16.01.07 – “a fast wet uncomfortable sail”

We’re 30 miles off Punta Corona. Close reaching in 25-30 kts of SSE breeze on a lumpy sea. The visibility is poor. It is fast, wet and uncomfortable. We’re often over-canvassed and with a beam sea Tainui is having difficulty maintaining a course. But I am determined to make the coast before dark. I’ve tied the second reef, untied it, furled the genoa, unfurled the genoa, dropped and stowed the staysail then unstowed and raised it again. And soaked 3 changes of clothes.

“…a fast, wet, uncomfortable sail…” Non-sailors won’t appreciate the significance of those words. First they mean noise, constant noise. Noise so wearing that in bed earplugs are a godsend. On deck the wind’s constant moan, howl, whistle (this time no shrieking, god forbid); the background hisses and gurgles of the rushing sea; the staccato rattle as sheets of spray hit the deck. Like gravel thrown hard onto bathroom tiles.

The other thing to say about the noise is that it is very tiring. It is a joy to come below and close the hatch. The silence there – at best only relative – is warm, extremely comforting. It is like coming from a rock concert to sit by a fire in the library. You don’t have to shout.

Hand in hand with the noise comes the motion, which tends to merge with the cacophony. A devilish mix. Let me talk about this.

First, with reaching and shy running, there are the deep shocks when waves slam broadside into the hull. Noise and motion indistinguishable. Surprising, because they come unexpectedly. If too frequent, or if these waves throw the boat over on its side, they tell you it is time to slow down, to turn further away from the wind, or both. Even if it takes you in the wrong direction.

Second, when sailing hard on the wind (which we aren’t, thank heavens) you have those bone-jarring crashes each time the bow falls off a wave. These are distressing because they can shake the boat to its very core. You worry about splitting the hull up forward, although that’s very unlikely because the hull there has about the strongest compound curves the old girl has to offer – the real reason for all those elegant lines, practical first and aesthetic very much second. These crashes distress also because they don’t come unannounced. The harbinger is a movement – a sudden upward sweep of the boat, a transient sense of weightlessness which has you think – “shit, here comes another one. Hang on, quick!!”).

After a month at sea you acquire some ability to anticipate these seemingly random movements. There is pattern and predictability in the movement, even when it is chaotic. And wedding them to the mental images you have of the sea outside is satisfying. Because with that process comes a sense of oneness with her.

The forward surge as we pick up speed is exhilirating, even down below. A roller-coaster ride. By turns your weight doubles and then plummets till your heart comes up into your throat. And always with sound-track, remember. Endless wonderful swooping and soaring – in which you feel the boat’s essential purpose, her unshakeable intention. It is when that swoop gets subsumed into sideways movement – an alarming increase in angle of heel as you swerve off course, the noise of the wind rises and the boat shakes its bones with the furious rattle of sails – then you know it is time to ease the mainsheet or reduce sail.

The other uninvited motion comes with course alteration off wind – then the boat suddenly stands upright, the wind seems to drop and the boat feels leaden. This has you leaping to the steering lines or, if need be, naked up into the cockpit, to bring her back on course before she gybes all standing.

Anyway, as I was saying, we are having a fast, wet and quite uncomfortable sail……….


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