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Chula - Chula Log 05 - The Squall

At dusk on Monday we experienced our first proper Atlantic squall. We
had a few minor squalls throughout the day but as the sun went down a
huge black cloud loomed over us and it was clear we were going to end up
in the middle of it. The front of the squall came with the last of the
daylight, it looked and felt like a giant mouth, with heavy rain on each
side and a dark front it gave us the feeling of being swallowed by a
giant. The wind shifted drastically, up to 90 degrees at times and then
all we could do was wait to see what it had in-store for us.

We had just had dinner and were about to open a cool (non-alcoholic)
beer to celebrate reaching the half way point of our crossing. Chula was
set up for downwind on starboard tack with the Hydrovane steering a good
course to the wind. As the wind shifted the Hydrovane adapted and we
went from a heading of around 290 degrees to a heading of due north. As
it was my watch I got on my waterproofs while the kids went to bed and
Joe and Tim cleaned and stowed below.

The rain came as a wall of water, I don't think I've seen rain quite
like it! As it was coming from astern the sprayhood offered limited
shelter and we had to completely close all hatches. The wind increased
with the rain and reaching 33knots at it's highest. I had little choice
than to monitor instruments and let Chula run with her existing sail
plan, luckily we had been sailing conservatively so the main and mizzen
were already fully reefed and the genoa furled away.  It was pitch black
by this stage and I was grateful that there were no other boats close by
although I kept checking the AIS to be sure. At the strongest winds the
Hydrovane couldn't keep our course and started to round us into the
wind, not surprising considered it was balanced at a much lower wind
speed. I activated our B&G autohelm and set it to steer to the wind.
The stay sail is on a track and from below Joe heard there was a
problem, the car had come loose causing it to whip from side to side
with great force, a trip on the fire deck was needed, it took about
10mins in total and Joe was watching from the cockpit - a safety drill
to always keep watch if someone is on the foredeck at night. The only
other action I needed to take was to tighten the mizzen preventer which
had come loose, again an easy job if caught early enough.

The rain was hard and sustained, the sea seemed to glow where the rain
pelted the surface and made the phosphorescent plankton glow, a
beautiful, sureal sight whilst feeling the rain slosh down my legs from
the mizzen sail. Every time the rain and wind eased I thought this is
it, we're through the worst but no, it continued for almost 3 hours! As
a grand finale, once the rain finally eased for the last time, my
lifejacket went off!!! Joe had been up and down but it made us both
laugh when he came up to find me struggling to get out of my lifejacket.
As our "one on two off" watch pattern had been messed up we moved to our
"two on one off" pattern where one person snoozes in the cockpit with
the on watch person so they are ready to help.

The wind died to 5 knots after the squall so we started the engine and
got back on course (we had still been heading due north with the wind
shift). The rest of the night was uneventful but we made a good course
and the batteries got a full charge.

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