sailing from California to Japan, with a nose to the wind for treats
Pacific Puddle Jump Day 17
05 April 2019 | 2065 miles from La Cruz
Dousing in the Dark
Yesterday was extra pleasant. We’d made our final turn west toward the Marquesas the day before, soon after crossing the equator, so we were on our final downwind run, a sleigh ride as Greg says. We had our parasailor spinnaker flying strong and full, cruising around 6.5 to 7 knots all day with calm seas and clear skies. I chatted with a friend on the SSB radio, took naps and munched on jolly ranchers. We were resting on our newly shellbacked laurels (pre equator crossing we were mere polywogs). As the sun melted into the horizon and Venus winked her first winks of the night, we decided to keep the parasailor up til morning. The ride was so smooth, we were going so fast, there weren’t any squalls in sight.
Greg went over takedown procedures if we did need to douse the sail at night: I go on the foredeck with him, Diane steers to keep the sail on starboard, Susan blows the sheet in the cockpit, Greg pulls down the retrieval line to pull the sock over the sail, then I lower the halyard as Greg stuff the sail into its bag on the foredeck.
Diane, Susan and I all marveled at the stars for a while, pointing out new constellations we’d learned on previous night watches. The cool breeze on our sunned out skin was perfect for basking under the Milky Way. Diane and I retired for the evening while Susan stayed up for her watch. I heard Greg laugh with utter joy when he went up to serve his watch a few hours later, Susan was at the helm with the parasailor flying strong, in her bra, relishing her newfound confidence with this finicky sail.
Greg and Diane served their watches without incident, Greg saw lightning, Diane felt a rain shower. I came up at 4AM for my watch and spotted a small cell on the radar. I watched it for a while, to see if it would cross our path, it seemed like it might so I called Greg up to take a look. A band of black clouds stretched across the horizon off our port side, blocking the stars. Yeah, let’s bring it down, said the captain.
We turned on the foredeck lights, clipped into the jacklines and went on deck. The cockpit crew performed beautifully, they steered correctly and blew the sheet. For some reason, as I heard the wind whipping around the sail and saw Greg begin to pull the retrieval line, my brain switched from rational to panic mode. I started to drop the halyard, huge mistake, wrong order of operations. The sail was half in its sock, hanging dangerously close to the water, still filling with building wind and heeling the boat over to starboard. Greg had to maintain control of the retrieval line as I cranked the halyard back up into its proper position. It started to rain, lines whipped everywhere. I relayed (aka yelled) course directions from Greg back to the cockpit crew.
Greg got the sock all the way down and tied the bridle to the foredeck cleat. He called me up to the bow from my post at the main to help him untangle the mess of spaghetti around him. His headlamp got knocked into the deep when he went to the headstay to take off the soft tacker so he needed light. At this point, I did my training that I learned from SCUBA–stop.breathe.think.breathe.act.breathe. We were past the worst danger. Breathe. The sail is contained and secured to the boat. Breathe. I will shine my light on the lines and help Greg untangle them so we can start the engine and resume course. Breathe.
Susan came up, clad in head to toe star jammies under her life jacket, offering her valuable assistance and her extra bright headlamp. We all worked together, calling back to Diane to release lines from the cockpit as Greg fed them over around and through different points on the bow. The rain abated. We finally got the lines sorted, and we all helped stuff the sail into its bag. Relief.
We triple checked that there weren’t any lines in the water that would foul the prop. Diane started the motor, pointed into the wind and we raised the mainsail. We needed to motorsail for a few hours until daybreak so we could sleep and recuperate.
I apologized for my dangerous error and everyone was gracious and forgiving. You gotta learn somehow, said the captain. We all changed our rain soaked clothes, Susan made tea. I stayed in the cockpit for awhile to let the adrenaline run through me. Once I started yawning Susan sent me below to sleep. In dark black ink I inscribed a short log entry about the situation, thanked the stars that nothing worse happened, and climbed into bed.