Update day 41
The pounding on the windows is still there, but weaker now, as if the ocean has beaten itself into a peaceful weariness like the skipper aboard the boat. All things are relative however, the boat is surfing at nearly 20 knots and the wind is still into the thirties but this is considered a "lull' after all that has come before.
The first big depression, one that deserved special mention by the race directors who told us to hang onto our hats, is over and I'm currently running in its train of punchy gusts under a clear sky. After a couple of days of jockeying for position and then a full day of non-stop onslaught, just being able to see the moon feels like salvation!
After crossing gybes with Arnaud I decided to run eastwards directly into the path of the depression in the hope that I could use it to break from his grasp. As the dark clouds mounted on the horizon behind me and then rushed over my head I gradually changed down in sails, first the small gennaker was rolled away and packed inside, then I was reaching with the number two jib and one reef, then two in the mainsail then the smallest jib. All the time the wind was mounting, mounting as the dark ominous blobs of the weather forecasts got closer and closer and the waves ever bigger.
Finally I was setting speed records for the boat with the smallest sails I had! Mear pocket squares of cloth held hopefully into 45kts sustained, gusting 50 on a beam reach (wind at 90 degrees so the side of the boat). As the swells grew, falling off them and rushing down their faces in the blackness happened so fast that my stomach flipped like on a roller coaster. The speeds climbed on the counter 26, 27, 28...... 29 in riot of noise and vibration. The spray coming off the bow wave hit the stanchions at the front of the boat with a staccato beat that served as warning before the wave whooshed into the cockpit with such force that it once knocked the wind out of me. Instead of turning the other cheek I would turn my back to the wall of spray and momentarily see the outline of my head and shoulders printed in the wall of white as the wind carried it over the back of the boat.
Such storms are dramatic and exciting and are why I come here. In deep water and with no land masses around, the waves are special here and allow for these incredible speeds. The fact that we're all alone and totally reliant upon our wits and personal force and capable of enjoying circumstances that would drive most normal people wild with fear is empowering and is why I've been working for 10 years to get here and why I'll be back!
© Conrad Colman Foresight Natural Energy / Vendée Globe 17.12.2016