Firefly, 8 December 2001: Whatever happened to the Trades?

Firefly, 8 December 2001
18° 18 N 48° 41W
Distance to St Lucia 750 nm

They are big, they are black and you can see them coming, even on a dark, moonless night, crouching and threatening on the horizon. On the radar they appear as huge blooms as you track them and ask ‘will it, won’t it?’

I speak, of course, of tropical squalls, and in the last 18 hours we have seen a succession of them coming over, the sky behind is wall to wall grey black and when the do come they bring wind, torrential rain, neither or both. Which explains why since 1800 yesterday we have had two reefs down, since the early hours of this morning three reefs and a scrap of a jib as the wind tops at well over 30 knots, the boat speed an uncontrollable surf ride down the front of large, steep seas and the Autohelm click clunking as it bravely copes.

I expected the odd squall, as we had last time I crossed. But this is different in that it is continuous, a base level wind in the mid-20s, tearing up to full gale as they come through, the deck hammering with torrential rain and the brave watchkeeper huddled below with pilot control and radar as his guides.

If only we could collect that water we would have full tanks. As it is we ran out last night, the main tank empty half way through my shower. The problem is that the watermaker cannot cope with boat speeds of more than 6 knots as the water aerates and the machine stalls. We have also not attempted to ration supplies so that comes into force today until we hit a quieter patch and can make water for several hours.

Now the wind is abating a bit and the sun, at last, has appeared. What remains is the huge quartering seas and once again Firefly is playing the ‘fall off the wave’ game. The first boats have now finished the ARC in record time. At our present rate of progress we should be another four or five days. Right now that cannot be too soon.

Whatever happened to the Trades?