As I wrote the last email blog post on Saturday afternoon, my completely nail-bitten fingers were shaking and my feeling of anxiety was almost overwhelming. I tried to keep the post light and positive – for my own self-preservation – and not mention the word that was on the forefront of my mind: Lightning.
We rose on Saturday morning to one of the scariest sights at sea. I shouldn’t say “rose” because that’s not really true – Friday night we’d endured close to 30 knot winds and big seas so neither of us had been able to sleep, even while off-watch. Saturday at 6am (still pitch-black out) we sailed towards a huge bank of lightning. Every time the lightning stuck, the sky lit up to reveal a wall of menacing clouds.
We both watched, stunned and afraid. We finally jumped into action and jibed the mainsail to steer Hydroquest what we hoped was a course away from the menacing mass. Waiting for the sun to rise was one of the longest waits ever. At 7am we were able to see more clearly. The sky began to turn deep shades of pink and red and my mind repeated over and over: “Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailor’s warning.” The sky looked like a big red fireball of swirling clouds.
The first lightning storm stopped as quickly as it had begun. There was nothing we could do but continue back on our course towards Niue – straight into the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) trough.
The following hours of daylight were spent under heavy cloud cover. We could hear thunder and see flashes of lightening around us. We motored through one squall that dropped drum loads of rain onto us for over two hours. The change in temperature was immense – freezing cold draughts at times to hot air at others.
All I could think about was how alone we were in the middle of the South Pacific ocean, in the area that is known as ‘the DANGEROUS middle’ (I didn’t mention that before…). Why oh why couldn’t we be at home doing normal Saturday morning things like going for a Starbucks or taking Maggie for a walk?
We made it through the day by being strong for each other. We will make it through this. Hydroquest can handle it. We can handle it together. We took necessary safety precautions: all of the vital electronics, such as the EPIRB, satellite phone, VHF, and ipad with navigation software, went into the oven (everything would get fried if we were struck, but the oven can provide some protection). We hooked battery jumper cables onto the mast shrouds which is supposed to help divert the current into the water. We mentally prepared ourselves for another long night.
The visibility became worse and worse with the setting sun until the radar became our only means of tracking the squalls. Screw our course! We had to head 12 nm north at one point (that’s over two hours of travel time) to avoid a big one.
We sat, huddled together, in the ‘Lightening Watch 360’ station for the first part of the evening. With the covers taken off all of the dodger windows, the view was perfect for spotting flashes around us. We talked about things completely non-related to sailing and realized (not that we often forget) how lucky we are to have each other. “This is character-building stuff”, Will reassured me.
At 2am on Sunday morning, after many exhausting hours of re-adjusting our course away from thunder squalls, we finally reached a point with no more storm-cells on the horizon (according to the radar). The wind picked back up to 15 knots and so we unfurled the jib, turned off the engine, and got the hell out of there. Hydroquest has never sailed so fast and so well! The adrenaline that had been running through my veins for so long started to abate as we sailed out of the danger zone. With your next drink, please Cheers to Hydroquest!
Sunday was a better day and we even saw the sun for a few hours. However, as we came within 25 nm’s of Niue, another huge black squall loomed before us, directly in our path. We knew it was just a rain squall, so not scary, but definitely no fun. We attempted to motor around it but by 10pm we decided to just go straight through because it seemed to be fairly stationary. More darkness and rain fell upon us but we figured we’d get to the other side in a hour or so. Being our luck, the squall started moving with us. This was not an ideal situation given that we were approaching land. We travelled with it for another three hours.
At this point the exhaustion (physical and mental) was setting in. Neither of us had had more than a couple of hours sleep in the previous 36 hours. At around 1am Will was trying to rest while I monitored the radar and auto-pilot from down below, out of the rain. I could barely keep my eyes open and I kept nodding off – very dangerous when so close to land.
The ridiculous squall would not leave us alone and it actually settled into Alofi Bay on Niue, right where we were headed. It was unbelievable! We were both so angry and frustrated! We laughed deliriously for ten minutes. We ate some chocolate almonds (thanks Julie and Andy from Latitude 38 whom we connected with briefly in Bora Bora) that kept us with sugar in our blood and gave us a bit of energy for the final push.
At 2am Will had had enough. Crappy visibility or not, we were heading in.
At 3am we were on a Niue Yacht Club mooring ball. There was only one other yacht on a mooring and it’s rolling anchor light was what had guided us in. The swell breaking on the jagged reef 200 feet away was a deafening, but welcome, sound.
I’m very happy to write: We are on Niue now. Safe and Sound!
There is no doubt that this was one of the most challenging ‘adventures’ of our trip so far. We’re still in a bit of shock, but we love Niue and can’t wait to explore the island. Although we were fast asleep, we were told that there were humpback whales swimming by our boat all morning. Amazing.
So – for all of you who may have been jealous about our two week stay on Bora Bora, let this show that there is quite a price to be paid to see the things we see. Yes, we still believe that it’s worth it and we are happy to be here, but I think I’ve developed a lightning-phobia that will be with me forever.
We are so thankful for the things we have – most importantly, each other and our family and friends – and this amazing life we get to lead.