Hello from the Maunie crew on Wednesday morning. At last we are in bright sunshine so the rigging has lots of extra lines attached to dry wet clothes and foulies.
Last night was quite an experience, and not one we're very keen to repeat. We headed slightly north in search of stronger breezes, urged on by Steve our weather chart interpreter. Most of the day was under grey skies but with the Parasailor up so we were making good progress. Towards the end of the afternoon we switched back to white sails and below decks was a scene of domestic activity with Dianne making a carrot cake and Graham a Mahi Mahi fish pie. Said pie was almost ready to serve when we realised that the friendly Force 5 following wind was increasing and the radar showed a huge orange mass of rain for about 6 miles all around the boat. Thoughts of food vanished; Graham & Fergus went up to join Rich in the cockpit whilst Di held on down below to keep an eye on the radar as the boat started to surf and lurch.
Rich was in good control but we clearly had too much sail up with the wind speed increasing to 28-30 knots, we were sailing at 8-9 knots (very much our maximum hull speed) with a huge wake behind us, in driving rain. In a series of carefully rehearsed manoeuvres, we first furled the yankee then brought the boat up into the wind to reef down the mainsail, ending up with 3 reefs to make it about one third its normal size, and no foresail . Maunie felt much more manageable then but was still charging along as the wind continued to increase. For about an hour we had winds of 38-42 knots (a severe gale Force 9) with a peak gust of 49 knots but again Maunie showed her true colours and took it all in her stride. Watches were reduced to 90 minutes as the helmsman needed full concentration but as the night wore on the rain finally abated, the wind reduced and Winnie the Windpilot could take over the steering. Samples of fish pie were eaten when we could get below (and very much enjoyed) and the carrot cake at 4.00am was a treat (described by Rich as 'nectar'!).
We're still slightly puzzled as to what kind of weather system engulfed us; it certainly didn't appear on the forecasts. Clearly it was very localised because boats only 50 miles away were reporting erratic or even no winds but a couple we chatted to on the SSB radio had reported similar but less intense conditions close to our position. It is possible, we suppose, that we were engulfed by a huge thunder cloud which then travelled in the same direction and at the same speed as we did so we didn't escape it.
So we're now still under white sails making good progress towards our destination 640 miles away. The weird weather of 2012 appears to have a final trick up its sleeve for us, though. The 72 hour grib forecast suggests a new low pressure system will form pretty much on our track then move northwards. We hope that it'll form behind us but even so, the winds to the south and west of it will be very light and, yes, there'll be more rain! So we are just concentrating on keeping Maunie trimmed for optimal speed in the current conditions and are hoping that the forecast will be as wrong as it was last night!