Darkness falls without much warning.  We still basking in the awe of an Atlantic sunset quickly find ourselves in a blue grey light and then shortly after that inky blackness if there is no moon. The sea becomes black and shiny like oil on black tarmac. Night is long on the boat.  The sea and the wind can start to feel a bit more threatening.  It’s always at night that things seem to go wrong or break.   Last night is a good example.  Things started as above. We had checked the weather and it was forecast to continue much as it had been during the day.  23-25 knots of wind gusting to 27knots.  We set up our sail plan so that we could maintain our route down the rhumb line.  We were wing on wing with a poled out Genoa and the main pushed out to the other side. 

Wing on wing

I went to bed early so I could get some sleep before my 2am watch. At midnight I heard the sails flailing and the boat heeling over.   We had accidentally jibed and the boat was rounding up with a backed main. All hands on deck and we brought the boat back around and tightened the jibe preventer.  We continued with the wing on wing sail plan with reduced sail. 

When I came on watch I could see a series of mini squalls lining up in the sky ready to move in our direction.  When each of us come on watch we complete a full log, observe the clouds and sea state, wind speed and direction, sail plan and whisper quietly to each other in the darkness about anything of note.  The last watch then disappears downstairs into the red light below to grab some sleep before their next watch. 

My watch was a challenging one requiring sharp focus so as not to have the main accidentally jibe or the Genoa back. Each shift in wind I was turning us either a few degrees to port or starboard in order to keep the sails stable.  10 minutes before the end of my watch the wind veers 20 degrees to starboard and goes from 25 knots to 35 knots. The Genoa backed and I couldn’t get the boat around fast enough.  The sails were banging like a brown bear trying to bang its way out of a garden shed. There was a crack as the pole snapped and was then flailing about in the 35 knot wind banging into spreaders and stanchions.  Thank fully the skipper was on deck really quickly.  He clipped on and went up to the foredeck in the darkness to retrieve the flogging broken pole which is much easier said than done. 

The commotion woke the whole boat and soon all 5 of us are up to reduce sails and wrestle the flailing broken pole. We bring both sails onto the same side so we were on a broad reach on a starboard tack for the remainder of the night.  Wing on wing is a very precarious sail set to try to carry through the unpredictability of Atlantic squalls, there is no room for error.

There is no judgement or blame about being the one on watch when the pole breaks, it could have been any one of us.  The next day is a day long job to figure out how to fix and fix the broken pole so we can continue to have use of a minimally shorter pole for the Genoa. 

It takes a crew to fix a broken pole

Later I think about how quickly the squall blew through and twisted us around 60 degrees before we could even blink.  I have  also thought a lot about the person with an open fracture and the crew trying to keep them comfortable.  We are all keenly aware that things change in an instant on the ocean.  

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