Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Why So Dramatic?

New South Wales and southern Queensland had been experiencing dramatic electrical storms for about a week and a half. It was enough to keep us penned in at the Gold Coast waiting for them to blow around outside before we made a move. It was nice to sit and chill after our busy and tiring time working on the boat on the hard, so we enjoyed the forced break, catching up with friends and relaxing a bit (as much as one can in an anchorage where jet-skiers zoom around and people wear these weird jet-boots and ‘fly’ around tethered to a jet-ski by a pipe of pressurised by water). 

The forecast finally looked good, well good enough to get us the short 170nm, 28-hour hop to Coffs Harbour. The prediction showed we should expect a nice 10-15kt northerly to send us on our way. The wind was a bit evasive to start with, but before long we were sailing nicely and we even jumped aboard the East Australian Current conveyor-belt and grabbed an extra 2kts of speed for free, we were rocketing south at between 6-8 kts. We were happily looking at making a dawn entry to Coffs Harbour, well ahead of schedule.

As we were passing Ballina the skies changed. The eastern view was a sheer dark blue, while the western sky had developed a nasty green tinge and some foreboding thunderhead clouds. It stayed to our west for sometime however the clouds were closing in and it started to feel suffocating, the storm was definitely coming our way. We quickly furled in the jib and reefed the main sail, we didn’t know how much of a windy punch the storm front would bring with it.

View of the eastern sky

Lightning flashes lit up the cloud formations from behind and the wind started to pick up, from 15kts to 25kts and the seas were not far behind, whipping up to 2m in what felt like an instant. We could track the movement of the storm on radar and it looked like we were in between two storm cells which were slowly moving north east. We were going to get the full show, and considering that constituted a lot of lightning, we were aprehensive.

Then it was time to hold on, we decided to hove to as the wind direction spun around the dial and reached 35kts, bringing waves that were breaking over the bow. The thunder boomed above us and had us throwing our hands over our ears as a reflex reaction to the intense volume. A brilliant purple and pink lightning bolt stung the water and the water was audibly singed from the impact of the heat. We simultaneously removed our hands from anything metal on the boat in case of a lightning strike. Thunder boomed all around and we counted and watched as the lightning struck time and time again. Then the rain fell, as if it had never rained before the heavens opened and delivered torrents and torrents with such force that everything was soaked in an instant. The rain and the storm stayed with us as the eye of the storm passed over delivering 40kts of wind. Slowly the cell started to move off, in time for the following cell to come. This one was a meeker version of its bigger brother and the wind started to drop.

As the storms passed over it was as if the the wind had been sucked out of the airspace and we were left bobbing around in 3m seas that had been whipped up by the wind. Off to the aft of our boat we could see a slight glimmer high in the sky…a rainbow trying to peek through. As the lightning flickered off in the distance we were left in awe of the sound and fury that strutted and fretted it's hour upon our patch of sea (and EJ suffered no lightning strikes, phew). 

A rainbow signalling the end of the storms


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