Slipping along in 10 knots, then "Bam! 40 knots of wind, with full main, big jib", and she’s stuck on the helm for five hours…

Emma Richards sent this report today:

‘I felt I was a little too far east in the past couple of days, mainly a knock-on effect of having to lose the gennaker early days ago, therefore sailing a higher angle etc, etc. I had plans to slowly make my way west before long, but me and plans?

Some of you may have noticed I took a sharp west turn since this morning and I’d like to tell you that it was a cool, calm, calculated decision. Er, no!

‘Beautiful sunny morning, spinnaker up in 10 knots of breeze, sailing along almost south at 8 knots. I even had time to listen to most of the first chapter of BBC’s Lord of the Rings! Then a little cloud, a windshift and I put in a gybe back south again.

‘Wind up to 22 knots. Better get rid of the spinnaker. Cool. Just in time. Shall I get the gennaker set up for when it has blown thru? No, better wait, pull out the solent instead.

‘More clouds, BIG clouds, white water coming this way! All the signs of a doldrum squall. Oh no, not even time to reset the autopilot from “sensitive-light-wind-with-spinnaker” settings. Bam! 40 knots of wind, with full main, big jib. It’s not a sensible pilot option: I can’t even reach the mainsheet to ease the pressure from the frantic steering on the port side where I was wedged in. I’m hanging on to the tiller for dear life.

‘I couldn’t put on the pilot, therefore couldn’t reef the mainsail, or change the big headsail. I thought “No worries, they don’t normally last too long, head downwind and stay safe (west)” and of course when you are travelling with the wind at 20-25 knots you will stay under the squall for longer.

‘Five hours later, eyes like saucers, shoulders ready to burst. I only wiped out twice in that time. I wished I had at least had time to turn off the computer etc to save the battery. I was trying to guess how low the voltage would be when I got out of the squall. I was using about 8 amps. What was the voltage last time I looked? How long ago was that?

‘Stuck to the helm, no idea at the time how long you’ve been there or will be. Torrential rain, big waves over the bow that fill the cockpit, thin jacket and shorts, soaked thru and getting cold – quite miserable if you had time to think about it but although you know it’ll end soon, NOW would be better.

‘It finally eased, down to 10 knots with a light drizzle, like it never happened. Now I must be north of Thierry instead of way east of him. I’d like to see his face when he sees the next position poll!

‘I wonder how much of that squall the others saw? Time for a cup of tea.

Em x’