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Thursday, 24 July 2014

And Then The Storm-Blast Came


I suppose it had to happen. All fair weather on a voyage like this seems to be too good to be true. 

Today Mother Nature decided to show us one of her nastier moods.

For the last three days you may think we were part of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

“Day after day, day after day
Nor wind nor breath nor motion.
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.”

These words from Samuel Taylor Coleridge certainly rang true. We were shopping on the first day, luckily for us. But there was not a breath of wind for most of the day.The second day was yesterday, when we had to motor, as the sea was glassy smooth with no wind either.


To follow on with Coleridge's words: “Then the storm blast came.”

Early this morning the wind came up.  A nice breeze at first, which grew to a howling gale just after sunrise. Twenty-eight knots, gusting to thirty-five, complete with swells of over five meters. We changed course to have the swells on our port beam, but still got swamped every so often in the cockpit. Quite something on a 14 m catamaran.

Of course this was not the only thing that happened. The main sheet chafed through and we had to effect hasty repairs at five o'clock in the morning. In the dark, I might add. This exercise had to be repeated an hour later as the same thing happened.

We stowed the main sail and tied the boom down until we could make a repair on it in quieter weather. The chafing was due to broken blocks.

Luckily the wind abated towards afternoon and the sea settled enough for us to have a comfortable dinner. The first decent meal of the day.

But that was still not the end of our woes.

Shortly before my watch started at midnight, the port engine started overheating and had to be stopped. We shall do an inspection in the morning.

So now we are wallowing along at one knot in a variable wind in order to conserve fuel.

One wonders what will happen next.

All of this yet again brought to mind one of life's lessons as taught by sailing. The nice pictures that you see in brochures and books are but part of the screen saver of sailing.

The real experience is a lot of hard and dirty work, interspersed with these nice experiences. One of the biggest jobs in sailing instruction is to make the students aware of this other hidden part.

You do not have a garage or friendly service station to come and help you if you get into trouble. You are on your own and have to make do. Mostly far away from land.

But I had this experience right outside Cape Town harbour, where the boat's motor died just as I was about to enter harbour. I had already obtained permission from port control to do so. So we sailed away and did some tacks and gybes while I fixed the problem. I wonder what the official in the control tower was thinking.

Sailing is far more than just the fun part of racing on a sunny day. The biggest part of sailing lies in what I call ship's husbandry. It is all those little tasks of looking after the engine, the instruments and the working parts of the boat. Making sure that the rigging integrity is still good. And making sure that the boat is properly provisioned. It includes also looking after the safety and navigation equipment and making sure that you have a proper passage plan.

And then making sure you have a properly prepared crew.

Some of the students thought that this was a bit much. Not quite what they were expecting from a sailing course. So now I have some of them on board on a long voyage, with the same things happening and the same level of responsibility required of all of us.


Except now you can't phone for help.

Hopefully some of the lessons are driven home.




Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2014-07-03






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