After our second watch had finished at 3am Johnny and I went to bed. Sleeping was impossible as the cat was banging and slamming and I managed to get some air (as in my whole body came off the bed). Although I hadn’t slept, at 5am Dave came into the cabin to wake me up and I snapped back at him something about not getting any sleep and that is wasn’t time for my watch. He mumbled something back about reefing the main (bringing the mainsail down a notch) so, bleary eyed I staggered my way up to the saloon – a job made difficult by the increasing movement of the cat. Everyone was up, including Vincent who looked slightly less chilled than usual.
In fact he looked serious. “You’re all familiar with emergency procedures at sea?” he asked, looking at each of us in turn. We nodded. “OK, here’s the EPIRB (electronic position indicator radio beacon). We have two life rafts, a four man and a six man. Down there are the grab bags…..” Whilst we were taking all this in the one question that was at the front of our minds was “Why’s he telling us this now?”. It was quite simple really. The forecast we had been given for the second day at sea was incorrect and what had happened over the last two hours was a change in the wind direction, an increase in its speed and a step up to a force 8 storm. The sh!t was about to hit the fan.
Johnny and I started our watch early and marveled at the size of the swells and waves as it got light. Perhaps it would have been easier in the dark because then we wouldn’t have been able to see what Mother Nature had in store for us. The swells were increasing but their direction became undefined, as if the wind couldn’t decide which way to blow. It settled on a westerly to north-westerly, and with our course of 210 degrees this meant the wind was only 30degrees off the bow and we were close to beating into it. This was not ideal (“real gentlemen don’t beat into the wind” is an expression I’ve heard used since I’ve been sailing) and for Brigand this was awful. The starboard bow was being picked up and slammed down and the two hulls were trying to sail off in opposite directions.
With the water smacking its way through the middle the inside of Brigand was a scene from a horror film (quite appropriate since it was Halloween!). The drawers in the galley were sliding in and out, the seats in the saloon shot up and down and the constant banging noise was deafening. Whilst the inside of the boat was stifled with fear, the view outside did nothing to calm the nerves. Water was everywhere, either in the form of spray coming in all directions, or as solid walls of ice blue water. The waves were rolling at us from the starboard side and disappearing under us to port. As Brigand dropped in a swell so a wave would build and build, growing higher and higher until, as it reached the boat, one’s entire view of the starboard side was a mass of blue – one’s whole field of vision was one big wave. And then it would slide underneath, pushing the boat on top of it and then drop us to the bottom of the swell as the wave galloped off towards the coast of Africa (probably Casablanca), some 150 miles away.
Although we’d managed to cover a very quick 180 miles in the last 24 hours Brigand was now struggling. We’d dropped the mainsail and sheeted the storm gib and our speed dropped to around 4 knots. The skipper had some serious thinking to do. He’d called Peter using the satellite phone and the forecast for the next 24 hours was not good. The question was what were we to do? There was talk of turning round and heading back to Portugal. We had no information on the ports of Africa so Morocco was out the question. The skipper decided we were to sweat this one out, take it slow and let the front blow over.
The next 24 hours became a blue of slamming, spray, 5 metre waves and queasiness. Most of the watches were done in saloon, though I preferred being outside, harnessed in and riding the boat as if on a surf board! It was either feel sick and feel sh!tty, or see it for what it was and make the most of it. Whilst many yachties experience this kind of weather, most people on land who have never sailed would not understand the freedom, the movement and the exhilaration of a sea like this, so it was a case of make the most of it! The weather was actually quite warm and the water was so blue it was like something out of a toothpaste ad. When the wind wasn’t howling and lifting the waves to above head height, then it screamed with rain and reduced visibility considerably and the waves changed mood, this time rolling lower in the same direction as if with some kind of purpose, whilst Brigand continued to be torn this way and that, still threatening to rip right in two.
The usual oddities occurred, including auditory hallucinations. At one point I heard an intercity 125 blow its horn. I saw a turtle (or was it a terrapin) bob past, completely lost in the choppy conditions. A small squid got thrown onto the rear of the deck from the spray. Obviously dead already it lay there until nightfall, where upon it glowed luminescent in the dark.
By nightfall Vincent and I were the only ones not feeling sea sick. Tim looked the greenest I’ve ever seen a person look, Dave was struggling to stay inside for more than 5 seconds and even Johnny admitted to feeling a little bit sick. Dave had started to prepare dinner but got as far as chopping one tomato before having to leave the galley to get some fresh air. The boat was still being picked up from each corner and slammed down hard so for anyone to offer to prepare food would have been a real hero. Up steps SuperFurlong to the rescue and an hour later having slaved away over a hot stove and struggled for balance whilst saucepan lids and washing up bottles were thrown at me I managed to produce a vegetable curry with rice. I was pleased to see Tim get some down him as he’d managed two bananas that day and thrown them both up. “I couldn’t hold down much today but this really hits the spot” he told me. Even the skipper complemented me on the cooking so far. Always nice to be appreciated! Dave just dipped some bread in his and Johnny complained it was too hot. I think everyone was feeling a little delicate after a constant battering.