Dropping in to latitude 24º South and longitude 127º West, the wind and sea conditions changed with each passing hour. The ocean was a confluence of mixed swells coming from every direction, which made our trimaran feel like a tractor climbing over an impossible terrain. We encountered squall after squall, some with deluges of rain; others with strong winds; and the worst encompassed both, all while crawling over the sea swells like a rubber ducky adrift in a turbulent river.
The setting sun of Day 20 illuminated the skyline into a gorgeous peach so ethereal one has to see it to believe. Cumulus clouds curtained the horizon and just beyond the veil the sky was peppered with a verdigris hue.
The dinner bell sounded and we ate like gods. Sweet potato black bean burgers between fresh “naan” buns made all from scratch by the hands of a galley goddess. Sabrina had outdone herself yet again with a meal suited for a five star restaurant.
We finished this glorious dinner and to our surprise it was not over! She unveiled dessert: handmade sweet potato empanadas sprinkled with sugar. With just a small bite into the delectable dessert we all gave a sigh of bliss, a sure sign this recipe would make the cut into the cookbook she was writing appropriately named “Moan of Approval”.
As dinner was finishing and my afternoon 1700-1900 shift was coming to an end, the sea was beginning to take on a new face. Large swells were bashing the hull from all directions and the wind was building steadily. I asked Kristian if he wanted to do any sail changes before I retired to my chambers for some sleep before the graveyard shift.
He was about to say no, but then wind gusted up to 25 kts and we decided to take action. With Sabby on the helm, Beadle and I went on deck to swap the genoa out for a working jib. Genoa is just a fancy way of saying a head sail (the one at the bow) that is larger than 100% of the space from the bow to the mast. We had switched out to a 110% genoa earlier in the day; which is significantly smaller than the 160% blue reacher sail we used during the majority of our crossing.
[Since he was about to go to sleep, Spencer had no foul weather gear on and proceeded to get a “free bath” by the plumes of white water;but luckily the water is still reasonably warm in this latitude!]
The process of swapping sails on this boat is relatively easy save for the fact that one must be harnessed and tethered in to the bow of the boat some 30 feet from the cockpit, in order to remove and replace the sail.
I took the liberty of being the bow man while Kristian was retrieving the jib from the sail locker. I busied myself with lashing the genoa to the pulpit for use the next day.
Taking walls of white water over the boat with each wave the bow of Aldebaran felt like a sick amusement park ride. The wind was gusting in low 30s by now and flung spray high and white water tumbled across the deck dousing the cockpit where Sabrina steered and Michael manned the sheets.
As we were about to hoist the 80% working jib I noticed a tear in the fabric along the leech. We spent the next 20 minutes removing this sail and changing out for an even smaller approximately 20% storm jib.
Drenched from head to toe, we now slid our tethers along the jack line back to the mast: it was time to reef the mainsail down to a second reef.
With our brand new reefing system in place, the process was easy and we had her made up beautifully in no time. Reefing at the mast was a welcome comfort after being strapped to the bow partially underwater moments prior.
The wind and waves were now consistently stronger with 2-4 meter swells leaping out of the sea surface to be hurtled into the boat by the 25-30+ knot winds that filled our sails and propelled us at a clipper ships rate. Despite the tiny jibs and double reefed main, we sailed through the night at a vicious speed. The sight of three sheets to the wind (storm jib, inner jib, plus double-reefed main) was a beauty and we flew along at 7-10 knots for the next 12 hours.
Saltwater dripped on me from the ceiling as I lie in bed trying to find a yarn of sleep. A leak, of course. My eyes fluttered and I smiled as I drifted into deep unconsciousness knowing that we were sailing through some of the most challenging conditions of our trip thus far and my knowledge and experience was invaluable to the safe passage of the ship.
As the dawn broke, the wind subsided and we could see the swells before they met us. They were extremely confused, but now we could steer actively to smooth the track of the yacht which had yawed so violently through the black of the previous night.
Now we only had 180 nautical miles to Pitcairn and the strongest winds, we were quite sure, were behind us.