The last 72 hours have been some of the most surreal, exhausting, and exciting of my life.
I wrote about some of the first two days’ highs and lows here. The following night and day were just as full on. Things started out calm enough that I thought I might just watch a movie on my first watch. I was into a really high tension scene in Fury when I looked up and saw buoys all around. I had just scanned the horizon moments before using a combination of binoculars and a high powered flashlight.
My heart, fueled by a sudden influx of adrenaline, leapt straight out of my chest. I followed it a split second later, throwing the gearshift into neutral, while grabbing the VHF to hail Peregrine and alert them to the danger. I woke Vick with the flashlight and then scanned the area to get my bearings.
For those of you who haven’t had this unique experience, the worst case in this scenario is that the prop (spinning at 3/4 of it’s full torque) gets immediately and abruptly stopped by cable and net, potentially bending the prop shaft. This, in a region aptly called “the land under the wind” means you have no propulsion of any sort, and no port within 200 nautical miles that can fix the problem. A more likely nasty situation is that you get caught up and have to dive into the water, in the dark (with sea snakes…<shudder>) to cut the nets loose.
Luckily we did not get caught up, and after another night of full vigilance we did discover that these buoys were likely attached to crab traps, similar to the kind Downeasters are well familiar with. This is, sadly, useless information because the hazard landscape changes with every island we pass. What were crab traps last night will inevitably be longlines by morning.
The morning came, and we were blessed by a pervasive overcast. It was cool and there were squall lines on the horizon. To me this meant a possibility of sailing, but Trevor told stories of his tropical squall experience that included a wind delta of 40 knots. I compromised by setting a second reef and watching the system develop ahead of us. We were speeding along, cool and content, getting an extra knot or so on top of our motoring speed when something terrifying and extraordinary developed.
Peregrine was about two miles ahead of us. I had been talking about the weather with them and studying the squall through the binocs. I turned around to sweep the horizon and saw, for the first time in my life, a waterspout. This was not, by reports I have since read, an average sized spout, it was enormous. In a quick survey of Google images, I reckon that it was 90th percentile. And it was coming straight for us.
I announced its presence to Peregrine and then just stood, staring at this monster. Trevor’s voice came across the radio, startling me out of my trance. “Take down your mainsail.” I made it to the mast in two steps, threw up the clutch and the sail dropped instantly. Back in the cockpit, we started working together to move everything below deck.
I pushed us to max RPM and tethered in for what turned out to be the height of the squall. Visibility was near zero but I could still see the massive spout, diminishing as the rain stole heat from the surrounding area. Finally, I saw the last tendrils evaporate and the rain started to subside.
The remainder of the day was spent recalculating our fuel efficiency and motoring in cool overcast weather towards Mesanak. We determined that we would not have enough fuel to make it to Malaysia, and (though the guide claimed fuel was unavailable) we were going to have to try our luck.
To be continued…