Day 21 & 22: Cyclone Kurumi 0 - JM BUSHA 54 1
Disclaimer: Our dear Ciao Bella has survived yet another storm and her team is safe and ready to take on our final couple of days - albeit battered, bruised,
and sleep deprived. However, this tale is not for the fainthearted. Our Tropical storm, Cyclone Kurumi, is named after a mere a young boy. If that is the case the whole team has agreed that we would not like to meet his older brother or bump into him when he grows up - he put up quite the fight!
We had received warnings about Cyclone Kurumi for a couple of days and we had done everything we could to prepare. The morning of day 21 past with anticipation and building nerves. By midday, the breeze had reached a consistent 25kts with a messy 5m swell rolling in behind us. These waves were massive. In the trough you could see the wave in front of you like a wall, completely covering the horizon. The next wave looms behind your head demanding your attention. The ocean was a dark navy blue, contrasted with the white horses beginning to show on the tops of the surrounding waves. As the waves broke, they turned a brilliant bright blue - almost the colour of a blue energade.
We had one reef in our main and we were soaring! An important thing to know about our team is that we are a boat full of speed junkies. We all love to push the boat as fast and hard as we can. But what really gets us going? A good surf. Now this isn't a surf like you do close to shore on a surf board, this is a full-send surf. On Ciao Bella, when this happens her crew is in absolute ecstasy.
Jono, Hearn, Tawanda, and I were on deck having an absolute blast and getting some incredible gopro footage. We were catching wave after wave. The 5m waves were doing wonders to our boat speed. We had the most magnificent surf I have ever experienced. It had all four of us exclaiming with overwhelming excitement. Jono just thrashed our previous speed record with a whopping 20,2 knots. 20,2 kts! That, we all quickly agreed was the fastest any of us had ever been on a boat. We were all fully charged and craving our next hit, ready for the next massive wave.
But our playtime was shortly interrupted. The latest squall came rolling in, and fast. The rain started bucketing down. Not just a light drizzle, but buckets. And with the rain came more wind. All 35 knots of it. The ragged ocean state had changed into a completely different state - a very eerie one. All the small, wind-induced ripples that are always present on the ocean, were completely flattened out by the rain. I have never seen the ocean so smooth in my entire life - even on the day we were drifting there was some movement on the surface of the water. Looking out towards the horizon, the swell looked like hills in an early morning mist. The faint fog that seemed to be coming off the water was created from the spray being blown off the peaks of the surrounding waves. The attitude on deck changed to quite a serious one as the drastic increase in wind speed required in a deeper concentration from the crew. Our focus shifted from getting 'all-of-the-speed' to keeping Ciao Bella upright and stable.
After about 10 minutes, it became clear that this was not a squall but the beginning of Kurumi rolling in. Ryan and Michaela came on deck so we could drop down to our second reef. Ryan, Michaela and I battled on as the rest of the crew went below deck to revive their energy. The wind seem to build and soon we were at 45 knt gusts with waves seeming to grow. After a while, I went down to rest while our co-skippers bravely lead on.
Below deck is a very different scene. The combination of the rain preventing us from opening any of our hatches, our soaked foulies hanging up, and the charging of the batteries, it had become incredibly hot and humid. Everything you touched felt damp. With the storm building outside, Michaela yelled down to us that we needed to all sleep in the aft-starboard bunk to try minimise Ciao Bella's nose-dives. Now, Ciao Bella is not known for her size. To get all four of us in this bunk we had to pack in there like sardines and curl up in order to get our legs in. Never did I think I could ever be so content being squeezed into a small, damp bunk with my team mates eating dry provitas.
Jono got up to get some water and was leaning against the engine mount, when disaster struck. The first knock-down of Cyclone Kurumi. Ciao Bella lent drastically to one side and poor Jono, with little to hold onto and no time to react, was thrown over the engine and into the bunk on the other side. Luckily, his somersault resulted in only a few scratches and a bit of a bang on his head - he was in some pain, but overall he was fine and managed to get back up and carry on pouring his water. We all realised that it was going to be a long night.
After a while, Kurumi showed a little mercy and softened up to a slightly more manageable 30 kts. This gave us time to pour water into our freeze-dry dinners for the evening. After we were all well fed, we felt ready to take on whatever the evening had in store for us. We started our watch cycle for heavy wind - three people on deck for three hours, then three hours of sleep. First in our line-up were Hearn, Jono and Mics. Ryan, Tawanda and I settled down for a slightly rough night sleep all curled up in the aft-starboard bunk in our increasingly-moist sleeping bags. We were all quickly sleep from exhaustion - but it was quite a light sleep due to nerves, adrenaline and Ciao Bella's motion. She soared down waves, rocked as she was pushed by the rough side-swell and jerked as she dove into the wave in front of us.
