Will it be that big - or worse? Anxious moments for the crew in the middle of the North Atlantic
"Around 0600 UTC the wind turns southeast and increases to 15 to 20 knots. Around 1200 UTC it continues to turn south-southeast and you can expect 25 to 50 knots."
I reread the sentence in the email. Yes, you read that correctly: "50 knots." - "That is wind force ten!" Cati's eyes are shocked. "No, no? Really now? Oh no!"
Bad news that our friend Jessica sends us via email. Every day we get a detailed weather report from her, which so far has always been absolutely accurate. Just three days earlier she had pointed out a low pressure area that was supposed to pass over us - and then did it according to the textbook. A very slow low, which is why we had to deal with it for almost two days. Tiring backbreaking work, keeping the ship on course in such weather and doing the usual work on board at the same time. Cooking, washing up - just sitting and reading a book without flying around.
The wind shifts, the passage of the warm front and the cold front with huge downpours came exactly as announced at the right time. A brief lull was not announced, right in the middle of it.
Suddenly the wind has disappeared and we roll miserably in the four-meter-high waves. It takes a lot of strength to maneuver the ship with the little remaining voyage so that the movements are bearable. All kinds of Schapps fly up below deck, the contents of which are distributed through the cabin. "Wow. With the rubble we shake the bulkheads out of the hull. Or the machine will tear from the foundation."
In the chaos I see something strange swimming in the water in front of us. Smaller than a book and heavily overgrown with shells and algae. "Oh no, not yet another crab trap, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean," I think to myself and try to steer past it. No chance, the rudder effect is too weak. That something is coming right at us.
In Portugal and the US in particular, we were constantly dealing with crab traps, which are often even placed in the fairway and marked by small buoys. Billions of them everywhere. Even at sea we saw some of these buoys, tore them loose and drifted away - usually with a few meters of line attached. And to make matters worse, one of these will now be wrapped around our propeller. But then, as the lump gets closer, I realize that it is not a buoy. "A flip-flop! I'm going crazy." He swims upright next to us. Judging by the vegetation, it must have been around for ten years. Very slowly he drifts past us and sets course for the USA. "Good Trip!" All the bizarre things you can't see out here.
Half an hour later the wind returns and with it the cold front and heavy downpours. Everything below deck is damp, the windows steamed up. Nevertheless, we cannot open a window because the rain is lashing the deck, accelerated by the wind. It takes hours for the thick rain clouds to pass as they are moving in the same direction at almost the same speed as we are. We can follow the clouds well on the radar screen. When they dissolve two and a half hours later, the sky tears open and the sun shines warmly on the deck. What a wonderful sight! It's over. The low is through. We hug each other for joy.
A few hours later the weather report comes: "A new low is approaching that will reach you the day after tomorrow." Oh cheek, not again. We are particularly concerned about the "50 knots". So we prepare the ship for it and make it stormproof. Before the start in Palm Beach I had checked the storm sails and renewed the backstays for the cutter day on which the storm jib was set.
Hours before the low is supposed to pass over us as announced, we are ready for the fight against the elements. Everything is firmly lashed, the third reef in the mainsail. A list at the chart table provides information on all announced changes and increases in wind at the specific times. The 50 knots are to be expected at 10 a.m. local time in the morning. Shortly beforehand the wind starts to turn, and then it happens:
You could almost say: calm. We bob for hours with minimal sails in light winds, but we don't dare to break out either. "Taking out the reef is the easiest way to turn a false storm warning into a real one," I explain to Cati with a wink. Gallows humor. We don't trust the roast yet.
Hours later, I check the email again. The evening before I had asked Jessica if she might have made a mistake in the email. "Oh, upsi …" we read. "Yes, I meant 25 to 30 knots of wind, not 50." Relief. "As it looks now, the winds are a little further north of you, you should be 5 to 10 knots." Precisely. So it is certain: the storm has postponed. We can hit. Good news.
At the moment we are sailing towards our destination high on the wind again. 1100 nautical miles to Horta. Wouldn't a new high pressure area push itself in the way, which once again brings light winds for three days. But that's fine with us, because we finally need a few days to breathe.