There are two types of sun sets: one with clouds that give off the impression that Salvador Dali has taken every hallucinating drug ever known to man and has been painting from the heavens for our benefit.
The other is when the horizon is cloudless. There’s a perfect layering and fading of warm colours from bright yellow that fades to a pinkish orange mid-sky until it wraps up with into a deep purple and blue. The sun hangs like an illuminated basketball from the sky, dropping down like a slow motion half-court shot at the buzzer.
On the other side a huge, fluffy, cute-as-a-bunny cloud, white on top with the red-pink reflection of the setting sun on the bottom rises up over the horizon, giving off the inviting look of an orthopedic mattress in a show room.
Until you see the ‘No sleeping’ sign.
As the cloud moves in, you realise that its innocent, fluffy, cute-as-a-bunny look was just an illusion. A hepatitis yellow-grey colouration on its underside revealing its true purpose – seek and destroy anything in its path.
Especially a lone sailing boat in the Mozambique Channel.
I could see it was approaching fast and yet, like the waters we were on, I was calm. I headed below deck to my quarters and began watching ‘Tron Legacy’ on my laptop while Manu began dinner preparations. I was immersed in the film but when I had to turn up the volume to 60 (I usually had the volume at 8-10) and still had trouble hearing it, I realised it was because of what had erupted outside. I hit pause and clambered up to the cockpit.
The great fluffy, cute-as-a-bunny cloud had turned into a mutated Bugs Bunny with teeth in the black of night. It swallowed us up like The Nothing in The Neverending Story. The starry night had turned into a Greek Gods arena, as though Zeus and Poseidon were at war for the love of Venus. I stood in awe, shading my eyes from the flashes of lightning that were so close they seemed to light up the entire planet.
We were no longer sailing.
We were flying, skimming across the surface of the water like a hovercraft at a 55° angle. Meanwhile, below deck, a wave had forced a hatch open and we had taken in half of the Mozambique Channel.
While Francois battled against the 48 knot winds blasting us like an ‘In your face’ slam dunk, the storm threatened to pick us up and put us in the land of Oz. Manu and I held off dinner plans to start bailing out water. To add to the fun, the bilge pump shat itself so I found myself ladling out the equivalent of 5,000 servings of soup, tonight’s special – Mozambique Channel with a hint of storm.
After almost three hours of raging winds and lightning with surprisingly little rain, we had bailed most of the water out. Just when the bilge pump decided to join the party, fashionably late. By 22:30 we were back to safe conditions.
I was surprised that I had remained completely calm. Everyone was. No screaming orders about, no panic in our voices. Francois even seemed to have a slight grin as he controlled the helm. I had absolute no fear whatsoever – unlike the storms we had encountered on the passage to Sri Lanka where I thought I would shit bricks, then using those bricks, build a safe house and hide in it. And this storm was a lot more violent than anything we had encountered in the Indian Ocean.
“This is a good experience for you,” Manu said before I retired to bed, prior to my midnight watch. “Because nobody sails these waters this time of year, you are experiencing the extreme side of sailing.”
No shit. A renewed confidence settled within me, like the moment one has when blocking a slam dunk about to be driven into you by the greatest basketball player ever. I needed it, too. We are to sail to South Africa during the infamous cyclone season that plagues the Cape of Good Hope this time of year.