Night and a Big Low

Noon Position: 47 09S 19 28W

Course/Speed: E6

Wind: WNW 20 – 25

Sail: Working jib, one reef

Bar: 1010

Sea: SW10

Sky: Overcast

Cabin Temp: 54

Water Temp: 49

Miles last 24-hours: 152

Miles since departure: 9849

Wind went southwest 35 to 45 in the late evening. Absolute dark. Without deck lights, not even the bright orange storm jib is visible. One gets the sense of being locked in. The sail is set; Monte’s wind angle is chosen. The are no decisions left to be made. Now the course, and success, will be up to the wind and the sea. All I can do is watch. Watch the boat work and hope she is strong.

I am cold. I have been cold all day. Especially my feet, which are like bricks of ice. The cabin is 55 degrees, a temperature which does not warrant such feelings of chill. A few days ago as we ramped up to this event, I noticed that my cold-all-day feet would warm with the evening beer, which comes from the bilge and is 45 degrees. The warmth could not be from the alcohol, either. It must be the simple act of relaxing that does it.

There’s a gust to 50.

The roar in the rigging is that of a commercial jet engine. When a sea crashes just before it reaches the boat such that the white-water turbulence flows under Mo, knocking her to one side, the sound is that of a commercial jet afterburner kicking in, a low pshhhh. When Mo is broadsided, it’s like the blast from cannon. It always stops my heart.

I have nothing to do but watch, the chart plotter, the wind gauge; I flip on the deck lights and watch the sail. She’s still drawing cleanly. But I can’t see the waves, only feel them.

The sublime, according to William Fox in TERRA ANTARCTICA is “that which is simultaneously beautiful and terrifying.” Tonight I can’t see the beauty but I can feel the terror that comes of being in the grip of something utterly beyond control. It’s grim; it’s fascinating; it is, I decide, why I’m here.

But even being gripped in the middle of a southern ocean gale can be boring. Scared out of ones wits boring. Watching isn’t helping. So, at midnight I hit my bunk. The bag is like ice. Boat motion is extreme. I doze unsatisfactorily until dawn.

In daylight the waves are majestic. Steep and crashing. The main train is southwest, but there’s a large swell from the west and a much diminished one from the northwest. When the two larger meet, the sea becomes pyramidal, leaping straight up and crashing onto itself.

Our course is now northeast and winds light enough for more sail, but I remember the knockdown in December and Moitessier’s notes about the double train. Heading east would put Mo close to beam on the larger swell. Care for the boat is more important than easting. So I wait.

By noon the sea is down. I open the working jib, douse the storm jib and put the boat easterly. Ah, lovely…at last every mile counts.

Dark. Another, smaller low moves through tonight. I’ve left the working jib up. My feet aren’t nearly as cold.  

5 Comments on “Night and a Big Low

  1. Wondering if you could clarify: Is Randall going to loop around the Antartic? Thanks.

  2. You’re description is enthralling-exciting to read, but glad to do so while sitting by my fire, sipping hot tea.

  3. It seems like it would be so much more interesting and enjoyable with a like-minded companion. I never really could understand why people like single-handing beyond doing one passage just to know you can… More power to you. Enjoy.

  4. One of most memorable, the Jan 27th message. I will print and save it.
    Thank you Randall and supporters.

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