Captain's Log, 1 September, 1300 utc
Position: 40d 28m north, 42d 54m west
Heading due east, 6 knots. Wind SW at 20 knots.
Update on Extraterrestrial storm Bonnie;
We have now almost fully recovered from the effects of this most unusual storm which is just now finally breaking up over the Azores. We were somewhat surprised when she turned away from Miami last week and headed ashore in the Carolinas; we were very surprised when she headed back out to sea, contrary to polite hurricane behavior. We were a little concerned about our friends when she turned toward New England, still at the very stately pace of 200 miles or so per day. We continued to feel pretty smug about our own position, 1000 miles to the east, in a zone which has seen only 1 low pressure system of this kind in august in the past 25 years. Needless to say, we were astounded to learn on Sunday afternoon that she had not only turned our way, but had covered 800 miles in 24 hours and was still packing a wallop: 50 knot winds predicted for our area. This had not been on our agenda for the evening. As it turned out, it was not a direct hit. The storm passed 200 miles to the north of us, but with a 900-mile diameter, the difference was academic.
So we battened down the hatches (literally), removed all extraneous canvas, lashed everything down, and went through our pre-storm checklist, at which point we discovered a seriously frayed steering cable, which would not be reliable under the kind of loads we expected. This required setting up our emergency tiller for steering, which is fine in a pinch, but not the easiest way to handle a 40 foot boat in a storm. We had a choice of 2 tactics: the passive one would have been to put out a storm anchor, an 18-foot diameter nylon parachute which is designed to hold the boat head-to-wind. Its main advantage is that the crew can get out of the weather and rest somewhat. The active approach would be to sail with the wind under storm jib, then bare masts only above 40 knots or so. This seemed preferable to us, since it would keep us moving toward our destination and Joel and I had successfully done it on the trip to Ireland in similar winds for several days, albeit with a steering wheel. It should be easier here, with much warmer water and a shorter exposure time.
We decided on the active tactic, and it worked, although there were times during the night as the wind built to 60 knots and beyond, that I cursed me'self for a worthless lubber. It was quite the scene, in retrospect; wind shrieking, 25-30 foot waves exploding into foam and spindrift at the crests. At times, all 3 of us were steering, one hauling on the tiller and looking aft to be sure we were dead perpendicular to the next wave, the second adding oomph where needed, and the third hauling on the wheel on the side with the good cable when the boat threatened to broach, (turn sideways) on the face of a wave. We knew that the previous owner had managed this trick in a 60-knot storm in the Bay of Biscay in 1969 on Tammy Norie's maiden voyage, which gave us additional confidence, and once into it, in the middle of the night, it would have been pretty tough to change tactics and try to rig a storm anchor. Fortunately, we got away with it, in large part due to Surfin' Tammy Norie and her uncanny ability to swim through just about anything, god bless her.
No doubt it was all very cinematic, but not much fun, and needless to say, no one slept a wink. The fortunate part about the rapid eastward movement of the storm was that it moved off quickly. By daybreak the wind was down to 40 knots and 1 person could steer, although the motion was horrible for about 24 hours due to seas coming from various directions. This was Shifra's first real storm at sea, and she hung in there very bravely, despite getting pretty motion sick toward morning. Joel, being the strongest, bore the brunt of hauling on the tiller, and was equally brave and tireless. No one was injured, just sore arms and backs. Some of our electronics, including the electric autopilot, were out of commission for a while, due to the amount of salt water which came aboard, but all of the essentials are back on line now after some judicious cleaning with fresh water and weasel piss. I'm waiting for a calm to get under the cockpit and replace the steering cable: for now we are fine with the combination of tiller and electric ram. We are catching up on sleep now, praising Neptune and whoever else will listen for our deliverance, and slowly scraping the layers of salt off ourselves. Most amazingly, we turned in a nice 24-hour run of 110 miles in the right direction, and are that much closer to a snug harbor and a hot shower. At which point, we will all begin to endlessly embroider the tale. This may be the last truthful version anyone will hear.
Lunatic irony is at times helpful in such situations, and I kept humming this old British broadside during the night; I've written down what I can remember:
One night there came a hurricane, the seas were mountains rolling,/
When Barney Buntline turns his quid, and says to Billy Bowline,/
"A fine norwester's blowin' Bill, Hark can't you hear it roar now./
God help em, how I pity all unhappy folks ashore now.
Foolhardy chaps who live in towns, what dangers they are all in/
Right now they're quakin in their beds for fear the roof may fall in./
Poor creatures how they envy us, and wish as I've a notion/
For our good luck in such a storm to be out on the ocean
And as for those who're out all day on business from their houses/
And late at night are coming home to cheer the babes and spouses/
While you and I, Bill, on the deck are comfortably lying/
My eyes, what bowls and chimney pots around their necks are flying.
And very often have we heard how men are killed and undone/
By overturns of carriages, by thieves and fire in London/
We know what risks all landsmen take, from noblemen to tailors/
Then Bill, let us thank Providence that you and I are sailors."
A warm bed and dry underwear to you all, and god bless you.