16 September early morning...
In the early hours of the 16 September on Starboard watch we had one of those conversations, which you either live to regret as foolish or celebrate as inspired.
It was 2am, 1 hour until the end of the watch and things were going well for us. We were sailing comfortably with our Yankee 1 foresail, and main through a dark night. The wind shifted slightly and we mused that it was the in the perfect position for a spinnaker... The thing is it was pitch black and the watch was tired. Shall we, should we.... in the end one of skipper Patrick's previous comments rang in our ears. "This is a race not a cruise..." We woke Patrick for his opinion. "Yeah, lets try it" was his view.
On Old Pulteney the bottom corner of the spinnaker (tack) flies from the end of the bowsprit which extends from the bow of the boat. We attach it inboard to a rope(tack line)which is attached to a block on the end of the bowsprit and then as the sail is released it flies ahead of us.
Once the sail is full its not possible to pull the tack back inboard and so to allow us to drop the sail without climbing to the end of the bowsprit we have a mechanism which allows us to "trip the tack" from in board. The effect of doing this is dramatic as the huge sail immediately flies out in front the boat and we have seconds to pull it on board before it hits the water.
Why am I telling you this now? You may ask. The answer of course is obvious.... as we launched our spinnaker at 3am that windy dark morning the tack tripped, the sail flew out in front of us and Patrick issued his dreaded shout of "all hens on deck"
We pulled the spinnaker in and looked at each other. "What are we going to do?" we all new the answer, just didnt want to make it real by saying it! The answer was we needed to re-wool it (remember that from my previous entry? (3rd Sept). 45 minutes later we were ready to re-launch again... and again the tack tripped. We re-wooled again and finally Starboard watch tumbled into bed at 4.30 am with only 2 and a half hours to sleep until we were next on watch. We had the spinnaker flying and were hoping that all of our hard work was worth it.
Morning 7am 16 September.
It was worth it and what a difference a couple of hours of sleep (and a strong coffee) makes! Our spinnaker (who we've christened Angus in honour of our Scottish sponsor) flew faithfully all day without incident - only our second day without a single problem, and as we approached late afternoon we were looking forward to a pleasant night sail.
Evening 16 September
As darkness began to fall however we looked to our port side to see the sky filled from up above right down to the sea with a huge, menacing dark cloud.
The sheer scale of it filled me with a sense of awe and fear at the energy which I knew was buried in the squall. At sea with cloud comes rain, increased wind speed and the potential of quick wind shifts. Patrick's assessment was "There could be 30 knots of breeze in there but its moving along with us not towards us so for now we watch and do nothing, if it comes close we'll need to change our sail plan fast"
So we watched and waited. As darkness fell Patrick showed us how to plot the storm on the radar and to work out its direction relative to the boat. Having been fully briefed a crew member was left in front of the radar on weather watch.
As the moisture ridden air cooled throughout the night the radar showed more squalls forming around us. As we received regular reports from our weather watching crew member it felt as if we were being stalked by a hugely powerful silent and invisible enemy. As we watched lightening flicker along the horizon and remembered the sheer scale of the storm we had seen as the light fell, I became certain that nature with all its awesome power was out to get us... for perhaps the first time silence fell in the cockpit.
As I go off watch at 2300 I plan to crawl into my bunk and prepare for a bumpy ride...