It was almost the end of the second dog watch and with about 10 minutes left to go on the helm I looked astern to find that we were going to be overtaken by a heavy rain squall that was coming up rapidly from astern. I informed Penny who was on watch on the bridge and within a couple of minutes big fat raindrops of warm water started to hit the deck and seconds later Natalie and I were in our foulies trying to stay dry in the increasingly heavy downpour. Brenton and Simone came back aft to relieve us on the helm and we were heading forward when the order was given to quickly take in the studding sails by Klaas as he headed up to the focsle. Initially I kept wearing my foulie but within minutes it was too hot to wear and it ended up on the floor of the focsle next to the upper deck heads along with my t-shirt. The warm heavy rain felt like a pleasing shower and soon there were a few of us stripped to the waist or just in T-shirt and shorts as we hauled down the last of the starboard side studding sails. After that it was all hands to the braces as we set the yards square then took in the square sails and hauled down the inner and outer jibs.
With the ship’s engines now on and the course set to due north the ship began to surge forward into the swell and soon the focsle was rising up and down like a bucking bronco. Together with Alastair I was told to go forward and up onto the bowsprit to help furl up and secure the inner and outer jibs whilst the rest of the square sails were taken in. With our harnesses on the two of us made our way slowly out onto the bowsprit netting making sure we were safely clipped on before moving as every surface was slick with rain and it would only take one misplaced foot to turn an ankle.
As we made our way out the ship’s motion became more and more pronounced as the bow surged up and down across the rolling swell. One minute my stomach would be heading skywards then it would be plummeting down again barely seconds later, whilst all the time the two of us were being battered by the warm needles of the downpour. All about us the crests of the waves atop the swell had been flattened by the rain and the decks flowed with water as the drops bounced off every surface but we had troubles sorting out where the gaskets were on the inner jib and twice we had to undo all our previous work before Martijn came forward to help us secure the furled sails against the wind.
Eventually there were four of us out there, Martijn, Beth, Alastair and I; all grimly holding on whilst simultaneously being heaved tens of meters up and down and being battered so hard by the rain that we could hardly clear the water from our eyes to see. The sky all around was just a wall of grey as the rain continued to lash down in a curtain of water but we were making progress and eventually we had the inner jib under control and safely secured down. Martijn and I then went out further onto the bowsprit and began to secure the outer jib, this time though there was no mistake as to what to do and we were soon furling it in and then making sure it was securely fastened to the bowsprit.
By now the rain had begun to ease and the grey murk quickly retreated as the downpour slowed to a trickle and then stopped altogether. Stood in the bowsprit netting I could see Finn aloft on the foremast finishing off securing the starboard side lower studding boom to the fore course yard whilst Adam was above him securing the port side topgallant studding boom. Below them the rest of the off duty watch and permanent crew tided up the coils of rope that had been strewn across the main deck after bringing in the square sails. Through the rigging I looked aft and saw that Jeff, stripped to the waist and soaked to the skin, had been on the helm steering the ship through the plunging swell whilst Klaas stood solidly on the other side of the bridge watching the proceedings.
With all sails secured and the storm now beginning to dissipate I made my way back aft to discover that the whole of the rain squall, taking in the sails and the subsequent clean-up had taken just over ninety minutes and it was just after supper time. As the crew put away our wet foulies and changed in to dry clothing our noses were assailed by the smell of freshly cooked steak and it was with some anticipation that we went down to the galley to find our supper ready and waiting for us thanks to the valiant efforts of the galley crew.