We were a couple of hours late on our departure from the bay at Mapamoiwa since we lent a few tools to a local island trader that had broken down on it’s way in to the harbor on the previous night. While the clock ticked on, so did the repairs and Bill decided that we needed to get on our way in order to make it to our next destination. Since the island trader was bound for Alatou, a few days down the road for us, we told them to leave the tools at their office and we would just pick them up there. The grateful captain thanked us and promised to buy us a beer when we arrived.
It was now 10:00 a.m. and the winds had begun to pick up a bit. A dark cloud hung low over the island covering the peaks of the nearby mountains. Towards our destination were blue skies and a few friendly clouds ready to guide us on our day’s journey. Pulling out of the harbor, we were able to lay a great heading with a swift Southeast wind. Our speed was excellent and it looked like our late start wasn’t going to impede us on our thirty mile journey to Gumwa bay.
In the distance, we watched a squall line approaching us but in the direction we were heading the skies were still blue. Nothing more, so we thought, than a light shower to rinse off the deck of the boat as well us it’s crew members who felt like standing in the rain. The clouds descended upon us and with Bill at the helm, I enjoyed the rain pouring down on my head. After allowing the immense amount of water that is shed from the mainsail at the base of the mast to flow over me, I returned to the cabin to dry off and wait out the rest of the wet weather. Shortly after, the rain stopped and while the skies were not completely clear, the light overcast sky didn’t look to menacing at all and we continued along our course original course which had been slightly altered by the small rain storm.
As our day continued with a series of rain showers off and on, I spent most of my time below deck reading. With Bill at the helm enjoying sailing in the rain, I was happy to stay down below, reading and navigating and popping my head out every now and them to trim the sails as required by the constantly shifting winds. Around mid afternoon, Bill told me that it looked like we had a pretty big storm approaching so he sent me down to get our harnesses and told me to grab a jacket and come out here and latch on to the boat. I quickly grabbed my jacket and emerged from the cockpit to see a white horizon quickly approaching the boat. Bill put me on the helm so that he could be free to run around the deck and take down any sails necessary. Before the storm arrived, we were able to drop our main stay sail and sheet all the other sails in tight as our course was leading us as close to the wind as we could sail. While the storm drew closer, Bill and I watched a waterspout form and dissipate just a few hundred yards off our port bow. That was not a good sign of what this storm had to offer.
A burst of wind shot out of the whiteness before us almost knocking me off the helm while the rain began to come down as heavy as the waves that were pouring over our bow. Holding our course for the first ten minutes or so, it didn’t seem to be anything more than a typical squall that we had seen many times before. Sailing onward, the wind began to change directions while building up speed. As it crept further and further around us, I could not maintain our course as we had begun crashing dead into the enormous swells that the storm had whipped up before us. The wind began to grow even stronger, sustained at over thirty knots with the occasional gusts over forty. At one point, a burst of wind hit us from the side and began pushing the boat over onto it’s starboard rail so far that I could almost reach out from where I stood and touch the sea. I was standing on the side of the boat almost perpendicular to the water while still steering a straight course. With the boat now leaning further and further over, Bill began shouting “Come up, Come up Come up!” As I turned the boat into the wind with the entire starboard deck flooded over in a foot of water, the boat rapidly came around and decreased the angle which we were heeling over into the sea.
Suddenly, everything was calm but we could not see more than a few hundred feet around the boat in all directions. The clouds were swirling around and it was then that we felt the temperature change. In less that three seconds, Bill and I felt the temperature drop at least twenty degrees. Soaking wet, it sent a chill down through my bones, a chill that did not end until the storm was finally over. Shortly after the burst of cold air filled our lungs, a slap in the back came from another strong gust, pushing us over from the opposite direction now. Confused at what to do, the wind had shifted from it’s previous course almost 180 degrees. We tacked the boat and followed the wind and now we had the waves crashing on one side and the wind on the other. This is a strange feeling while sailing as the swells are created by the wind and generally come from the same direction as the wind. In this case it was completely backwards. I was stressed out about the situation but Bill explained that this was the best thing that could happen. We could cruise along with the wind without being slammed into the swells as we were doing previously. A few minutes later, I began to see his point and we rode the strong gusts without once crashing into any of the mighty swells that lay beside us.
Again the wind whipped back around to the other side and realizing that we must be passing through some kind of revolving storm, both Bill and I acknowledged that this last shift in the wind was a good thing. While still blowing hard and beating us with strong gusts, we were gaining control of the situation and began to see a few mountains of the nearby islands appearing through the clouds. At first there was an island to Port, followed a few minutes later by another dead ahead. The worst of the storm was now behind us and we hoped we wouldn’t see anymore. The skies were still gray and the rain continued to fall but the winds had returned to their friendlier sailing state and we pressed onward in our day’s journey.