A 40kt gale is not for everybody. That’s a Beaufort F8! Add to that a lumpy sea on the beat and it’s downright miserable.
To leeward we have the rocky shoreline. Vulcan Rock and it’s associated villains, waiting to tear the bottom out the boat. This coastline doesn’t tolerate fools and, in the calmer moments, I’m wondering if that’s not what we are? Fools.
The beat down the coast has been miserable and punctuated by bouts of overflowing nausea. There seem to be three different wave systems all fighting for dominance. The regular SW’ly swell is there but it’s overlaid by reflections off the steep-to coastline and then there’s also the wind-induced waves from the south east. Every once in while they all collide and ‘Blue rises on a massively steep pile of water only to fall and crash into the trough immediately behind. There’s no rhythm to this, just jarring, boat-breaking thudding.
The voyage thus far has been one of steadily rising breeze, most of the way thus far in the 20-25kt range but now, closer to the Hout Bay entrance it’s piped up and is a regular 30 gusting 35. We’ve two reefs in the main and the genoa is so tiny it’s embarrassing and yet, we’re still doing around 6kts boat speed, upwind. Everything is hard in these conditions. And wet. Soaked!
There’s a massive “Bang!” and for a while I can’t figure out what’s broken. All looks normal and the traveler, the crew’s guess, looks fine. A short while later I notice the baggy foot of the reefed main. The reefing line cheek-block has sheared off the boom. It’s not the first time. It takes me a while to figure out a plan but eventually I get the first reef line attached to the 2cnd reef clew/cringle and at least put some tension back into the reefed foot. Not enough, but enough to prevent a worsening of the problem. There’s a rat’s nest of lines and mess all over the cockpit impeding the genoa winch now but at least we are somewhat back under control.
We push on, still intent on making it into the tiny harbour in the north west corner of the bay. We finally give up trying to clear the Vulcan Rock dangers under sail and start the Yanmar Full throttle. I’m not really caring too much at this stage, ignoring the obvious steam from the exhaust. Perhaps not too wise but all I want is to put an end to this, like now!
And then, as the wind notches up to 40 we see impending doom howling across the water. The bay ahead is blown flat, white spray blowing horizontally across the surface. We may well handle that wind with a third reef in the main but the third, it’s not set up for easy use and we don’t have enough searoom to fiddle. Besides, if it’s blowing like that deeper into the bay, at the harbour entrance, it could kill us against the rocks or the harbour wall.
The decision is made, quickly, decisively and without lingering debate amongst the crew, to run back up the coast to Cape Town rather than to risk life and limb in these conditions.
Despite the tiny double-reefed main, the gibe is still violent, threatening to rip the mainsheet from the traveler. But it’s now downwind and life immediate becomes more tolerable.
The difference between battling uphill against this weather and sea on the beat and now that we’re running with the wind is remarkable. The steering takes some work as the following sea tries to push the stern every which way, but the wild and wet scene is immediately transformed into something more pleasant, more manageable. Against protestation I send the crew down below to change into dry gear. We’ve still got a few hours out here and we need warmth and strength for what is shaping to be a rough night entry into Cape Town.
The topography here plays a huge factor in shaping the wind. The wind that chased us, tail-between-legs, from Hout Bay funnels over Llandudno slamming us with 30-35kts once again. But this time it’s on the beam and the ship handles it in her stride. The calmer patches hold wind of 20-25kt and we grin at each other in the “calm” of 25kts. Life really is all about relativity at times. Who would have thought 25kts would be so welcome?
Although I try and block it from memory, I remember visiting the leeward rail yet again on the voyage back north. How many times today? I forget. Deep inside my thoughts I’m wondering if this is really what I want to do, this sailing thing? For what? Surely there are easier and nicer things to do with one’s life?
All hope for a diminishing wind and an easy entry are disappearing. There’s still 20-25kts in the Sea Point lee, an area we were hoping would see the wind ease. As we round Green Point, the sea state moderates but it’s still wet, wet, wet with spray reaching all the way back to the cockpit on each and every little crest we power through. I’ve always had my reservations as to whether we’d make it back to RCYC with a 25kt SE’ly and a tiny 12hp motor, but ‘Blue is powering along at 6.5kts motor sailing I can’t see anything though. Every wave fogs my glasses and I curse time and again, silently wiping away water for the millionth time. Without the plotter screen we’d be in a more difficult position for sure.
We make it into Duncan Dock and it’s now clear there will be no respite, no letting up of the wind to allow us to elegantly dock. This is shaping up to be a crash-landing of note. I make the decision to forgo the niceties of getting crew ashore and handing lines back to the boat in a predetermined order. Nope. We’re going in hot and will rely on the dock itself to stop us. Hopefully the padding is up to the job?
Taking the main down is difficult, a cacophony of violent, gut-wrenching noise. With no time for finesse or neatness I haul on the leach like a madman and wrap up the tangle as best I can.
With barely enough time to finish up the main and get the fenders out we’re entering the marina. Crunch time. I get all mixed up between the throttle and the gears and the power and reverse us back into the tumult before the crew is able to step ashore. Going forward again I finally get us stopped, diagonally in the berth with the bow in the corner and the fendered starboard quarter resting against the neighbour Despite the knock taken to the bow, not too bad. Something new learned! Wedged in like this Blue happily waits for the exhausted crew to sort out the lines.
It’s over for now. The boat is wet inside, the bilges are wet, everything forward of the mast is wet. And a mess. The entire contents of the v-berth are dislodged, lying in a pile on the floor and in the head area. Luckily the water container didn’t burst or damage the sea-cocks.
Time to shower. Time to see if we can convince the restaurant to still feed us. We can sort out the carnage tomorrow.
There’s a kind of optimism that sailors seem to have. That and terminal memory loss. Otherwise why would we return to sea? Are the dolphin sightings, the flukes of a whale tail, the rare perfect sailing conditions enough to compensate for what we’ve just been through? The challenge of managing the boat, of returning safely are well there but are they really enough to have us return time and again? I don’t rightly know what will happen next. For now ‘Blue is docked and I’ve left her be, ready to take some time out and try something different. My threats to sell up and move on are, I think a distant memory. Uttered in the heat of battle, I don’t think they were sincerely meant? After all, what else would I do?
I continue watching the YouTube Sailors, broadcasting the good life. Why? It’s a myth!