All three of us were awoken when Ciao Bella hummed particularly loudly - surfing what must have been a ginormous wave. She suddenly heeled over sharply. All of us were on high alert down below, with our heads lifting up looking around for any clues as to what was to come next. Water was gushing passed the windows on top of our deck - this meant we were leaning at least 60 degrees. A few moments passed and then we heard some yelling and then sails flogging as Ciao Bella's broach did not yield. Bang, Bang, Bang. Someone had hit their hand on the deck, hard - this meant all hands on deck. We all rushed for our harnesses and came up on deck to help. The jib sheets were in a tangled web and the jib was flogging loudly. Ryan quickly took the helm as Michaela rushed forward to prepare to drop the jib. Luckily, we managed to correct the jib sheets and steer Ciao Bella back to her course without having to drop the jib.
With the boat back to a stable condition we could start to take in our surroundings. The wind had picked up again and the swell had grown even taller, steeper and more confused than I had ever imagined. Kurumi was in full swing. The rose-tinted glasses had fallen off and we all realized what we were in for - tonight was going to be rougher than we originally thought. The waves were now tsunami-like and our focus shifted from them being a fun surfing tool to each one being a new bucking bull trying to catch you off guard. It took all of the helm's focus to ensure each powerful surf was controlled - the slightest movement on the rudder could result in catastrophic broaches or Chinese-gybes. Another crew member was on the vang - our new best friend. Whenever the steering became too heavy and we could sense a broach trying to rear its head, that rope was flicked uncleated and released tension in the main sail, helping us steer back to our pure-downwind course. At the next avalible moment it was yanked back on with as much force as we could to make sure we could beat the next broach back down. The third crew member on deck was on wave watch and would call out rouge or particularly monsterous waves to the helm. If the vang failed to release enough power, they would need to release the mainsheet to depower the mainsail as much as we could. I remember being told "you can't call every wave a massive wave" while I was on wave-watch. Words cannot describe the stature of these waves.
We were sailing straight downwind to align ourselves as safely as possible with the wave angle and to minimise the power in the broach-beast that was becoming stronger and fighting for attention more frequently as time went on. Our three main helms - Ryan, Mics and Jono - were on deck with T as they battled the seas to help Ciao Bella regain her stability. We had another look at the latest grib and it showed that we should be out of the worse of it by 2am. 4,5 hours to go and the worst would be over...
Jono, Ryan and T soldiered on as Hearn, Mics and I returned below deck to fight a unique battle of our own. It was becoming so hot and humid below deck without our trusted aircon system and with waves creeping between the washboards and waterfalls from the coach-roof. By this point, our sleeping bags and mattresses were no longer moist, or damp but were, in no uncertain terms, wet. We tried to combat the water below in the best way we knew how - baby powder. Our new craving to be dry started a great babypoweder party. Babypowder was flying everywhere. We had covered ourselves in so much babypower we probably looked like snowmen. At one point Michaela opened the coach-roof and sprayed some at the three on deck, offering to dry them up a bit. Unfortunately, no amount of babypowder could save them. Once the three of us below were all curled up in our small bed, our story took a turn again. Nothing could have prepared us for what came next, it was so sudden and out of the blue that it took us all by surprise. Their was a faint beat being stomped onto the deck. Not an urgent one, but a rhythmic one. "I was just a skinny lad, never knew no good from bad, but I knew love before I left my nursery..." - Ryan began to sing what must have been the best reenactment of Queen at the top of his lungs. Soon the whole crew was belting out the melody as we stomped the deck to the beat. If you ever wanted a moral booster, this was it. After what was probably the best Queen concert this world has ever seen and a rendition of Disney melodies we were ready to take on anything Kurumi would throw at us.
2am, 3am, 4am, had all past and Kurumi was unyielding. What was happening? It was forecast to die but only seemed to be unmercifully building.
The rest of the evening battled with the most inspiring camaraderie I have ever seen. Despite our lack of sleep, aching muscles, and conditions where comfort is a distant memory, we pulled together in ways noone could have anticipated with undying support and understanding. We brought a whole new meaning to the word team, to family.
The brain does funny things in stressful situations. I remember the later parts of the storm in flashes and moments.
One of these moments was while I was on watch with Jono and T, I remember looking over my shoulder and seeing a steep cliff of water towering over us, at least 8 meters tall. I held onto the kicker until my knuckles were deathly white. Ciao Bella built up power and began surfing down this mountain. Spray gushed on either side of the boat creating a mini fortress of water as we rocketed down the wave. I remember hoping with every fiber that we would hold this course and steer safely straight down the wave. Another moment - I was on deck with Ryan and I was checking our bearing with my headlight when a rouge wave washed over the deck and knocked me clean off my seat. I swung round my harness tether and landed with a thud, face first into the compass on the otherside of the deck. Always clip-on kids!
