Leg 3: Part 5

Vicky and I were now sharing evening and morning watches. A couple of days after my up the mast morning, I called into the aft cabin and in my most sweet and sickly voice advised the love of me life to stay in bed a bit longer. This was in part me being nice but over long years of sailing together, I have learnt that adding rain and strong wind to a recently awoken Vicky, does not marital harmony make. For sure watching the darkening skies astern we were in for some weather, best to keep Vicky tucked up in bed. I Bizarrely put the Bimini up, you see it’s much more effective for keeping the main hatch dry than its minuscule size serves to keep the sun off. Twenty minutes after spotting this squall, it was all over us, wind 40 knots, rain horizontal and boat speed over 10 knots, wicked! It lasted twenty minutes, which was long enough to work out that, whilst the steering was good, it had its downwind surfing limitations.

So it seemed this dawn watch was working out with most cockups or worse, happening whilst I wasn’t sleeping.

I knew from reading other people’s accounts, that this increase in squalls was common as you approached the islands, it’s just bad timing. We were all really comfortable with our 10-20knot trade winds, so this 20-30 knots was a bit of a pain. Oh well at least it was behind us and shoving us West.  Andras seemed to catch the worst night time squalls, but really they were more a nuisance than anything difficult.

Our good friend, the staysail became the latest casualty after a little complacency about wind strength. This meant having to use heavily reefed main to balance reefed poled out Genoa but again it was a little more difficult to raise and lower. By this stage daily average distance made good stretched to 150-160 nm, an average of a little over 6 knots. It’s hard to imagine sailing in the Med with such incredible constant winds, usually an hour it’s good before conditions change. Out here our best period we went was ten days without touching the sails, just awesome.

There was a bit of irony at play on our final day, when having placed my morning coffee on the chart table, to throw my arm into my jacket, a particularly violent roll saw me head butting the plotter, trying to break my nose on the autopilot and finally scalding myself on fresh coffee, now moving across the ocean passage chart like a tsunami.

We sighted St Lucia at 0800 hours and as always those last twenty miles seemed the longest of the trip. However it was a time when everybody on board could reflect on the crossing and what it had meant to each individual. Unanimously we felt that 17 days after day 2 had passed incredibly quickly. Andras spent most of the trip wondering whether he would make the adventure on his own boat and by the time we got to the Caribbean, it was a firm belief that if you can make it to the Canaries, the rest of the journey is a breeze. Rob was reveling in a new confidence that even he still found strange. Vicky was happy that the big team on board had stuck together with such camaraderie. Most telling was Conrad, who before the trip had never set foot on a yacht. He has a massive store of ‘can do’ and from watch keeping alone, to fishing, whale watching, cooking and all the mundane things on board, he found a joy and a wonder in it all and is firmly a convert.
Me, well I was happy that my affirmation that it would be lots of days sailing one after the other was true, for me anyway. I have massive pride in all of the crew, when the chips were down, no bad feelings, no down in the dumps, just let’s fix it and keep going because nothing is going to taint this experience.

St Lucia is up ahead and we have some repair issues to sort out and some exploring to do, but for now, I guess we check in and the red and white wine will flow and a few toasts are in order.

I guess I will next be writing about St Lucia and how our repair efforts go, but for now I’m just happy.

Leg 3:Part 4

Every day at sun up, activity begins on the aft deck, much discussion and equipment precedes the first hook, lure, squid, thingy into the water. I tend to close out the differences in performance of each thing, as to me, they all equally catch seaweed with equal regularity. Like most times though, I was to be proven wrong, as the fishing crew finally got the measure of their quarry and in the space of 2 or 3 days they managed to land two 7/8 kilo Ono (Hawaiin name). Vicky was happy to be able to eke out her freezer-less menu and bring some more variety to evening meals. She was even more happy that Conrad delivered said fish minus heads and inside icky bits.

As a non fish eater, I am often consumed with curiosity as to what fish actually tastes like. It seems that every conversation around a fish goes…

” Do you like it?

“Oh yes very much, tastes like chicken”.

“Do you think so, I thought maybe rabbit”.

“Well it depends if you mean a wild rabbit or a bunny rabbit”.

“Whats a bunny rabbit”?

“Ach you know, the cuddly ones that taste like fish”.

…and so it goes on. Once again my quest for answers remains unsolved, as of our two mid Atlantic sea fish, one indeed tasted like chicken and the other vaguely of meat.

Onto sailing, engine has been off now for 11 days and we keep putting in 140nm averages, not bad for a big heavy elderly girl like this. Truth be told we just set the no 1 and no 2 Genoa wing to wing and let her do her thing. From 7 knots to 20 she is happy under this rig and we would go days on end without adjusting a thing. It couldn’t last though and as we approached the Caribbean, the mean wind speeds are on the rise. It seems that dawn is the time frame for squalls and most memorably when we blew both spinnaker halyards in the same 12 hour period, necessitating a trip up the mast at 7am.  Anyone who remembers Ellen McArthur getting battered up the mast of her race boat Kingfisher, will understand when I say, if she can do what she did then man up and get on with it. Truth be told, it was quite nice to get off the boat awhile.

