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Rafiki - Dark and Stormy

Tuesday 11th December

El Capitano Robert scribbles in the salt:

Today started normally with relatively clear skies and F3/4 wind from the east, so after breakfast we hoisted the spinnaker and progressed well at about 6-8 kts in light winds. Cally was investigating the freezer and found that some of the frozen fish we had bought in Las Palmas was beginning to defrost, so got it out for lunch and announced "of course, you're now going to catch something...". Indeed she was right and about 45 minutes later, we hooked a third Dorado and managed to land it despite not being able to slow down to land it as we had
the spinnaker flying. This time we filleted it straight away and put the meat into a lemon juice marinade to be fried later.

Emily has been busy making friendship bracelets to be Christmas presents for her friends both in St Lucia and back home in the UK. James has been continuing to sail his margarine tub boat around Rafiki and is very much looking forward to testing her for real when we arrive!

Andy has been wistfully thinking of his first Dark and Stormy cocktail on arrival in St Lucia and unfortunately all this had an impact on the weather as things started to liven up during the night. We had been looking out for squalls on the radar, but were unable to identify any individually as the screen was a generally dark morass, indicating a lot of rain clouds around us. At about midnight, the wind suddenly increased and Cally and I struggled to reef the sails while maintaining a reasonable course downwind. We were sailing with both
foresails poled out to go downwind and managed to furl the larger genoa sail completely, but left it with a piece flapping madly near the top of the mast. By this time, Andy woke up and came to give us a hand. It was raining torrentially and poor Rob was soaked steering while Cally and Andy attempted (unsuccessfully) to stay dry and sort the sails out at the same time. We decided on having only a small bit of genoa out to enable us to sail more to port - the main tactic in a squall as this means the track of the squall will be perpendicular to the boat's course and so it will pass most quickly.

Well, that's what we hoped, but it turned out to take 5-6 hours and did not end suddenly as previous squalls have done, but just gradually reduced after this time. Rob steered for much of the time, with Cally and Andy on the lookout for other boats - we had heard Fidelis calling us on the VHF, but could not speak to them and so were concerned to make sure we avoided them in the rain. It was very dark due the thick clouds, plus the moon is not visible in the early part of the night anymore. We were able to keep a reasonably steady course to the south west with the main squall coming from the south east. Rob took a break and came back in full wet weather gear, complete with waterproof trousers over bare feet, to steer again. The wind gusts were alternately warm and suddenly cold as the squall brings down air from high up along with the rain. It was an odd sensation to have a chilly wind blowing at the same time as a wave would hit the boat and bring some warm (30 deg C) water into the cockpit to keep my soggy feet from feeling the cold! Our wind instruments tend to under read the real
situation, but even these showed gusts of F8 (35kts) regularly. The scariest (and funniest) moment was when we thought we saw flashes of lightning immediately off the port stern and it turned out to be the dan buoy light, which had fallen off its bracket! As things abated, Rob went to bed and Andy and Phil stayed up until the following day.
Meanwhile, both kids surfaced at various stages in the night, but were brilliant at following instructions to wait in their cabin until we could go in and comfort then.

All in all a tough experience, but we all felt well in control and Rafiki did a great job at looking after us as,despite our small sails, we raced along at 8-9 kts (with the line squall taking us in roughly the right direction!)

Lunch: pasta and fish sauce
Supper: Freshly made coleslaw and beans on toast (to remind us we are British!)
Snacks: a lot of chocolate during the night...

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