A pod of whales

And 10 minutes later all hell broke loose! Yesterday, Tuesday, during our 13th day at sea, things moved at breakneck speed, as we went from summer to winter, from calm seas to some roughing up. In the early hours of the morning, we were cruising along nicely, all sails set, a lot of canvas flying. We were surprised by the mild temperatures after our first chilly night in awhile. Offshore of the Rio de la Plata estuary, the crew took a saltwater shower in the cockpit. They had no more than 2 liters of fresh water to rinse off, well aware that there wouldn't be any more for some time. Once clean, we had to hurry back to the gym for one of our favorite workouts: replacing the reaching staysail by the beating one, and dropping the gennaker on the windward side of the solent, which was again unfurled! Time flew by as we stowed the sails and distributed the weight onboard, and the weather changed insidiously, from bright blue to grayish-blue.

Our efforts were rewarded, as we soon saw water spouts all over the place. Look...whales! Grab your binoculars! A few massive backs rose up and then disappeared, reminding us happily—as we crossed our fingers—that we haven't hit anything since starting out. Humming along nicely, it took less than three days to expertly negotiate our second low-pressure trough. But on this stretch of water running right through the rotating winds, everything changed in just a few miles. A south wind came up from Antarctica, immediately causing the temperature to drop. The azure blue sea turned bottle-green, and the horizon took on a thick cloak of haze caused by the contact between cold air and still-warm water.

In this universe of a thousand shades of gray, reminiscent of a winter cruise down the coast of Brittany, we experienced a moment of pure pleasure with the boat flying softly like a bird. We wouldn't trade this for anything... And then, in a flash, our brisk gait was shattered by head-on swells that destroyed our momentum. Gitana 13 was no longer gliding...it started banging and bouncing and crashing with all the force of its 25 tons into the waves seeking to impede its progress. Without hesitating, we cut our speed in half, conceding this hopeless battle to the ocean in order to protect the boat. As I type these lines, the seas haven't settled down. With one reef in the main and the staysail up, plodding along at 17-18 knots, we are continuing our forward march engulfed in a real din, shaken around like never before. Just above me, I hear waves crashing on the three-man watch. Dawn will soon break, and I hope the seas will calm down.


Nicolas Raynaud


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