We had to sail directly with the waves. Catching one of these side on would have had disastrous consequences - mainly rolling the boat. We had already been knocked down twice before. It was not a risk we we're willing to take. We had another problem, we were sailing downwind due south with the storm. We we're nearing the latitude of Rio at this point, and couldn't risk going any further south. We had only one option - to try slow down. With the first signs of daylight and Kurumi still in full force, we decided to drop the remainder of the mainsail and swap our J4 jib for the storm jib. Our unused sheets were towed behind us to try stabilize us as much as possible. Ryan bravely sent us below deck to rest, while he selflessly soldiered on. We closed the boat up, as he did his best to keep Ciao Bella upright, while we waited out the last of Kurumi.
We were all woken a little after 8am to put the mainsail up - we were going to pick up our battle weapons once more. The weather had calmed, ever so slightly, and now was our chance to cut west towards Rio. Jono and T were our first line of defense as Kurumi threw a massive squall at us. The rain pulted down and apparently felt like bullets and hurt, even with your foulie hood up. The wind was unwavering and they became worried about ripping the main from all it's flogging. Michaela promptly told them "Let it rip if you have to, just don't let the waves roll us!".
Kurumi eventually lowared his weapons around 11am. We shook out our reefs, put up the J4 and headed straight to Rio. Hearn and I guided Ciao Bella on as the rest of the crew fell into an exhaustion-driven coma. The day after Kurumi was a long, wet one. All of our mattresses and sleeping bags were soaked through and we barely had any dry clothes. All of us were drifting in and out of consciousness as we tried to catch up our sleep.
Day 22 ended off eventually with bit of a high - there was a small opening in the cloud cover where the last beems of light shone through. Gazing into the light at the end of our dark tunnel made us realise how close we were to the finish and how much we had achieved in the last 48 hours - not only as individuals but as a team. And what an incredible team we are.
Some recollections from the crew of the storm:
Helming with Emma and Tawanda - surfing some really insane swell, slamming into the waves in front of us and water rushing over the deck.
Nothing strikes fear into your heart like the sound of a wave crashing behind you, the back of the boat lifting up and the nose pointing straight down into the darkness. The boat accelerates, heels over to weather and you have to hold the rudder steady. A little too much to either side and it's game over. You can hear the walls of water rushing past either side of you as the spray picks up off the bow and for a few seconds you're just holding on for the ride.
Waking up to being told that the storm was getting stronger, even though the day started to break. It was mentally draining because by this time we were supposed to be well out of the storm, but we weren't. Hamlet and I sat on deck during the intense rain, that felt like bullets in 40knots of gale. Getting sprayed continuously by waves that broke infront of us and dealing with being completely soaked and cold. We sat beating into the highest of waves in the rain in complete silence only broken with either Hamlet or myself cracking a joke or laughing about something to keep the mood light after riding up a tall wave. The storm was definitely one of the scariest things I have experienced.
The wind was up to a constant breeze of 40knots with gusts up to 48. While this is a lot of wind, it was not the most dangerous part of the next 24 hours. Ryan and I were on deck alone while the rest of the crew rested to get ready for the long night that lay ahead. Ryan and I were having a time with waves coming from all angles! Rys picked up a bottle of electrolyte to have a sip, I looked back and saw the biggest wave I have ever seen before and said "Rys put down the bottle, massive wave behind us, you are going to need two hands". Ryan looked at me, looked at the wave and looked back at me with bottle in hand and just surfed this wave for days. I turn around as we come off the previous wave and guess what? I had now seen the biggest wave I have ever seen in my entire life. I say to Ryan "Ryan bottle down, look behind you". Ryan looked at the wave/tsunami and then looked at me with what could have been misconstrued as fear in his eyes but he says it was determination... The boat got higher and higher. I saw more and more of the ocean. The nose of the boat went down, down and down some more. The stern of the boat lifted up and up and up. And our boat just went faster and faster and faster! It felt as though we had just been pushed down a mine-shaft, a mine-shaft that was as tall as our mast!
That is one of my many memories from the storm: surfing down the biggest wave I have even seen with my brother. It was a very special moment.
The shear grit these copper-arsed sailors, that I share this adventure with, will be my favourite part of a long battle. The more that storm threw and flew our way, the worse the broaching and closer she got to rolling into certain disaster it got they kept digging deeper and deeper - like greedy gold miners - until they did what was needed, and more to thrive - when all that was required was mere survival. The selfless acts and bravery won't be forgotten.
There are two things that allow a person to push themselves to their utmost limits: self preservation, and the preservation of those they care about. The second point is what allowed me (and probably my crew) to push for the entirety of the storm. It was eye opening to witness the amount of stress the human body can undergo, to protect those around them. Pretty insane tbh.
- Emma Clark