When our moods are at their lowest, the promise of a high-pressure area – courtesy of the latest weather forecast – saves the day. It creates a constant south-easterly wind, force 4 to 5. We hoist all sails and move again. On a beam-reach course we obtain high speeds, so three days in a row we cover about 150 miles per 24 hours. Our hurricane concerns fade into the background. Hoping for a continuation of the favourable winds, we routinely retrieve the latest grib files and weather charts. “There is a depression over Tonga that is rapidly deepening”, Ivar says, concerned. “It looks like it will cross our path.” At first, it looks like we can evade the worst of it by sailing south of its core. That would leave us with the favourable wind direction and keep us out of the sector with the strongest winds. But then that hope evaporates. When we download new weather charts, the US weather service NOAA has added the word “gale” next to the core of the depression. They expect a real storm. In addition, the depression is now predicted to move faster and deepen further, causing more wind. “There is no escape,” Ivar concludes. Do we have to deal with a hurricane after all?
We turn our concerns into action and prepare Luci for the approaching storm. We stow the flexible solar panels below deck. We hoist our small cutter jib and furl in the genoa firmly. We close all deck hatches tightly and place a lid over a ventilation shaft. We store all loose items in the cabin and put a safety line on the oil lamp. Ivar cooks a pasta for a few days and fills the tea and coffee thermos bottles. To be on the safe side, Floris also checks the grab bag. A few hours later we can’t come up with anything else to do. The latest weather report forecasts an average wind speed of more than 40 knots for our location, gusting to 60. We have never had so much wind on the open sea. How will Luci hold up? And we? We barely sleep, waiting for the weather to come.
In the early morning we feel the wind picking up from the northeast. We lower our reefed mainsail and leave only our small cutter jib made of extra thick dacron. We position our wind vane Herbie to keep the wind from behind. It means that we’re running with the wind while Lucipara 2 rides on rapidly rising waves that come from behind before overtaking us. Heavy showers hit us and gusts are getting stronger. Our anemometer no longer works, but we estimate the strength of the gusts to be well above 50 knots. Herbie has a surprisingly good control over Luci, helped by the amount of wind pressure and a boat speed of 5-6 knots. The tightened cutter jib also seems to help keep the bow downwind. Ivar is on high alert in the cockpit, ready to take the helm when Luci unexpectedly moves sideways across the massive, breaking waves. Fortunately, that is not necessary. Cutter jib and Herbie turn out to be an excellent team in the midst of nature’s show of force.
The peak of the storm sticks to daylight hours and doesn’t reach hurricane strength, but we’re not there yet. In the evening we end up at the other side of the storm. A strong westerly wind of around 25 knots, again more in gusts, together with a high swell from the northeast, make for extremely confused waves and a nauseating washing machine effect. We first try to sail upwind, until Floris bounces out of his bunk. Then we decide to heave-to, which gives relative comfort. It is not until well into the next day that the wind changes further and decreases somewhat. The sun also shows itself again! We can go back to heading to New Zealand and are relieved that thanks to our strong steel lady we have weathered the most violent storm to date in glorious fashion.