Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Heavy weather

It wasn’t easy to pick the weather window in 2007. We wanted to sail to New York, but the gales kept coming over the Bahamas, and that year there was even a tropical storm before the official hurricane season started, sinking a 54-foot sailboat with a crew of four.

We left Bahamas in sunshine and perfect conditions, although the weather guru Chris Parker spoke of the troughs with uncertainty, not knowing how they would behave.

Three days later, on June 1, the tropical storm Barry formed south of Florida. Moving north-east it would hit us outside Cape Hatteras, if the weather predictions were correct.

This is when we decided to turn around. But we didn’t feel safe. This tropical storm couldn’t be foreseen as an exact science; it could grow into a hurricane, veer in a more easterly direction and wipe us out within 24 hours.

We secured everything and prepared Bika for a capsize. We made a huge portion of stew in the pressure cooker, but were too scared to eat for a long time. We heard Herb on the SSB-radio, the weather guru for the North Atlantic, who strongly adviced sailors to get away as fast as they could.

We sailed south-east in fickle winds. Late in the evening it seemed likely that the tropical storm Barry wouldn’t hit us, but the barometer started to fall rapidly and we could see heavy clouds on the horizon in front of us. The tropical storm was pushing its way through the lows in the region, squeezing the isobars north of Bahamas.

Bika Contessa 26

The wind picked up. We continued in a south-east direction, but the winds got even stronger. We decided to drop the genoa 3 and wait for further development. That was a mistake. I should have hoisted the storm jib right away, instead of doing it later, when the winds were so strong that even a small mistake could have been disastrous. I had to carefully stuff the sail in the bag before hooking on the storm jib, and keep an eye on the waves at the same time. Actually, it rained so hard that the breaking waves got flattened a lot.

We hove to, as we’ve done many times before, and sent out a warning on the VHF every half hour, since it was impossible to see anything in the rain.


It was hot, though. It was strange to be almost naked when having maybe 45 knots of wind. We had a semi-knockdown, but both of us were in a good mood, and rather fatalistic about the weather.

After six hours the wind abated to 30-something knots, and we continued sailing in the morning, with around 30 knots of wind.