A Darkening Gust
As we sailed westward towards Florida a half-mile north of the Bahamas' Stirrup Cay in the northern Berry Islands, we saw it coming. We headed straight towards it. We had recognized it an hour earlier so we knew it was approaching and I knew it could bring some bad news, but I just didn't know how much time we had.
We could certainly see its angry energy - a mean-looker, brewing, pouting, buffy out its chest and hovering over the western horizon. Mystique was almost ready, but not quite for this seductive squall. We still had two full sails fully-raised, but surely we had enough time to get them down before it hit.
The sky appeared ominous while the sea errily confused- almost a proverbial calm before our upcoming event. That much was fairly typical. Of course, squalls aren't ever normal so I don't know what I expected. The vanguard gusts blew way ahead of their cloudy formation. The impatient wind hadn't waited for its dark shadow to catch up to it. Who said it had to? Nothing normal about a line squall.
Suddenly the breeze's dying breaths and wisps changed 180 degrees. The sails suddenly shivered madly, luft frantically, clapping and calling "Furl me up; take me down! NOW!" In a flash, the weather had engulped Mystique.
I asked my son to help, but he wasn't experienced enough with this kind of situation. It became obvious the gusty wind was too strong for him on the foredeck so I ushered him below Focused on the tasks at hand, I quieted the jib with quick turns on the winch and reeled in the roller furler. Though the jib had a tantrum and didn't roll up quietly; her sheets flapped and wrapped herself around her forestay. They were desperately holding on with their last desperate gasps. Swinging wildly - became a tangled mess, but I wound her up into her tight roll so she was finally secure in a couple of minutes. But the mainsail, like a bratty, spoiled child, bayed and beckoned. A flash of lightening off the starboard bow preceded a pursuing thunderclap. It shook our rigging and rattled my son. "Dad, get below" his summoned, but I knew the main had to come down so I refused listen to his pleas. I had work to do and little time to secure it. The mainsail and boom swayed to and fro in disarray. The wind appeared omnipresent. it was spanking the boat more from above than from any particular direction. The gusts felt so intense, the pressure on the mainsail so strong...so tightened the luff and toughen the tension to drop the halyard. I had to partly climb the mast by stepping up on the winch and yanking the luff down. And hold on as the rain pelted and soaked me in seconds.