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Mission Ocean: Tropical Storm Kirk

by Mission Océan 4 Oct 2018 06:07 UTC
Contigo set up with lines to hold the fenders in place © Mission Ocean

"Have you seen what's coming? Watch out. Be prepared. Stay safe."

Grave face, big serious eyes, a slow shake of the head; our new friend Henri (also owner of a Venezia 42 like Contigo) was full of words of warning in the run up to Tropical Storm Kirk last week. The storm was due to pass directly over Martinique, where we had just tied Contigo up to a mooring ball in preparation for our flying visit back to Europe.

With 60 knots sustained wind and torrential rain predicted, we set aside time to clear everything from the decks, tie up the loose ends of our unfinished jobs, and prepare the boat for the worst. We got up early and set to work before 7am. Taking inspiration from the boats around us, Henrique rigged up a line to allow us to leave our fenders out, but stop them from flying around and slapping against the hull in the high winds that we were expecting. We removed our wind turbine (we have hardly used it in the Caribbean anyway; our solar panels have been more than sufficient in keeping Contigo's batteries topped up), although not without some difficulty. Hanging off the back of the boat, this poor piece of kit has been exposed to the elements for nearly a year, and was suffering corrosion to the mast.

By 10am, we were ready, and even had time to make a quick run to shore to drop off our recycling and have a coffee. The NOAA, NHC, SXM Cyclone and various social media sources that we have been monitoring since the beginning of the hurricane season all seemed to agree that the wind would start to blow around midday and the eye of the storm would pass by in the early evening. We'd had a few squalls in the morning already, with sharp bursts of rain that lasted only a few seconds, but soaked us through. We rushed back on board, and headed inside to occupy ourselves with some odd jobs, ears pricked for the first big howl of wind. Midday came and went, as did one o'clock... All remained quiet. We had a big lunch and then lay down for a siesta, thinking that the wind would wake us. Nothing.

By 3pm, the boat had never looked so clean and tidy, and we'd run out of jobs to do. Our email alerts told us that Kirk had slowed down, and was becoming disorganized and difficult to predict. The Hurricane Hunter airplane was heading back out to try and see what was going on. We settled down with books and music, and waited. An hour or so later, the breeze began to stiffen gradually, working its way up to a sustained 20 knots, where it would remain for the next few hours. A couple more rain showers blew through, and our rain water collectors gurgled away happily. Word came back from the Hurricane Hunter, and our sources online informed us that Kirk was still considered dangerous and was very much on the way. I feared that the storm would creep up on us under cover of darkness, and that we would bear the brunt of it in the middle of the night; not ideal for our first tropical storm experience.

And then, at 8pm, when darkness had fallen and we had eaten dinner, washed up and played an umpteenth game of Uno with lightning licking the hills all around the anchorage, something totally unexpected happened. At less than 100km east of Martinique, just as the winds were beginning to gust up to 35 knots around us, Kirk decided to change tack by almost 90 degrees. We watched, open-mouthed, as trackers began to predict a totally new path, bypassing us completely and making landfall on the eastern coast of Saint Lucia within the next hour.

We never got to meet Kirk; Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and, to a lesser extent, Grenada took the worst of the storm for which, unfortunately, they were scarcely prepared. The news channels showed extensive flooding in Saint Lucia, and friends in Carriacou reported nasty swells in the anchorages and sleepless nights as boats played pinball with one another. The next day, we saw videos of friends surfing superb curling waves in the ABCs.

I suppose you could say that we had a rather lucky escape, and preparing for the storm was an excellent exercise, and we could be ready at much shorter notice in the future. But our experience really got me thinking about climate change. Our weather is becoming more and more unpredictable; this week alone, in addition to crazy old Kirk, there has been a record-breaking "medicane" in the Mediterranean, sinking boats, destroying marinas and causing flooding. There has also been a (relatively unreported) tsunami in Indonesia, and a freak storm in the southern ocean which led to the spectacular rescue of two skippers from the Golden Globe Race. The day after Kirk, we experienced our first earthquake on board, as tectonic plates shifted around 50km north east of Martinique and sent ripples through the island, across the water, and up and down our mast. The climate is so very central to sailing, life on board a boat, and the outdoor pursuits that we enjoy.

I am glad that we decided to set sail on our circumnavigation when we did. Who knows what the future will hold, as sea temperatures rise, pollution continues to pour into our oceans, and our summers get hotter and our winters harsher. In a negative moment, I began to wonder whether a day will come when the oceans will simply become too dangerous, too unpredictable to sail responsibly? Will there come a point when too many containers full of electronics, plastic goods and cheap clothing have fallen from cargo ships in sudden storms to lurk just under the surface, ready to rip holes in unsuspecting cruising boats? We've certainly seen an increase in this kind of accident in ocean racing recently. We intend to sail for as long as we can, doing our best to dodge the storms and other phenomena, and continue to prepare and train for those from which we cannot run. Kirk was a gentle introduction, and we will debrief on our preparation in order to learn and improve for next time. Because it now seems inevitable that there will be a next time, and it's unlikely that we will get off so lightly again.

Mission Ocean is proud to be supported by: Boero, Doyle Sails Palma, Rotary District 1730, Navigair, OctoMarine, Battery World Service, Victron Energy, Monaco Marine, Aquatabs, Spade Anchors, Plastimo, Furuno France, Pejout Marine Services, Lyvio, Storm Bird, Aethic, Corsica Yacht Services, Astrolabe Expeditions, Asociacion Ondine, AGL Marine, and Sail-Worldcruising.com

Mission Ocean is Laura Beard and Henrique Agostinho. Their three year plus mission is to share their love and respect for the ocean with others, through education and scientific research. Neither is a stranger to the water, so they have combined all their skills and passions in this bold, courageous and inspiring project. Sail-Worldcruising.com is delighted to be with them for the journey of their lifetime. You can also find out more on their Facebook page and Instagram account @missionocean06

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