The 2pm until 4 pm watch came around as expected. The weather was calmer, the cold not so challenging. Tina was standing down and offered me the ipad to listen to music – at first I was horrified at the thought – how could I be on watch and listen to music? But I relented knowing that we were on the home straight and things were getting easier.
An hour into the watch and things changed.
I saw lights way in the distance.
Simon had shown us the way to look on the horizon for other ships, in between the waves, sometimes in the mist or the haze. From several miles away there’s only a glimpse, a suggestion of something on the horizon. But this was more obvious. I could clearly see the green port sidelights of something big several miles away – but coming close to us.
My senses were heightened because something wasn’t quite right. This was a big boat not too far away coming close. We were sailing through moderate to rough seas, large swells, gusts, not difficult but not easy to move around because the wind was directly behind us and we had the mainsail fixed by both a preventer and the main. I felt very aware.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off the boat; it kept coming and coming closer, closer.
I know I could only see the green starboard lights that meant that we were not on the same course, but I didn’t know how close it would come. In these conditions, in open sea, no land in sight I told myself best to keep at least 200 – 300 meters apart. But in the dark in the moonlight, how do measure the distance?
I looked at the radar and it looked like it was too close.
I chose to stay on course.
From the glimpse of lights in the distance to bright lights in front of me has taken 20 minutes. Its very hard to tell at night which way a boat is going, if you see just green lights you are sailing parallel, if you see just red lights they are passing in front of you – if you see both red and green they are sailing straight for you. There are no indicators like on a car.
I’m watching and watching.
Then suddenly right before me red and green lights, not too far away 150 yards? 100 perhaps? Then a bright white light – full beam lights straight at me. I knew I was in trouble.
This was a Portuguese fishing boat – probably 120 feet long, a working boat, lights on everywhere, seagulls surrounding it like flies, I could see every one. This was a rough, tough boat. The noise was powerful, aggressive the boat was crashing through the waves towards me and all I could do was take Magic off autopilot and change course. It passed so close.
It felt so dangerous. The shocking thing was from seeing nothing close to us for so long and then so close – the noise, the power and everyone else was fast asleep, I was on my own. Nobody else knew. I felt that if I had not altered my curse at that very second we would have been rammed, we would have all been dead. I felt stupid, shocked and relieved all at the same time, then annoyed at the captain of the bat who would do such a thing to us.
I later learnt that fishing boats have the right of way. Apparently they go where the fish go – I guess the fish were under our boat that night.
Gale force 8
There are tales to be told.
We are in the Bay of Biscay, we knew that the weather was picking up, and I knew it was my watch – 2am until 4am.
By 3am the wind alarm was beeping as we reached mid 30’s, but it didn’t feel too strong because we had a tail wind.
By 3.30am things had changed for the worse.
The wind monitor stops measuring at 40 knots and just reads ‘high winds’.
40 knots in the suburbs we are used to is a very windy day, in the open sea 40 knots is very difficult to imagine.
The seas pick up, 4-5 meters every 6-7 seconds, white horses everywhere. The waves twist the boat every way. Easily 20 – 30 degrees. Its difficult to stand even holding the helm. And yet I have to keep the wind direction in the sails or the pressure on the boom could cause it to swing. As the front of the boat dips into a wave, the water came over the top of the boat, spray everywhere and water comes running down the deck to the back.
When the rain hits your face it hurts.
The preventer snaps causing a sudden Jibe. The speed at which the boom moves and the noise is incredible – so dangerous. With it all the battons crack against the standing rigging. We would later find they all broke and needed replacing.
By now everyone was on deck and we discuss what to do. We know what we need to do, but we also know how dangerous it is.
Simon and Peter prepare to take down the mainsail. I’m running through the ‘man overboard’ drill in my head – it almost feels inevitable that someone will fall overboard. It takes a very brave person to walk down the deck in these conditions and climb the mast to help take down the mainsail. It takes 15 -20 minutes and every moment is traumatic.
Its rare that you witness bravery like this.
My focus was to try to keep the boat steady, but the helm sometimes had no effect when the big waves came. Somehow they managed to do their job and Magic became more stable.
We ride out the storm for another 4 hours.
There’s only one injury where Tina was thrown into the air and she landed badly. It will take several weeks for that to heal!
Afterwards we all feel lucky that Magic didn’t have more damage and there were no serious injuries.