Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Art of a Dark and Stormy Night

I lay in bed last night listening to the wind and rain thinking, "it's a dark and stormy night alright." I actually like wind and rain because it always gets me thinking. Let me clarify that... I like it when I'm safely tucked up in bed and not out in it. Rainy nights are always good for a trip down memory lane.

My days of sailing usually are at the top of the list. The basic rule of thumb when living on board is, "I'd rather be in this harbour wishing I was out there, than out there wishing I was in here." Bad weather is part and parcel of sailing but if you can avoid it, so much the better.

I've been through way too many 'will I survive this?' storms or bad conditions at sea but a few are up in the top 10 of bad. This is one of them.

On a moody January morning in 1986 Lee and I set sail from Morocco bound for Tenerife in the Canary Islands on a delivery of a bare bone Swan 37. They are Swedish built and one of the best sailing boats in the world. The weather was threatening but we were on the clock, which is never a good thing when sailing. The weather worsened steadily and soon we were barreling along under storm sail over raucous waves. The heavens just opened and belted us with heavy rain every time I went on watch.

It stayed bad for nearly three days, really bad. We had some scary incidents with unidentifiable ships and a few other mysterious, but quite funny, happenings. We were exhausted and very wet by the end of it as we had to hand steer the whole time. Water leaked in to our lockers and we had absolutely no dry clothes. Lee gets seasick the first couple of days out - he's fine when on the helm or flat out in his bunk. It's the in between bits that are difficult for him. I strapped myself to the stove a couple of times a day to make hot chocolate and a simple version of French toast. This sustenance was about all we could manage because the boat was bashing around so much.

I was on watch as a dull dawn broke, the wind started to lighten and the rain became a drizzle. The Atlantic swells were enormous. You had to steer up at an angle and then run down the other side at an angle. I was doing the wave zigzag when I saw dolphins playing in the big swells in the distance. I was just delighted. Dolphins make you feel safe and happy. My cheerful state of joy dimmed as we drew closer and I realized it wasn't dolphins, it was a pod of whales. The swells were so bloody big, they made the whales look small. I remember my heart sinking as I wondered, "Will this never end?" It did eventually, a weak sun came out, the sea calmed and we shook out the sails.
Later we festooned the railings with our clothes to dry. We sailed naked and free and laughed loudly at the exhilaration of the storm ending. A big school of dolphins - really dolphins this time - joined us and started playing across our bows. We were finally able to put the auto pilot on before we both rushed to the bow. It was a spectacle of fun. The dolphins rose out the water on their tails and chattered at us before diving and racing through the bow wave. It's one of the most wonderful sights in the world. Their happy faces and antics drove away any misery and fear.

Dark and stormy nights often bring that trip back to me and I still wonder about that ship we couldn't identify...what it was, it's size or the direction it was going. And I am always very grateful indeed to be snug in my warm bed thinking about being out there, rather than being out there wishing I was in here.
At the start of the trip as the weather was starting to build. No time to take photos after this till the end of the trip! Lee should have had his safety harness attached to the wheel...he got yelled at.

Finally dry-ish and heading in to Los Christianos, Tenerife


Carol Beckx said...

What an adventure and so well written I felt as though I was experiencing the storm as well.

Scott said...

I second Carol's comment, and admit to more than a little bit of envy!

Anne Jenkins Art said...

thank you both! I think I better write about a fun non stormy trip soon... not all sailing stories should be about bad weather!! although you probably learn more about yourself in stormy weather than good!!