That much wind means some very big and nasty waves. To give you an idea of the conditions, they were similar to and possibly worse than those of the terrible 1998 Sydney to Hobart Race. We experienced a total of 4 knockdowns, the second was the most severe with the mast being pushed 180 degrees in to the water. Actually pushed isn't the right word, it would be more accurate to say that Ella's Pink Lady was picked up, thrown down a wave, then forced under a mountain of breaking water and violently turned upside down.
With everything battened down and conditions far too dangerous to be on deck, there wasn't anything I could do but belt myself in and hold on. Under just the tiny storm jib, the big electric autopilot did an amazing job of holding us on course downwind, possibly or possibly not helped by my yells of encouragement! It was only the big rogue waves that hit at us at an angle (side on) that proved dangerous and caused the knockdowns.
The solid frame of the targa (the frame that supports the solar panels) is bent out of shape and warped (see pic below), which provides a pretty good idea of the force of the waves. Solid inch thick stainless steel tube doesn't exactly just bend in the breeze, so I think you could say that Ella's Pink Lady has proven herself to be a very tough little boat!
With my whole body clenched up holding on, various objects flying around the cabin and Ella's Pink Lady complaining loudly under the strain, it was impossible to know what damage there was on deck. It was a little hard at times to maintain my positive and rational thoughts policy, but overall I think I can say that the skipper held up us well as Ella's Pink Lady. It was certainly one of those times when you start questioning exactly why you're doing this, but at no point could I not answer my own question with a long list of reasons why the tough times like that aren't totally worth it!
So in the middle of all the drama, back at home Mum received just about the worst phone call possible from the Australian Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), telling her that one of my EPIRBs (emergency signaling devices) had been activated. One of the knockdowns had caused the automatic EPIRB mounted under the dodger to turn on without me knowing. Luckily I called in only a few minutes later before anyone could really start to panic. I was pretty annoyed at the stupid thing for going off and giving everyone such a scare!
We didn't come though completely un-scathed though, as there's plenty of minor damage, but luckily nothing bad enough to stop us. Actually I think it's a huge credit to our rigger David Lambourne, that the that mast is still standing and appears in perfect working condition. So other than the wonky looking targa, the starboard solar panel is all bent up and the windvane is now sitting on a bit of an angle, but amazingly and very luckily, it still works fine (go Parker!). There are also a few tears in the mainsail and one of the stanchions is bent in.
Down below, the cabin was a totally disaster zone, everything is wet or damp. The dunny (toilet) which fell apart, was in pieces spread from one end of the boat to the other, along with other equipment. The meth stove wont light, but will hopefully fire up when it dries out a little more.
After clearing up the worst of it and despite finally managing some good sleep, I still feel like a giant marshmallow. Physically, my arms and legs are all heavy and pathetic and of course I have a lovely collection of bruises! Mentally, I feel like I've aged a good 10 years, but I'm back to normal now and in good spirits as we approach the half way mark.
When the wind had finally calmed down, I was treated to a pretty incredible sunset and as I was clearing things up on deck, a couple of dolphins stopped by just as if they were checking that we were all OK.
I owe a huge thanks to Bruce, who was completely perfect, saying just the right things on the phone every time I called in and also to Bob who stayed up through the night to keep me updated on when the wind could be expected to ease.
I could go on forever, but better finish up as this has turned into a total novel and there's plenty still to do!
Pic: The bent tubing on the targa frame from a rogue wave!