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Monday, November 26, 2007

The Squall and the Storm Chaser

16:40UTC 26/11/07 16'02N 040'52W Wind ENE4

We met our first Atlantic squall yesterday. This generated a frantic amount of photographic activity from the crew, especially Mr Ian Sheldon, our artist in residence. For those that don't know, Ian is a very accomplished professional artist and approaching storms are one of his favourite subjects. In fact, Ian was recently profiled in the Edmonton magazine, Avenue. You can, and should, read the article, 'Stalking the Sky', which can be found in the news section of

On the horizon, a wall of dark cloud appeared about an hour before sunset. It was clearly catching us up, and the radar confirmed that this was a four by two mile slab of pretty heavy rainfall. As the tradewinds blow out of the sahara and across the atlantic, they gather moisture. Further back, this is pretty little fluffy white clouds. Now, at 40'W, they have gathered some punch and can drop a lot of rain. With the rain comes wind, strong downdrafts of colder air that drive the raindrops deep into your skin. As we get further west, towards 50 and then 60'W, these squalls will get more and more powerful, so it was good to have a fairly mild introduction.

Ian settles himself onto the stern platform, wedged in with camera in hand, enjoying the way that the low sunlight from the other horizon is lighting up the approaching squall line. I am wondering just how much wind it will be packing, and decide, given that it is daylight, to wait until we can see the whitecaps and feel the breeze before reefing, because reefing is such an easy process with just the jibs to be furled.

As the squall reaches us, the rain starts to pound down and we all head below to the saloon, closing the doors behind us and sit listening to the lashing of the rain whilst watching the wind speed readout. In a few minutes, the speed has jumped from fifteen to thirty knots, a good force seven and now we do need to reef. The boat is surging to eight knots, a great feeling but I'd rather take the strain off the rig and sails.

I take off my t-shirt - no point in getting that wet - and step up into the cockpit in my shorts. The reefing takes just a couple of minutes and we are settled doing seven knots with less than half the canvas we had before. Everything settled and comfortable, I stand in the rain enjoying the experience. I even thought about calling for the soap and getting properly clean, but perhaps next time. The boat was beautifully washed down and, finally, we've got rid of the clinging saharan red dust that had accumulated whilst she was in the Canary Islands.

A mere thirty minutes later, the wind is back to normal and we unfurl all sail and continue on our way. The crew is briefed to check the radar every thirty minutes for approaching squalls and reef ahead of time, then we settle into the watch system and head for our bunks. In the night, Ed reefs once but the squall passes a mile away and doesn't affect us.

Our daily mileage was 138, helped along by that burst of speed yesterday evening, and we are now making the best of a good breeze and rolling westward.

Cocktail last night - rum, white wine and peach juice.

All's well. Nick.

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