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Near the equator, the winds are seldom constant, but not always calm.

Squalling in the Doldrums

Our constant change in relative position

creates error in expected cycles.

Nervously, I glance at the limp and flaccid sails, I note the calm confidence in the faces of Doug and Freddy, and then I look again at the towering black mountain about to pulverise us. I imagine an aerial view of Moira; a frail bubble of plastic, a mere white speck, drifting in the path of a gigantic 50,000 feet high, eight-mile wide thunderhead. It bears down on us, slowly eclipsing the cheerful blue sky with its dark, unstoppable mass.

Doug and I make a good pair. Crazy as a gooney bird. Here we are, all sails set, calmly waiting for a monstrous tropical squall to hit us like some surfer floating lazily looking for the `big one' to carry him crashing onto a rocky shore.

"Squalling," I cheerfully announce. "We are about to go squalling, the wild and windy equivalent of surfing." Doug laughs. Freddy looks a little concerned hearing, I suspect, a note of repentance in my voice.

But we are hot and it is so calm and we are so bored with motoring in this flaccid area of weak, undecided winds. The winds puff gently from east, south, northeast, southwest, back and forth or none at all. The doldrums have mile after mile after mile of mammoth, beautiful, cumulonimbus clouds towering majestically into the stratosphere. Between the cloud mountains lie broad valleys where small puffy white clouds drift silently through glorious sunsets, sunrises, moonsets and moonrises. A stunning vista to visit but a terrible place to sail.

Roll in the headsail, roll it out, roll it in, roll it out. Let out the main and haul it in. Tack to port, tack to starboard. Jibe and come about jibe again. Drop the sails and start the engine, shut it down and hoist the sails. Glassy calm one minute and screaming torrents of wind and rain the next. Searing hot days tucked between sheets of chilly nights. A place of natural contradictions at once monotonous and exciting.

A gust of wind. Moira comes alive, dancing forward over the glassy sea. I slide the bow into the wind and run close hauled directly at the advancing wall of rain. "Good-oh!" I say to nobody in particular.

Long ago I learned about thunderstorms at sea. I learned to keep away from them, altering course to pass behind them whenever possible. You can never tell if a particular squall will bring 10knot or 50knot winds and a wrong guess can dismast a sailboat. But boredom and heat have distorted my thinking. Out here in the October Doldrums, with the searing tropic sun, constant grumble of the hot diesel and endless two hour watches, I find myself entranced by a magnetic attraction to the giant thundersqualls skulking here and there on the horizon. After all, that dark grayblack, sinister area under the clouds represents chilly, refreshing rain. Although you'd never know it from two or three miles away, there is plenty of wind under there, too. We need some wind.

A giant cloud creature sweeps towards us with rainbows flying.

Twice we were unable to avoid squalls and they engulfed us with avalanches of rain and shuddering gusts of wind. But we met them bow-on with sails neatly furled and soap in our hot little hands. After the moment of awe at the winds and the sky-high waterfall, we threw off our modest attire and sudsed up shivering in the cold, driving rain.

But a little while ago, I got this vision of Moira cavorting mile after mile on the bow wave of wind from one of these storms. So here we go. A stronger gust, cool and wet with the freshness of rain kicks Moira over and we shoot ahead. "Yes!" I yell.

The squall, incredibly huge, towers above us, cascades down on top of us billowing and churning..."Let out the sails!" I shout as the wind mounts. I swing the wheel over and head off ahead of the storm, the starboard gunnel tips into the sea and the deep blue Pacific collects itself in swirls of foam behind our swiftly moving stern. Seven Knots, 7.5 knots, 8 Knots!

"Hey, all right! We are Sailing!" shouts Doug.

"Come on Moira!" Freddy laughs.

"Hang in there Moira baby! Waaaaaahoooooooo!" I cry.

NINE KNOTS! We hoot and laugh as the flat sea streams by and black sheets of rain edge closer and closer. Rain crashes loudly into the sea only a few meters to port.

We dive, bucking and leaping, into the blinding wind lashed rain. Inside the storm everything is a dark fury of wind and water. I shift course erratically, letting the sails dump the wind in heavy cracking gasps and still the knotmeter glows a steady eight knots.

I grip the wheel, teeth clenched, shivering like Moira in the cold rain. Drenched to the skin, frozen to the wheel. Crazy to be here with all sails up. But I revel in Moira's beauty and power and the wet chilling terror of the storm.

Doug cavorts in the rain, a wild dance in the water rivering down the mainsail. His arms wave over his head in loose abandon. Freddy stands next to me, her hair plastered down in the rain. She's laughs, "When we get out of this one, lets go find another." I find myself giggling, as my arms strain against the helm. The compass glows wetly East by Southeast, and Moira's gunwale sucks at the luminous foam.

Reef Relief...


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