Several days out from Brisbane and the east coast of Australia, we are dodging some dirty looking clouds with waterspouts trailing beneath them. We motor along with only our storm trys`l and forestays`l up. We are still on anti-seasick pills which make us drowsy, but are already adapted to being back at sea. Australia seems to belong to another world far back in the misty past. We are back to living minute by minute in the present moment.
"Look," says Heather. "The clouds are all rushing south." Sure enough, the sky to the north begins to clear, while to the south the clouds seem to be piling up on the horizon. As we are going east, we feel they are welcome as long as they stay away from us. Then it dawns on us that a boiling black mass is racing north toward us. I just have time to get to the base of the mainmast when we are hit by a seventy knot blast of wind that heels Shiriri down on her side. Suddenly I am standing beside the almost horizontal mast and the sea is half covering the top of the cabins. We are in the midst of a thunderstorm. Lightning flashes continuously through the mist that rips across the flattened sea.
Shiriri is over so far that her rudder is out of the water and we remain pressed down and unable to manoeuver. I haul the trys`l down, or rather sideways toward me, coil and hang the halyards back on the pin rail and lash the sail to the boom. I`m sure that my thinking mind is in shock but it is here that our months of sail training pays off: the routine is so well established that I operate on automatic. Shiriri pays off with the forestays`l pulling the bow downwind and rights herself. I edge back to the cockpit and find Anne steering with her eyes bugging out as Shiriri takes off downwind in a flurry of hail. I decide that is the best possible thing we can do. We are presenting Shiriri`s narrow end-on profile to the wind which keeps us upright and are giving with the punches by running off. The forestays`l gybes back and forth from time to time but everything holds together for what seems hours until we see a lighter patch of cloud to port and edge over toward it. Suddenly we are out in bright sunshine and gentle winds.
Ahead of us a massive cloud bank is quivering with lightening flashes. Behind and to the north are more of the same so we motor south through a narrow gap toward some clear blue sky. Anne calls some friends who are sailing towards New Caledonia somewhere to the north of us to warn them of what is coming their way. They get all sail down and motor into what Martin later described as the wildest experience they have ever been in.
We have had no weather warning of this Southerly Buster but the radio now speaks of strong storm force winds on the way. The further south we go the nastier it will be so we alter course toward New Caledonia and manage to avoid the worst when strong winds and high seas arrive the next day. We decide to try trailing our storm drogue off the stern on the bridle I made for it back in Australia. With no sails set, the wind pressure on our two masted rig keeps us sailing at three knots even with the drag of the drogue. I find that I can still steer enough to swing the stern to meet the two different wave trains and yet every thing is relatively quiet and under control.
On the drogue again...
The wind finally dies during the evening, changes direction and blows fiercely for an hour,( It is my turn to steer with my eyes bugging out) and then leaves us wallowing in the chaotic waves. No one is going out on deck to make sail or take in the drogue in these conditions, so we wait for daylight and calmer conditions before picking up the lost threads of our voyage.
We are happy sailors to finally sight the lighthouse at the pass into Noumea . This is a new pass to us but a familiar harbour and we are soon at anchor in the dusk waiting for daylight to enter port and check in. We have been given a rough beginning to our homeward voyage but it has served to get us quickly back into voyaging mode. And that, as it turns out, is a good thing!