The Magic of Hove To

Evening all,

Well I have had a very eventful and tiring 24 hours.  As you know last night there was a storm due and it was forecast to give me waves up to 8 meters. Imagine a 2-story building...

So in preparation Bob (Metbob) suggested that I go NE sailing up the course I had just sailed and when the winds go SW I go NW.  The forecast showed the winds at 25-30 on the leading edge and then there was the wind shift to the SW and the winds were expected to increase.  Well I was getting winds up to 40 knots on the leading edge so I was expecting it to get a whole lot worse after the wind shift.  My Barometer also fell lower than what was expected so I assumed that I must have been further into the system than the forecast. 

My plan was…. in the NW winds, sail West close hauled and then when the shift came to tack and go into a Heave too position.  For anyone that doesn’t know what a Heaved Too position is, it is a storm tactic where you tack the boat but you leave the jib on the wrong side of the boat.  You then turn your helm to windward and the resulting effect is that you drift sideways creating a slick that breaks the bad swell.

This is something that I had never done with my boat and given that I have a bulb racing keel (long and narrow) I was doubtful that Climate Action Now would heave too very well.  I assumed that the bow would drift off and eventually I would go through a gybe...  So, after bashing and crashing upwind into increasing swell for several hours you can imagine my surprise when the time came to Heave too and Climate Action Now just sat there perfectly.  My Storm jib had been sheeted in as tight as it would go before the tack and I had the 4th reef in the main sail.  The winds were, at this time 35-40 knots with rain sheeting sideways.  I almost completely stalled the boat out through the tack to wash off any speed and then let the winds push the bow around to complete the tack.  I turned the helm up and lashed it in place. 

I stayed on deck for almost another hour watching how the boat was handling and instead of crashing off the backs of the waves we were gently riding up and over them.  The boat was generating enough slick to stop any of the breaking waves from getting to me.  I don’t believe that it is as much slick as a full keeled boat would make, but enough to make it work.  I also found that I drifted on a beam reach at speeds of approx. 6 knots.  My keel is very narrow so it didn’t create enough drag in the water to slow the drift down, so I just need to ensure I have the sea room for a hove too in the future……. but all in all, a success.

I eventually turned off my head torch to try to get a better view of the waves.  It was a very black night and I was treated with an ocean of phosphorescence glowing blue.  These are little microorganisms that when bumped or agitated glow the most remarkable blue.  Everywhere the rain hit was lit up with a little blue light and given that it was raining hard I was treated my own personal oceanic fireworks. 

As the boat drifted there was all of a sudden, a large glowing ball of light a couple of meters below the surface, My first thought was that it was another variety, which is a jelly fish that acts like the phosphorescence and glows when disturbed.  I had seen these a few times before.  As I watched it was almost like a line of them were coming under the boat…….. so my second thought was to panic and madly look left and right for a fishing net.  Sometimes fisherman can tie glow sticks to the nets to make them more visible and this was beginning to look exactly like that. 
Given that there was absolutely nothing I could do about it if it was a net,

I looked away and repeated 'please don’t be a net, please don’t be a net' over and over in my head as a mantra.  One of my greatest fears with all the solo sailing I do, is the need to have to dive on the keel or rudder to cut away netting or rope.  All alone in the deep blue where the big sharks roam.  I am completely aware that this is an irrational fear, but it is there all the same.  Finally, I sucked in a deep breath and looked again.  I noticed that although there were balls of light around the boat they faded off once they had drifted clear which meant that this was more likely the jelly fish and less likely the nets, so I settled in to enjoy the show.

After the rain stopped and my fireworks faded I went below to get some sleep.  I didn’t get much sleep the night before and had been up all day so I was very tired.  As I lay in bed I checked the winds every extra loud gust and never really got much sleep until the winds started to abate.  I maxed out at 47 knot winds so not too bad.  It was very early in the morning when I noticed that I had drifted almost all the way back to the Agulhas Plateau.  This is a shelf of shallow water that comes out below South Africa.  Exactly the wrong place to be in intense winds and large seas.
 I had a few hours until I needed to make a decision and start sailing away from there, so I monitored it closely throughout the morning waiting for the winds to drop.  At lunchtime, I was still in 30 knots but it did seem to be starting to abate so I gave it another hour before tacking the storm jib over to the right side of the boat and slowly making my way NW in the SW winds.  I got a short nap in before the winds started abating to the point that I needed to adjust my sails.  I was also waiting for the winds to go to the west so that I could tack and start finally making some headway back towards the south to complete my loop-d-loop.

I decided to get the storm sail down first as I was less likely to get wet if I was going slowly. I am very glad that I did as for some reason it simply did not wish to come down.  The halyard (the rope that hoists the sail) was jammed somewhere, but there was no way I was wanting to climb the mast to free it.  I decided to use some spare rope run through a block on the deck and tie this around the soft loops that guide the sail up the baby stay.  I knew however that they were only stiched on so would likely bust if I applied too much pressure.  I gently started winching down the first part of the sail and found that I needed to put a lot of pressure to even get it to budge just a little.  I ended up spending 2 hours very painstakingly winching the sail down as it flogged in the breeze. 

About half way I tore the first soft loop off the sail and ended up having a hissy fit that would outmatch a 2-year-old.  I was crumbled on the deck in tears with frustration.  I am tired, I had had enough of wrestling this sail that should not even be stuck……and I still hadn’t gotten south...  It was explosive but it only lasted a minute and then with squally looking clouds around I wiped my eyes and got back to work.  Another hour later and I had busted 3 soft loops off all together and half torn the others but at least the sail was down.  Finally,...

During this saga the winds had continued to abate so I was now sailing nowhere in 12 knots of wind and I had been listening to the auto pilot beeping at me for over 2 hours telling me it was off course, so I needed to get some sails up.  Only now my arms were plenty tired from all the winching and battling of getting the storm sail down.  I needed to shake out from the 4th reef to the 1st reef to have any speed.  I also had now wasted enough time drifting that I needed to power up and start sailing.  So, with wobbly arms I set about getting the Stay Sail that is on the Pro Furl out and hoisting the main sail.  Another 30 minutes later and I was finally ready to go below.

I have added my boiling water to my freeze-dried bag of black beans and rice and plan on eating this and then getting as much sleep as possible, because tomorrow is going to be another long day.  If I can’t shake the halyard for the storm sail free in the morning I will have to brave the mast and climb up.  I have a self-climbing system similar to rock climbers, but it is a very exhausting process.  When I trailed the gear dock side it took me an hour and a half to climb to the top of the mast and almost the same again to come back down, so should that be necessary I am in for a long day so good night.