Ten wind forces from the front on the Bahamas Bank
The anemometer jumps higher and higher. 20 knots, 30, 40 … Wow, what's that going to be? Who would have thought that there was so much wind in the gray storm cloud? 45 knots. 50… Incredible. The digital display stops at 51 knots. Wind force ten. "Heavy storm."
Fortunately, we haven't set sails because there was still a lull until just now. We are on the large sandbar between the Bimini and Berry Islands, in the middle of the Bahamas. The water is only three to four meters deep. Nevertheless, the waves that build up within a very short time are considerable. Short and high.
While I am checking our position on the plotter and looking for possible obstacles, Cati starts to squeak in the cockpit. The ship is getting out of hand. There is no time for oilskins. I throw on my jacket and jump into the cockpit to release Cati. Before "Maverick" is completely across the waves, I push the throttle forward and crank the wheel. The bow turns towards the wind and stomps to windward. "What are we running?" I yell towards the companionway. "Whaaaas ???", Cati yells back. "What are we running?" - "Zero comes knots to windward."
Madness. Who would have thought that our old ship could steam against ten winds. The five horsepower more since the engine was replaced make it possible. Even the bimini stays where it is. Had some worries about whether we would have to fold it away in bad weather. The wind is one thing. But if it lasts longer, bigger waves also build up. What would the sea look like if this wind blew over 6000 meters deep for several days?
Sure, now it's starting to rain too. The view is getting worse and worse. "Posis on, radar too, and always a look at the AIS," I command. Just don't get run over by a fishing boat, we are exactly on their approach path. We can see for ten meters that the end is behind the bow. Cati tosses me my short oil trousers. In the downdraft of the sprayhood, it almost flies past me. At home in Germany I always asked myself whether you really needed short oilskin trousers. But here in the tropics they are just awesome.
The anemometer begins to fall, to 40 knots, 35 … There it stays for a while. "We're doing 1.5 knots again," calls Cati from below, leaning over the chart table. With a shaky voice. Only now do I notice that the sudden squall has upset her. The worst seems to be over, but Cati is still standing beside her, needs a moment to recover from the horror.
I was relatively calm the whole time, because I have already experienced such brief thunderstorms several times. The most violent many years ago on the Baltic Sea, behind Rügen. I was a sailor on board a 40-foot aluminum yacht that had already circumnavigated the world with the owner. That's why I wasn't worried. On the contrary, I found it fascinating how the thick clouds pulled in, the ship was thrown to an almost 45 degree heel without sails and ran before the wind. If I remember correctly, with seven knots over the ground, with a bare mast.
The sea was just as calm before as it is today, the water a little deeper, and we both stood at the chart table with wide eyes to watch the anemometer. At that time the digits showed 61.8 knots. Just under wind force 12, at the tip between a hurricane-like storm and a hurricane. What an experience. Even if the spook was over after a quarter of an hour.
61.8 knots of wind on the Baltic Sea
If someone asks me what my worst storm was, I wouldn't want to brag about it, because then as now it was "only" short thunderstorms, squalls. In addition, in smooth water. A short storm or "storm light".
The whole thing would look different if this storm were to pass over the yacht somewhere in the open Atlantic or even in the Southern Ocean, possibly for days, like during Wilfried Erdmann's non-stop trips. Both storms therefore only gave a small impression of what is possible at sea. They create respect for the sea and for what is possible out there.
And respect for the risk we take with every ocean trip. How often have we seen ships at anchorage that have made great voyages, although the owners have not given much thought to their seaworthiness. Large glass windows for which there are no sea baffles, shrouds that are held together with wire rope clips, ships with tiny bilge pumps and no emergency plan. Such yachts also sail across oceans and reach distant destinations. But often only because they don't get into a storm.
I myself drove across the Atlantic in an eight-meter-long inland sea boat and have never experienced more than eight winds that the ship could handle. Years later, I sailed back with a friend on a boat only two meters longer on the north route. Compared to my little "Maverick", this yacht modeled on a Colin Archer was much better prepared for ocean cruises and built to be very stable. Halfway from New York to the Azores, we got caught in a storm and turned around. And then it came to this moment that I will never forget:
With a GFK Colin Archer across the North Atlantic, 2009
When I opened the heavy companionway hatch to look out of the sheltered cabin outside, it was like looking into another world. The strong wind shredded the spray over the cockpit. A wave even threw us on our side so much that some of it was broken. Water was pressed through window seals and splashed across the cabin, even a railing wire tore from the pressure. I saw the spectacle from the belly of the safe ship and just thought: If I had gotten into such a storm with the little "Maverick", it would have been the end.
Since then I have seen such experiences, such a "storm light", as a reminder of what is possible outside. As an appeal to always keep your ship storm clear.
Sure, on most trips the winds are average, strong winds are only experienced once at most. But at some point the day will come when the world will end. Burghard Pieske described it best: "The See is an independent jury. And outside you will at some point be quoted in front of their table - and then it will show whether you have done your homework or not."
Further information about the trip: www.zu-zweit-auf-see.de