We knew there’d be some ‘interesting’ weather joining us due to a huge low pressure system in the Indian Ocean. Just how ‘ interesting’ wasn’t clear until we were well and truly in it.

The wind had been building over the previous six hours. We came on watch at midday.

It seemed that with every passing moment the sea boiled and fumed some more until it raged like a volcanic eruption spewing blue and white magma all over us and all around us. The wind didn’t just howl, it screamed insanely.

We had all three reefs in the main sail, the storm jib up and had been prepared to lash the boom to the deck if it had worsened.

Our skipper was on deck with us, guiding the helmsmen through the tricky art of steering our 40 tonne yacht through 30 foot waves and gusts of 85 knots. I’m not sure what was worse, life above or below deck. Either way we were all rooting for each other, ‘stay safe, hold on, stay on your shortest safety line, make sure your bunk is safe’.

During my off watch sleep I had the pleasure of a lee cloth encounter three times – stopping me crashing out of my bunk and to the floor and no uncertain injury.

Three of us had already been unceremoniously tossed around the cockpit area before the height of the storm. The waves show no mercy and the only way to survive is stay on your shortest safety line but even then you can be zip wired down the jack stay if you’re unlucky enough to encounter that one menacing wave.

Around 1700h with a white out of sea water spray off the top of the waves that stung your eyes and lips, we were feeling the full force of the low pressure system.

And then we heard a loud crack. Our skipper jumped into action.  Gordon and I seemed to be the only ones in the cockpit; we set the boat for a hove to – basically an emergency stop.  Vicky our skipper took the most fantastic lead, we must have been like rabbits in headlights.

Thumbs up if you can hear me- we could. Action stations, Gordon yelled to our sleeping crew mates “all hands on deck- NOW”

The starboard foredeck stanchion posts had ripped out, the guard rail was loose and our Yankee three headsail was about to make an escape over the side of the boat. ‘Secure the sail” as Gordon and I sprinted on hands and knees to the wild crashing unsecured foredeck. One minute the boat seemed thirty feet in the air, the next we were having a close encounter with the surface of the raging sea. And all the while the boat is rolling and pitching, the wind is so strong we cannot catch our breath and we are staring at a shredded guard rail that would normally prevent us going overboard.

Ok, grab a piece of sail and on the rasping count of three we heave. As we are pushed and pulled and slapped by the waves with Vicky closely behind us I managed to bring the clew inboard followed by the rest of the sail between the two of us with some well-timed wave action we get the sail on board.

By this time the rest of the crew are on deck and we now have the job of lashing the sail with sail ties, holding the sail whilst Gordon and JB un-hank her. Vicky at our side all the time, ensuring we stay safe at the bow, with just our safety lines between us and the ocean.

And as the storm crescendos we are hit with heavy, sharp hail stones that make you wince out loud as they rip at any bare flesh. The noise is deafening and the waves feel like a cold fierce slap each time they hit.

Vicky shouts, “Aly get the sail back” where did my voice come from and how could it be heard, but it was and we did, and we safely dumped the sail down the foredeck hatch. Not before stumbling and re positioning after each wave knocks you back. Roser extends her arm to pull me up from the low side having been dumped by Mother Nature once more and poor Gordon is stuck at the front with JB getting pummelled by wave after wave as they un-hank the sail.

We all get back to the cockpit and get the boat back on course.

An eerie quiet comes over the boat as the wind has suddenly subsided, like a toddler tantrum, this toddler had screamed itself out and seemed asleep.

It was over although none of us could quite believe it.

That night we were exhausted, wet, cold, coming down from major adrenalin high and had just three hours sleep until the next watch.


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