Warning: This post will be sailing-term heavy. Just so you know.
So we made it from Santa Marta to Aruba the easy way. We had uncommonly good weather, which was amazing given that we were traversing one of the fabled roughest passages in the Caribbean, and even upwind. Waves were flat and we were even on a broad reach for a few hours as we went North up the coast of Colombia. I am sure Greg had to suppress urges to get out the Parasailor, but the wind was only 7 knots and so it was not worth it. Once we turned to go east to Aruba, we were pleasantly surprised to find the counter-current was at most 0.8 kts. There was no wind and no waves, so we motored along in a giant swimming pool.
So all of this was hunky-dory. So why did this show up on our instruments at the end of the trip?
Because a THUNDERSTORM formed right over us off of the coast of Colombia, that’s why. Of course it occurred on Mel’s shift, at midnight. She had been flying on a broad reach, enjoying the burst of wind that tends to collect around thunderstorms, monitoring the dark clouds to starboard when the wind started creeping up and up. We had a full main up with no jib and one engine running. When the wind got to 25-35 kts, she went down and poked Greg, who was probably already in REM sleep. “The wind is up to 30 kts and we are on a broad reach.” Greg, talking in his sleep: “That’s okay. Let out the main and let’s capture that wind.” Mel:”Uhhh, we aren’t reefed and it’s getting worse, so I centered the main to depower it.” Greg, waking up:”Oh, good idea. I’m going back to sleep.”
Five minutes later, Mel runs down to put on her rain gear. What she said: “Wind is up to 40 kts. Wake up, Greg!” Greg, obviously dreaming about something more pleasant:”But I just got to sleep again.”
What Mel should have said, “All hands on deck!” They put on their gear and by the time they were on deck, wind was in the 40’s, gusting to 50, and the rain was coming down like buckets.
I don’t care how cool you are, but there is a very primal response to hearing wind howl like that and feeling the rain hit you that hard. You want to go inside and hide. Mel swore the rain was made of hail. They have a plastic enclosure, but the wind came up so quickly and was so strong they couldn’t zip it up. Mel also realized that she made a mistake. Lady sailors, zip up your raincoat ALL of the WAY. Otherwise, you get a stream of water running straight down into your bra, and your boobs freeze.
We quickly decided to drop the main and run on both motors away from the storm. “Flake! Flake like the wind!” Mel told herself as she flaked the halyard, her harness hooked into the helm seat. Fortunately, the main dropped flawlessly to what is essentially a triple-reefed position. Normally, someone has to go forward to pull the rest of the main down into the sailbag. “I’m not going up there!” Greg screamed through the howling wind. “Good!” Mel screamed back.
They had time to observe that the waves were still minimal, and Marvin was just fine as they motored around, looking for a way out of the storm. The problem with the elements is that they sound a lot worse than they are. Mel is pretty sure deaf sailors have an advantage.
Two hours later, wind was back to six knots and the sea was still flat. Mel’s boobs thawed out and she changed bras. Note to future female cruisers: Bring LOTS of bras. There are multiple reasons for this. Trust me.
After it was over, Mel and Greg were almost giddy as they realized all of the good things that happened: 1. They survived their first storm. 2. Their halyard, which had gotten disgusting and turned black with soot from Santa Marta, was clean. 3. Their boat got a really, really good freshwater washing. 4. They no longer feel stupid for buying really nice, expensive rain gear even though they have a helm enclosure. 5. Their mattresses are probably a little too comfy.
And the dolphins of the sea probably detected all of these good feelings and finally revealed themselves, dancing with our bows as we reached Aruba, island paradise.