Leg 5, Race 7 – Day 2, Wednesday 3rd March

By this morning the fleet had dispersed again and we were back to battling against Cape Breton Island – who were once again neck and neck – (or bow and bow) with us on the horizon.  Now our sail changes had settled a tad and as it was still (and likely to be for some time) pretty darn cold, Tom our watch leader reinstated the system of having limited numbers on deck so we could warm ourselves in rotation in the comparative warmth (which wasn't really warm at all) of below decks.

We hadn't been below for more than 10 minutes when a sail change was called and we were up on deck again, throwing in a reef and then packing away the Yankee 1 that had just come down. Just when we were starting to think we were about to batten down the hatches over the next 24 hours for an almighty storm, the new grib files came in which seemed to confirm that we weren't going to get the 37 knot winds we'd been warned about but it would pretty well stay the same mid 20's we already had. By the start of our night watch we were sailing under the Yankee 3 and 1 reef in the main and hanking on the Yankee 2 in expectation of the winds easing even more.  Within 10 minutes of me taking the helm and mentioning how much easier it was than the afternoon's battle against the waves, when once again the wind started to pick up. It was a bit like leaving the house without a brolly and having the nerve to look at a still quite cloudy sky and say out loud how great it is now the weather is clearing up… it's just bound to bring on a deluge!
Within the hour we were back to 2 reefs in the main but then still blindly trusting the forecast, nearly missed the fact that the wind trend was up and not down and so before we knew it, we were sticking in the third reef and dropping the Yankee 3 to the musical accompaniment of the wind howling around the mast, the boom a 'boom, banger, banging', along with the cymbal like crash as the bow (with 3 of us on it) was rhythmically disappearing below wave after wave as we wrestled the sail down and lashed it to the deck. In the process I did a serious amount of body surfing as a couple of waves carried me as far down the deck as my safety line would allow. The final crescendo came when the mother of all waves hit me front on and my life-jacket, caught-up in the excitement, exploded into life.  As if it wasn't hard enough to move around already in my ninety-odd layers, on the bouncy castle that was our deck, I now was doing a very good impression of a puffer fish without fins. Nonetheless, the show – or the race – must go on, so you do your best, struggle on and laugh in the face of the complete madness that hours like that seem to throw at you! I'd just got back to the cockpit and was ready to do a finger, thumb and general limb count when Tom said I was next up on the helm. I was about to protest when I realised everyone had just been through the same ordeal (although their life-jackets were far better behaved than mine) and that someone had to go to the helm. I took over and within a minute it then started to rain too. Great! Oh well, I thought, at least I'm not cold.

20 minutes later it was Ken's turn to take the helm and my turn to go below deck to see if I could thaw out my painfully blue fingers.  I noted that I had sodden boots and socks too. Ever the optimist I found I could at least rejoice in the knowledge that my knickers at least were perfectly dry. With seemingly so few mercies around, this trip certainly teaches you to spot the ones you have – no matter how small – and thank heavens for them!