September 17, 2010

Do not trust the weather files

We knew that the sail to Suwarrow would be challenging but we had no idea HOW challenging. This was the first time we headed out in such high winds and overcast conditions but the weather files we had received promised that lighter winds were on the way.

We raised our small storm sail, a spiff of main sail and a spiff of the missen. It had been a long time since we had sailed with both the wind and waves at our side. It felt strange and foreign and I won't lie to you I was a bit scared. We kept telling ourselves that this was the worst of it and soon light winds would be with us. The wind was consistently over 25 knots and as each squall would pass through it would blast substantially higher. The worst part was that we were only doing about 3 knots. The waves were so high and forward of the beam that they slowed us right down. We tried raising more sail but given the huge wind Artemo would heal so far over that the port deck was under water. We had never seen so much water running over the decks. I could just reach out of the cockpit and be touching the ocean.

The sounds down below were unsettling. I am sure they are normal but we hadn't heard them in so long. The bashing of waves against the hull at the front. It sounded like we had collided with something. We would all brace ourselves and look to Graham for a "it's ok" nod. For the first time ever we took a huge wave down below. We had the door in the companionway but we didn't have the sliding lid shut. A rogue wave hit us and water was everywhere. Alex was in the cockpit tethered in and took the worst of it. I was in shock and it was a lesson learned. We took many more waves into the cockpit on the trip. Water was everywhere. The tiniest drip down below would overtime cause "wet bed".

Since we hadn't felt this motion in so long we were all sea sick, even Graham. Alex and I were the only ones to woof our cookies. We would both try and make it to the cockpit in time.....sometimes we weren't quick enough. The boys took to peeing in a bucket since it was so much effort to travel from the cockpit to the bathroom and then to go. We all wore the same clothes for the 3 days. On the first day we had some pre-cooked chicken that Graham managed to throw in the oven to heat up. I passed us each out a piece in bowl for dinner. None of us could really eat but Alex was starving. He dug in immediately and after about 5 bites he says...."mom can you take a look at this". It was dark down below but I had a head lamp on. I shone the light on the meat and could see blood. I freaked out and felt even more sick. A fight between Graham and I ensued as I begged Alex to make himself throw up and Graham told me not to be so crazy. (fyi...Alex was fine and didn't throw up)

During all of this Alex continued to fish. We had no idea what we would do if he caught one. There was no way the boys could of gone on deck to reel it in and clean it. On day two Graham heard the dreaded words...."I caught a fish Dad!" Graham was laying down below and told Alex that we would just have to drag it for a while til it was dead. Alex and I watched up on deck as it fought and jumped from the water. It was huge. Graham could hear us oouing and ahhing on deck and he said after that he was so hoping the fish would win the fight and he wouldn't have to bring it on board and clean it. Luckily he got his wish and Alex watched as the line went from tight to loose. He was so sad. He brought in the lure and the fish had ate half of it and taken one of the hooks. He had double hooked the line, so there was still half a lure and a hook on it. He spit on the lure and back out it went.

On day three he landed the biggest fish yet on that half eaten lure....a five foot Mahi Mahi. Luckily he landed it during the calmest part of the voyage. Winds were still 25 knots but the sky was blue. The boys cut off the head and tail and quickly gutted it. The threw it in two huge long bread bags and put it in the fridge to deal with once we were safely at anchor.

On the morning of our arrival we were hit with the worst squall yet. Normally Artemo could manage each squall without us having to reduce sail since we were already reefed in but this squall hit with such a force that we were battered down towards the sea. We yelled at the kids down below to get on their life jackets and we secured the hatches. We knew we had to go forward and bring down the storm sail but conditions were just so crazy that the thought of one of us going forward was way to scary. We were using our windvane to steer us because our auto pilot had given out due to the high winds 2 nights before. We decided to turn off the windvane, hand steer and run with the squall. The strange part was that we were in sight of the island but this brought us no feeling of peace since the squall was pushing us towards the reef. Once we had Artemo turn away from the wind I tried to hold her on course. I was shocked how hard this was in the high high winds. Graham went forward and lowered the sail. We rode out the worst of the squall and were so happy to finally see it pass.

We finally made our way to the pass for the island and it was much easier to get in then we anticipated. We made it to the anchorage and just as we laid the anchor down the wind blasted to 50 knots. Can you believe it? Luckily Artemo was well set and now here we sit safe and sound and reflecting on our journey. Trying to think...."Cup half full" and all I can come up with is that the universe felt we needed the sailing experience. If things are always good then how do you learn....right? and I guess challenges do seem to also bring us all even closer. Oh and they also make the good times even sweeter.

We called over to Simpatica once we arrived. They had arrived a full day before us. We all love to hear Louis's take on things. Again in his fabulous Texan accent he says, "It like we were shot at and missed, and shit at and hit.".....Yup, this pretty much sums it up!

ps....don't trust the weather files!


  1. Wow what an intense blogg...terrifying actually.You are such a great writer I could imagine everything and picture it so clearly. I read it out loud to everyone here. When I got to the part about the fish I laughed so hard I couldnt see for the tears. That was hilarious and I just knew Graham was hoping that fish got away before I even read that part.
    So happy you are safe at anchorage.

  2. Jesus, some of the stuff you guys have to get through. 5 foot fish is pretty awesome though.

  3. That was one terrifying blog, I could visualize the whole trip and it scared me, so I would imagine that you were really really scared. Taking on all that water, sleeping in it, eating half raw chicken, fishing through it all and catching a 5 foot fish. Crazy. So glad that everyone is safe and sound for the moment anyway. Stay put for awhile. You are an amazing writer. Love ya MOM