We handled a storm
It’s probably just a shower that produces extra wind for a short period. According to the weather forecast, the wind was expected to decrease and it was also doing so, just as predicted by the forecasts. A short time ago we sailed by motor, now we sail with the mainsail in the first reef. Suddenly it is clear that, squall or not, we must reef further as the wind has increased. Forgotten is all about how the wind should behave according to the forecasts and all focus is on getting the sails adjusted to the conditions. I hurry to the deck in the safety harness and June works from the cockpit. Laura is feverish in her cabin. “It will be quiet today, so make sure you get to sleep and relax”, was the agreement with her before departure.
The waves have risen quickly and we are being thrown around, so it takes a lot of effort and bruising to get the reef in the sail. We are barely finished as the wind really increases. I take 2 seconds and look out. Both to assess what is happening, but also a kind of resignation, because now the 2nd reef is no longer enough. In the waves around and above us I see dolphins. The sail is shaken violently, the boat heels a lot and there is no speed in the boat. We have a 3rd reef placed deep so the mainsail becomes significantly smaller. It is just not ready as it is waiting for when we are going out on longer stretches where it is harder to check the weather forecast. Heck, it is actually right now we need it, and what was it we didn’t see in the forecasts, which of course we know are just qualified predictions.
Before we sail out, I always spend a lot of time studying weather forecasts. Primarily using 4 calculated models on PredictWind, which I compare and discuss with June and Laura. We also compare with local forecasts which, in contrast to the calculated models, have had a meteorologist involved. We expected the trip from Figueira da Foz to Cascaix to last no more than 18 hours and in the beginning we would have about 7 m/s from east (reachreach), then it would be calm and a lot of changes in direction, after which the wind would stabilize from the west at 7 m/s. Pretty good weather actually. And the models agreed. There would be rain, but it is manageable.
We are now heading towards Nazaré, which is 8 nautical miles away, unfortunately directly against the wind and waves. But without speed it takes a very long time. We try to drop the sails completely, but can only lie still with the engine, no progress against wind and waves. But we should not have the sails set in a medium wind speed of what I estimate to be 25 m/s. Our anemometer is not connected, so it must be a guess based on what we have otherwise experienced. When the top of the waves gets blown in over us and whips hard against the face as if rain was pouring down, it is really windy … It’s time for the next step in the hard weather strategy. We can heave toOne option is to heave to, which can be quite effective. But it requires a little sail up. Another option is to take all the sails down and drift with the rig. It requires we can steer the boat so we do not get the side to the waves and get knocked down nocked over. I decide on the latter. The wind isfrom fromsouth and runs along the coast, we are only a few nautical miles from the shore and should under no circumstances get any closerthe shorehave to keep away from this at all cost. Just by Just by the rig and pushed by waves, we now sail 4 to 5 knots over overground (and 8 when we ride down the waves), and have enough speed through the water to be able to steer the stern towards the waves, the sternwith a few exceptions where the cockpit is filled with water from breaking waves. Most importantly, we can keep a course where we getcan make a little more distance to the shorefurther – and can keep up a course toward Figueira da Foz. When you go with a storm, it takes longer to get out of when going it, and maybe we will get all the way back to where we started. The problem is that Figueira da Foz is one of those ports that closes in bad weather, but we have to deal with this at deal with atthat time.
June has also started communicating with our good friends on Idefix. Both because it is feels more safe to talk to someone who knows what it is like to be in a situation that is difficult to cope with, and because they can investigate the weather situation and update us. It will give us a little more a little peace of mind to know how long it will last and whether the wind will turn. Focusing on the phone costs seasickness for June, so Laura gets up from the sickbed and stands on the stairs next to the cockpit. Now we are happy with the plexiglass hatches, because she can see me and pass on the information we get from Idefix. Our plotter has also got so much salt water and the touch display lives its own life. We go for the backup on my iPhone, which Laura manages and reports how we are doing keeping a distance to the shore.
I look up, and see an area of clear weather just west of us. The eye of the storm. This means that from here the wind should turn towards west. The messages from Idefix, which has made every effort to provide information, are also that it is peaking now and that the wind will turn to west. Shortly after, we notice that the wind has dropped a little, and we also see the wind change direction. Now we can no longer keep a distance to the shore, so we can not sail by the rig alone. With the wind from west, however, we can roll out a bit of the sail, and turn the boat towards Nazaré again. The engine is started as an aid, and we sail with approx. 4 knots towards Nazaré, however, we are now sailing up against the waves so it gives a lot more water from waves splashing over me at the helm. But we’re moving forward. The wind is slowing down towards Nazare and we can roll out more and more genoa, to eventually drop it completely because the wind has dropped significantly. At midnight we are in port. In the Cabin everything is chaos. Our dining table is torn off after it had to catch June and things from the top shelf in one side of the boat are lying, not just on the floor, but on some other shelves in the other side of the boat. Safe in the harbor, where no wind moves, we hurry to bed.
Next morning we wake up with a good feeling in our stomachs. We managed the storm, and used some of the strategies available. Out on the pontoon are some of the boats that were in front of us, but which also did not escape the storm. Some reached Nazaré just before it got really bad. A Swedish boat had torn the sail and destroyed the sprayhood. A Dutch boat measured gusts of up to 72 knots, which is a good 36 m/s, ie gusts of hurricane strength. We are actually glad that we did not have the anemometer connected, as those numbers would scare us more than what we were facing out there, even though we were fully aware that it was blowing insanely much. In the evening, Idefix sent a picture of a post on Facebook. It was published the same time we were in the middle of the storm. It turns out that the remnants of the tropical cyclone, Alpha, were what had hit us. We are quite surprised that no forecasts or warnings had caught it, but perhaps it had gained strength again close to the coast of Portugal. The harbor master of Nazaré told that the fishermen from Peniche (a port about 30 nautical miles south) had to go to Nazaré because Peniche closed. She also told that there had been “orange” warning, but that it was related to rain, not wind.
When we stepped out on the bridge in the morning, the crews on the boats quickly found each other and exchanged stories from yesterday’s storm. How great it is to experience the fellowship, and the best debriefing is with others who have experienced the same thing. And how wonderful it was that our sailing friends in Pura Vida, in the middle of the conversation on the pontoon in Nazaré, sailed in after a trip from Porto to Nazaré. Fortunately, they had escaped the worst, although they will probably remember the trip for a while. Although we are proud to have handled the storm, it was good and safe along the way to have Camilla and Sebastian on Idefix, and subsequently the company of Klaus, Lena and Freja in Pura Vida.