Gale warnings have been forecast for the Wild Coast area since last week. For once, all of our weather predicting sources agreed AND they were correct. For non-sailors, there are different levels of gale force winds ranging from a moderate gale (28-33 knots of wind) to a whole gale (48-55 knots). We were looking at a fresh gale (34-40 kph), Force 8 on the Beaufort Scale, coming our way. Multiply knots by 1.15 to figure out miles per hour or by 1.85 for a km conversion if you want to put this into perspective. No matter the terminology or how you measure it, it's a lot of wind.
We'd just seen more wind than this on our way down from Durban and much more wind than this in our past sailing experience, but it's never pleasant to look forward to a gale. It's Neptune's way of paying sailors back for all the lovely sunrises and sunsets and gorgeous sailing days he's provided along the way. How can you appreciate the good days when you have nothing to compare them to?
The interesting aspect of the upcoming weather was that the wind was forecast to blow a fresh gale from the NE for one day and night and then back to the SW for another day and night of gale force winds. We're glad we're at anchor in the protection of East London's harbor, because outside the breakwater of East London is no place to be when a southbuster hits.
We've been on the hook here for a couple of days and feel pretty good about the holding. One of the issues here is that we are anchored in 40' and the rest of the boats are moored, fore and aft, so they don't swing at all. We needed to let out enough scope to be able to swing with river current, tides and wind without fear of hitting another boat. We also needed to make sure we were clear of the channel and the turning basin for the large ships that enter day and night. David chose our anchoring spot well and we seem to be clear of all obstacles while still being out of the way of turning ships and tugs.
In anticipation of the big blow, we let out a little extra anchor chain and checked the snubber. We made sure that the anchor alarm was set. Most everything on deck was still lashed down from our passage. David had been working on the mainsail, however, and made sure all was secure before heading down below for the evening. It was blustery during the day, but never got above 25 knots. From experience we know that when evening and darkness descend it's usually the time things start to happen. We relaxed, had dinner and waited for the wind.
It finally came around 8PM and with it came thunder, lightning and rain. It blew and blew, the thunder roared, the lightning lit up the harbor. It poured torrents, but it was nothing like we expected. We saw gusts to 35 knots, but not more. The rain was horizontal at times, but in general, it was as good as gales get and we counted our blessings. Cups stayed put and all was well. The decks looked particularly clean in the morning and we had enough water in the dinghy to do our laundry. We waited for part 2 of the gale from the SW and it proved to be a non-event. It was quite breezy, but the day was sunny and warm under a blue, cloudless sky and we went for sundowners to visit the folks at the Buffalo River Yacht Club. Thanks, Neptune.
Moral of the story? It pays to be ready, but it's a relief when what you're ready for doesn't materialize.