really changed...  It was a puzzle.  Normally when you monitor the barometer you will see a rise or fall of 2 mb within an hour to indicate some wind is on its way.  In the case of a storm, that is normally a fall and would continue at that rapid rate for several hours telling me that I had something nasty on my way...  This morning though the barometer hadn’t changed in 8 hours yet my conditions had rapidly changed.  Maybe I just missed it as I was dreaming of warmth and sunshine but it was curious.

Given that the conditions looked like they were settling I put the third reef in the main sail.  You also may remember that for me the third reef is smaller than the try-sail (the replacement main sail for storms).  We did this on purpose when we designed the sail with Quantum as it is really hard to manage a sail, small as it is, in storm conditions and get the main sail down and lashed.  By having my third reef the same size removed the need to change sails at all.  The down side of this was that when sailing on a close reach in 30 knots with this sail configuration the boat mostly goes sideways as there isn’t enough power to drive the boat forward.  Not enough sail but I would rather go slow and know that I still have a sail than not. As the day progressed I was glad to have the third reef in.

The winds veered more to the south east over the middle of the day and maintained around 30-35 knots.  Mid-afternoon saw the winds easing and the barometer slowly starting to rise.  I was sailing in 20-25 knots of wind making 3 knots wondering if the main part of the system had passed me by.  Keeping to my rule of always take the time of making and drinking a cup of tea to see if the conditions are steady enough for a sail change.  Given that I am sailing solo I generally spend at least an hour watching the winds to make sure that the wind is not going to rise again.
Shaking a reef out takes me a lot of effort, much more than putting one in so I would hate to shake a reef out and 10 minutes later need to put one back in...  After an hour, the conditions were still light and the boat was getting shoved around by the swell. I finally started getting ready to shake out the reef just on sunset.  I didn’t even have time to get my jacket on before the instruments started showing 35 knots again, then 37 knots, then 40 knots and finally stopped at 45 knots...  I am so glad for my 'cup of tea' for if I had of gone and changed the sail I would have not only needed to change it right back again but could have caused the sail some major damage in the process.

As the storm raged the swell had built up into a short choppy nasty swell coming right at the starboard bow from the SE.  I would get a little momentum up and the crash of a wave with so much force that the whole boat would shudder, the mast would whiplash back and forward and Climate Action Now would come to a grinding stand still for a few seconds before she started moving again.  Every time I felt the boat rising on a larger wave I would get butterfly's in my stomach imagining the crash soon to follow. 
By about 9.30pm the storm seemed to have blown over me and the winds had consistently dropped down to 20-25 knots again.  With the boat making 3 knots again in the lighter winds I waited until 11.30pm before I finally shook out the main sail to the second reef and let out a bit more jib. The deciding factor was really when I went on deck and saw the whole sky filled with stars and not a single cloud in sight, a stark change to a few hours ago.  The boat is happily sailing along now in the 20 knots ESE winds and I am making a course of 070 True.  The barometer has risen and the sea state has calmed a bit in the lighter winds so with manageable conditions I think that I can now get some sleep and hope for some nice Southerly winds tomorrow so I can make course more directly to Cape Horn which now only sits 900 nm away.