As the skipper tries to get his head down, cue the tropical squall. Manley Hopkinson reports:
‘If these are the Doldrums, we like them!
‘We are now down at 7° North, a good 60 miles south of where the Doldrums should be, yet the wind is still from the north-east at a steadyish 12-17 knots, but with some great squalls.
‘This morning I was saying to the on watch that they should reacquaint themselves with the foredeck, as we may need to do something in a day or two, then we settled down to a beautiful Tradewind sail with the sun sparkling on the water. There was more cloud activity than there has been, with more frequent squally clouds passing over. Still not enough to warrant a headsail change, but enough to get our reefing down to pat. We were very close to putting in a second reef at one stage!.
‘Still making good progress to target and with every fleet update showing our steady climb continuing. Logica had sneaked past us to put us back to 5th, but we were closing the lead three yachts at a good rate, holding off the nearest yachts behind. Things were looking good.
‘I am trying to get into a routine with sleeping. In the middle watch (0001-0400), I try to get my head down for two hours and the same during dawn watch (0400-0800). I work through the morning until lunch, get a siesta of two hours in the afternoon and, depending how I feel, maybe snatch 40 minutes in the first dog (1600-1800) and type this report, do admin and a bit of helming in the first watch (2000-2359).
‘I say try as I have not as yet managed to do this because, on my request, I am woken for any major changes and assist as and wherever required, including the foredeck.
‘So shortly after lunch I went below to do some weather routeing and navigation, with the intention of grabbing my siesta afterwards. A siesta is on of the few European routines that I favour in principle, but rarely get to practice. Today was to be no exception.
‘I hear the question: “Has the Skipper gone to bed, because there is an awfully large black cloud coming our way.” OK, I had better have a look. Sure enough, the whole sky to windward was a very nasty, dark mass of cloud with ferocious rain. Blast! The bunk will have to wait.
‘I had been expecting a ‘tropical wave’ to pass by us at some stage today and this looked very much like my man. They are pockets of huge convective energy that burst forth from Africa when the heat has built up to a critical level near the African coast. It is a natural pressure relief valve. Without it Africa would boil.
‘These waves travel across the Tropics sucking up huge quantities of water and spewing them forth, releasing vast amounts of energy. They are so efficient that there is a noticeable difference in the sea temperature before and after a wave passes. Some then dissipate in the Gulf of Mexico, others develop and form tropical storms and then hurricanes.
‘I thought that I could run things from the relative shelter of the cuddy, but it was soon apparent that I was needed on deck. Initially, we were just in shorts, Fozzie on the helm and Manuel and his watch running the deck. The wind whipped to 39 knots in seconds, exfoliating all on deck. Fozzie had to wear goggles to see forward.
‘We had put the first reef in before it hit and the second was going in as the rain sliced us in half. The wind veered dramatically, and the boat could only be held with the wind aft of the beam, forcing us to head west.
‘The third reef went in shortly, allowing some control, but not before I had sent the crew below to get togged up. Even though this was tropical rain, it was getting cold and still hurt.
‘I decided that the yankee had to be dropped so we could head to wind and travel in the direction we wanted to . Doing 12 knots the wrong way was not helping. Down came the No 1, with Bones, Fozzie (for I was on the helm now) Tesco and Moby exploring the foredeck, The Professor was running the snake pit and Miss Mon