The last 24-36 hours have all been about the weather. We went into yesterday morning with a sunrise that showed us a few squalls on the horizon. In anticipation of challenging weather conditions, Bruce reviewed what sails we had up and made the call to reduce the sail size on the crab claw sails. From that point on the weather turned for the worse.
The sea state increased by a consistent 4 feet with the occasional 8 foot swell. With the waves also came the wind – a steady 18 knots growing in intensity with the passing squalls that brought plenty of rain. Cloud cover quickly went to 100%, to the point where we could not tell where the sun was setting and diminishing light indicating another night. Coming off watch at 6pm, we went to get rest as the whole day beginning at 2am had been action packed from sail changes to more sail reducing as the wind came up higher and higher.
Foul weather gear was required for the day watch as the rain was coming in buckets. The night watch brought a whole new set of lessons. Wind was way up in the squall with 35+ knot gusts. Even after putting up a 60 sq.ft. jib and 70 sq.ft. mizzen staysail, we were still doing 7+ knots in the pitch black with no moon or stars to speak amid a constantly-changing sea state with large waves on our port stern quarter. These conditions made steering very hard as each swell pushed the canoe into the wind. The only reference we had to steer by was a small red head lamp clipped to the lashing illuminating a telltale tied to the stays. This little orange ribbon tells us the wind direction when all other clues are hidden from view, and we can use that to steer by. The darkness in nights like this allows our vision to pick up even small visual clues. At about 4am we saw a big black cloud, darker than the rest of the horizon, up wind from us. It found its way to us with a pretty good amount of pressure in wind and wave. Steering was next to impossible, and we could only press forward in the general direction of west. Our crew stood watch until sunrise but we had no way to tell when the sun actually rose except that the canopy of gray and black became brighter.
One of the risks we have trained extensively for prior to embarking on this voyage is a man overboard situation. Our safety training and protocols proved their value when one of our crew went into the sea. He had just ended his watch and was moving across the canoe with a pump used to clear compartments of water. Within seconds, emergency procedures were put into action and the man-over-board safety pole, line, and life ring being deployed into the water within feet of the crewmember. According to safety protocols, the crewmember was wearing an inflatable life vest and it inflated properly. Our escort vessel Gershon II, trailing behind Hokuleʻa, was notified and performed its safety role exceptionally. Even with the challenging sea conditions, the crewmember was safely and successfully pulled aboard within 10 minutes. The possibility of a man overboard incident was an identified risk during the planning and preparation of the Worldwide Voyage. We prepared for this possibility with increased safety protocols, equipment, and training. These proved to be effective and the crew successfully executed what we had been trained to do.
After sunrise we thought we had broken through the worst of it. Steering became easier because of the ability to see and anticipate waves. By the time I came back up for watch the swell had increased to 15-20 feet, some of it breaking around us as the wind was strong enough to push it over to make white wash. The good news is that this canoe handles very well in these conditions. The two hulls makes Hōkūleʻa more stable than our mono-hulled escort vessel. Hōkūleʻa slips past the bulk of the really big waves and slides down swells to give us confidence that we are still within the scope of the type of weather conditions that this crew and canoe can handle. That said, this crew works extremely well together as seen when they all come up on deck, without anyone asking, to help take care of the canoe as the weather turned stronger. We have shifted to 6-hour watches to give more hands on deck at all times and everyone is happy to put forth the extra effort. The previous watch always makes sure there is hot water and coffee for the following watch, knowing that it’s a long haul to wait for sunrise to come. We are all thankful for how hard each other works and that everyone is here for the common goal of finding our destination.
Current conditions allow me to write this, but just barely. The rain has subsided but the risk to electronic gear is the breaking wave over the canoe. I can’t see out because of the brightness of this screen but I can hear the breaking wave coming and then feel the pitch of the canoe, which gives me just enough time to slide this laptop into the waterproof box and slam the cover. Not the best method but were still waiting on Lifeproof to make a waterproof case for an Apple MacBook Pro. The gift tonight is the moon overhead.
A.M. Update: We arrived in Cocos this morning and are awaiting clearing customs at Destination Island. The crew is happy for a little rest at anchor before departing Cocos for the 2300-mile journey to Mauritius.