A low pressure had been forming north of us in the Beaufort Sea and was coming our way. Since we were out of the ice we did not think much of the 25 knots of wind that we could see in the weather file. The wind and waves had been building during the day and throughout my afternoon watch I was struggling to balance the boat so that the self-steering would work. After trying every sail combination possible and reducing sail by sail I ended up with just the third reefed main. A few hours later I was woken up by Nick; Morgan was at the helm pushing the tiller to its full end with all his power, a big wave had broken in over the cockpit rail and huge dark waves were towering up behind the boat.
Quickly we closed all the hatches and secured everything loose inside the boat. We put drop boards in the companionway on top of the already permanent doors in order to stop the water from getting inside the boat. During the next few hours the wind increased to over 40 knots and the seas grew to 5-7 meter breaking waves that stood tall in the short and confused seas. For the first time during the trip we had to hoist the storm sails, but in the dark of dusk and without practice it turned into a long, cold and wet exercise. Steering the boat we had to keep all our focus as the massive waves building behind, constantly working the tiller in order to keep the waves to stern and avoid them breaking into the cockpit. While the storm sails kept us straight and at the speed we wanted to handle the breaking waves every once and awhile a wave would crash against the hull sending water into the cockpit or a giant wave would pick up the boat and send it planning down the wave at 14 knots. We shortened watches to two hours and kept two people on watch at all times.
A hard spray was blown by the wind from the top of the waves into the exposed back of the cockpit which found it’s way into even the smallest opening in the companionway and soon the inside of boat was soaked with condensation and spray. During the first few hours we lost the main communications computer and a camera to the spray and one of the waves snapped a blade off the wind generator propeller that was lashed to the rail. A dropboard came loose and was broken in half as it flew around the cockpit floor. For 48 hours we struggled to eat, sleep or even stand up. We where grateful that we had cleared the ice but there were always thoughts about hitting a stray piece in these winds and waves; after all we were only 50 miles from the pack. However, after mourning the loss of the equipment and adapting to the discomfort we came to appreciate the heavy weather and the fact that Belzebub was very well balanced under her new orange sail. Even though we had a rough ride we knew that we where given just a taste of the rage of this infamous sea. With Beaufort behind us and the Chucksi and Bearing Sea ahead we feel dwarfed by the reputation of these legendary waters that even the most seasoned sailors think of with respect.
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