Today on the water was one for the books! (Wednesday, 6th March 2020)
My friends Rocky & Kim were down from the UK on holiday so Rocky came sailing, Kim stayed on the quarterdeck with Seema, Neelam and Shantan enjoying a “Hi Tea” consisting of cucumber sandwiches, scones with butter and jam and English tea. As Rocky and I clambered into the boat (that was a bit of an effort as Rocky has not been in a dinghy for more years than he can count) added to that his sylph like figure has become somewhat melon shape as the years have gone by. The wind was blowing from the north-east so it was an nice clean down-wind sail to leave the beach. With hindsight I really should have taken the warning from the gods, we had not travelled more than 10 metres when the boom swung violently inboard and reminded me of why it is called a “Boom”. I had been putting the rudder down so I saw it coming out of the corner of my eye thus avoiding the contact with 10ft of swinging aluminium. We quickly hauled in the jib and the main, even before the centreboard was down. The wind had swung 180 degrees sweeping the mainsail round like a rocket and the wind was blowing directly on the nose. We sailed into the open harbour and glancing west saw there was a hell of a storm going on in the distance. The dark clouds had long sheets of rain being flung to the ground. The edges of those clouds had the wind whipping up and over the top dragging water vapour and cloud in streams like a waterfall going uphill. The centre was a deep dark circle. I was not too concerned as the wind here is always either NE or SE or slight variances on that which meant the storm was going away from us. We tacked around a few times then waited on the other boat which was taking ages to come out, (today we had only one laser and one wayfarer). The starter seemed to be having trouble deciding if he should start the start sequence or keep stalling until the laser was ready. In the end between multiple horns and lack of flags we did three roundings of the start-line then thought …what the hell….and took off. The laser was well behind so I eased the sails to let him catch up realizing the wind had shifted once more and was coming out of the west, increasing in strength and dragging those clouds with it. A quick look behind told us the storm was coming our way and looking decidedly menacing. Likoni was the top mark and by the time we rounded it the laser was only a boat length behind us, we gybed round the mark and then…. WHAM…. the wind hit us. The down wind run had disguised the power of the storm and now we had the wind and waves coming directly up the harbour from Kilindini. The windspeed was close to 25knots and kicking the harbour waters up into small waves. With wind that strong beating was not an option, I did not want the shrouds torn from the boat thus causing the loss of the mast. I eased the main and called for the crew to ease the jib and we were off galloping across the bouncy waves and the wind was getting stronger. There was no way we could sail back into the harbour without a multitude of tacks so we held the best course we could into the wind. The first tack was onto the island shore just under the wharves above Secco, shortly after the tack the rain started, the sky seemed to be finding more and more shades of black and the clouds looked like they were sitting on top of the mast. Tack two was under the Base Titanium jetty on the south shore by which time the waves were kicking up and beginning to fray at the tops. Next tack was to be at Club but the conditions were deteriorating, we were getting the spray from the wave tops combined with the spray from the bows which were smashing into the waves the result was salt water hurled into our faces. It was blinding and stinging my eyes, (my crew was fine he would not take his sunglasses off) . The wind pushed us back from our tack mark almost 100yds and when we turned once more the crew tumbled over the back of his seat into my lap. After helping him back onto his seat I looked for the Laser. In that short time the laser had gone from one boat length behind to 100 boat lengths behind and was having a very hard time. Poor Frances Oyo could hardly sail the boat and later told me he was scared he might capsize and by the time he righted he would be blown out to sea. After up-righting my crew back onto his seat we headed for Peleleza, we had no chance! The wind was almost screaming and the waves were 99% white cresting so again we fell more than 200metres short of our mark. As silly as it sounds I was having the time of my life, the battle had my adrenalin running and I was high on the fight. My crew suggested we quit and go in but I was having far too much fun. We tacked again and once more my crew was in my lap as he tumbled backwards. The visibility was still good and we could see more than half a mile, the laser had given up and was being towed in so we were on our own. We managed to fetch across until we were outside the club and made sure the laser went in safely, there was a short lull in the wind and we took advantage of it by rounding Liwatoni. We then found ourselves on a dead run to the cub buoy. It has to be the easiest Liwatoni-Club leg I have ever sailed. We rounded club made the turn for Elephant mark, we managed to get halfway across the harbour then it was blackout time the rain sheeted down and visibility dropped, in less than two minutes the visibility deteriorated so much we could not see 100yds. The wind was now whipping the tops off the waves and combining it with rain which was then hurled into our faces making the skin sting from the impact. Two thirds of the way across the harbour the rescue boat returned and asked us if we wanted to go in, ….not a chance……I was laughing like the village crazy person and having a ball, mind you my crew was in half a mind to abandon ship. I called to the rescue boat that I could not see the marker buoy so they shot off ahead into the gloom. I called to my crew (shouted really) who was two feet in front of me if he could see the mark, he replied “See the ???????? buoy …. I can hardly see the front of the ?????? boat”. Those sun-glasses may have saved him from the spray but in this light he was bind as a bat! The storm had ripped up the anchor on the buoy and taken it all the way back to Base Titanium so we had to chase after it in order to round it.. Another turn (around the mark) and my crew was back in my lap (I think he likes me!!!) I helped him up and then we were down to 20yds visibility, the rain became heavy and looking around I realised it was so heavy it was flattening the seas. The boat was three inches full of rain-water but we still had wind and it all looked good to go. We crossed back to the island side and when the rain eased off so we could see, we had almost gone backwards after the last turn, we were back Secco. One more turn and like magic the rain faded away, the sky was black and in the distance lightning bolts were lighting up the sky. We could see all the way up the harbour and the sea looked like somebody had polished it flat. Another turn and the wind just faded away …………………….so much so we were having trouble even moving on the water. I checked my watch and realised we had only 15 minutes to finish the course as we had spent almost 50 minutes fighting that battle with the storm. In the end we accepted a tow and came ashore calling it a day. One of the best days on the water in the last ten years.
Written by: Philip Jones