Any thoughts I had of a nice cruise up the Japanese coastline were immediately squashed about 72 hours ago. As we were making our way in a northeasterly direction, the wind began to build. For a while we were making good progress with the no. 3 yankee (small headsail) and a reef in the main. The wind was blowing around 25 knots and the sea state wasn’t that bad. Towards evening though, that changed. As the wind continued to build to 36 knots, it became quickly apparent that we were overpowered with our sail plan and had to drop the yankee and lash it to the deck. This was no easy feat with a shorthanded crew (only 12 are on our boat compared to 18-19 on some of the other boats. That means we only have 5-6 on deck per watch).
Dropping a headsail in these conditions can only be described as harrowing. As we went forward, the boat was pitching in the steep waves, which often broke over the bow and, washed down the deck. Before I even got to the headsail, one wave washed me 6 ft down the deck, inflating my lifejacket. Other lifejackets were going off as well which could only attest to the conditions at the time. Once I picked myself up, I again crawled forward to the headsail and the drop began. The basic maneuver consists of one person back by the mast lowering the headsail while the other crewmembers pull the sail onto the deck as it drops. In this case, it meant trying to pull onto the pitching deck a wildly flapping sail as wave after wave washed over us. What is normally a 5-minute job took you almost 45 minutes. Finally with the sail on the deck, we began to lash it down.
We were just finishing the lashing when another big wave broke over us, and I felt the weight of a crewmember above me immediately gone. Immediately the training took over and we shouted man overboard and some of the crewmembers rushed back to alert the skipper who could not hear us above the wind and waves. I ended up looking over the bow where he went over and thank god he was hanging there still attached to his safety tether! We managed to get him back on board and down below, where he could dry out and recover. Needless to say, that really drove home the point to ALWAYS clip on in rough circumstances and NEVER take safety for granted.
Over the following hours the winds and waves continued to build until we had gusts over 50 knots and massive waves to keep the winds company. Fortunately, the wind had shifted at that point so we no longer had to beat into it (sail into it). Nevertheless, it was still a challenging time and I don’t think I had ever pushed myself so far before or felt so exhausted as I did in these conditions. Not too long after that, seasickness took over and I spent the next two days (I think) in my bunk recovering.
Today the sun is shining, winds are favorable, and the seas are blue. It’s a good day to be out here 🙂