Leg 3: Part. 3

imageimageI suppose it was good getting our Atlantic disasters out of the way early on and as the night watches started that evening, everyone was in good spirits. I mentioned watches earlier and to be honest, it was a bit of a problem with six people onboard. We had myself, four solid watch keepers and a person whose first time on a boat was this trip. Splitting into short watches is obvious but creates its own problems. If we go 6 x 2 hour watches it makes 5 x 2 hour watches where someone is unsure and calls me. Then we have a small breakdown and I spend my luxurious 10hours off, fixing stuff, answering questions or trying to get back to sleep. As we knew that the first week was going to be many hours under motor, we had stocked up on lots of meat, in the knowledge that the freezer would be on all the time. That meant Vicky was going to be spending her off watch cooking.  Neither situation ideal.  All the crew wanted to experience as much as possible on this trip, including long and short watches. So day three and for the foreseeable future ran like this. 2pm to 7pm boat is on autopilot, anybody and everybody keeps a weather eye. 8pm to 9pm  after dinner watch, half watching the evening movie, half on watch. 9pm to 11pm new person with an easy short watch into darkness before the moon comes out. 11pm to 2am proper watch, 3 hours, bring a book and get your teeth into it. 2am to 5 am same again. Then at 5am the first guy is back to do a four hour trick, with half of it in the dark and the other half after dawn; then everyone follows up to lunch time, making up their watch time to five hours each 24 hours. Everyday it changes by one person so variety too. This meant that Vick and I did not stand a formal watch, but for sure were on duty a lot more than five hours per day.

Next morning dawned with great hilarity as the only person who could not hear the off course alarm droning away was Andrei aka Moke, who was deep into a Diana Ross album behind his head phones, unfortunately he was also on watch.

Twenty minutes later the ribbing started again and to his defense he was ear plug less. I slipped out our hatch and confirmed that the steering was indeed jammed. Looking back I suppose it’s a good marker for when the trades started to blow. As no sooner had the wind filled in, we were rudderless.

After a bit of Meccano work, we extracted the emergency steering gear from its nest and mounted it. Once in place, we heard nervous titters, a little disbelief and a tad few swear words. ‘ how the fxxx are we supposed to steer with that?’ was the most obvious question. The issue being that after previous modification the prescribed method of using the equipment was to kneel on the bed in the aft cabin whilst someone on deck relayed instructions left and right. We called it the Hail Mary position, as you had a prayer’s chance in hell of ever making it from Meganisi to Vliho, never mind the 1400 miles of Ocean to the Caribbean.

Of course when some thing like this breaks, you always assume it will be a quick or at least a clever fix. None of us had any inkling that mucking around with the hydraulics would go for three days and eventually prove fruitless.

Once we (I ) finally accepted that no 11th minute solution was going to work with the autopilot and we would be hand steering for the next 1400 nmiles, (Vicky and I in our youth hand steered our 7 metre long keel wooden sloop Kara from the Peloponnse to Ireland and I swore that I would never do it again) things went quite smoothly. Let’s face it, with a crew of six competent helms it was never going to be too arduous, but it’s the principal of the thing.

The biggest impact with the whole emergency steering (which by now was onto the mark 3 version and pretty much perfect was to be in our cabin. Originally conceived as a luxurious in harbour double owners suite, it’s short comings at sea I have already documented, which the recent changes did nothing to address. As the steering stock now grew Jacks stalk like from, the DMZ where our shoulders would occasionally skirmish, we had to turn the double mattress thwart ships, generally with the head end to windward. This would mean that on the down roll your feet would end up 1 meter lower than your head. Of course gravity would then take over and you end up as a little pile of yourself on the other side of the cabin from which you laid your weary head to rest. Coupled (an ironic word to come to mind as in this situation there was more chance of snow in said cabin) various bits of the skeleton of the bed frame had been chopped out to augment the inadequate emergency steering. Therefore the topography of the mattress resembled the description of Robert Louis Stevensons ‘adventures on my counter pane’. His imaginings whilst bed ridden led to the writing of Robinson Crusoe, which I hope is not some potent of doom.

Leg 3: Part 2

I have to break with the method of day by day recounting of life onboard, as the next six days turned quite fraught.

Being aware you have a leak and living with it, is a little different when you apply hindsight. It goes like this, the rudder gland and the stern gland both drain into the main bilge, which is cool when the bilge pump is working, as mentioned before.

When it dies mid dinner the knock on effects are far reaching.

First the excess water leaks into the main bilge, from where, when sufficiently high enough it leaks into the keel tank. Itself unpleasant, especially when the keel contains 700 litres of diesel, which we sort of need to get through the first week of no wind, not to mention running the generator and watermaker to produce fresh water. Our problem during the previous night, was not in fact a lack of diesel in the day tank, more a lack of diesel in the diesel tank.

Of course this took hours of following white elephants and cul de sacs before we realized that the bottom half of the keel tank was full of water, thus feeding the day tank with water too. Marvelous! The only access to the keel tank, without major surgery was through the fuel gauge sender, approximately a 1 inch hole. We have on board one of those faux brass Chinese oil pumps, that move a quarter of a cup of liquid at a time, laborious to say the least. All in all we pumped 300 litres of water out of the tank until finally the first signs of diesel began to appear. For those of you, who didn’t know, the diesel will always float on top. So it’s a case of draining the water away until the clean stuff appears.

From the beginning to the final purging of the main engine and generator system took 13 hours. Distance made good in that smelly, dirty, heart breaking time, 31 miles.

Most of the next day continued on clearing up the mess from the day before. I reckon that of the 700 liters of fuel we started with, we used 200 litres and binned 100litres, leaving us with 400 litres for the rest of the trip. Lets pray for wind!