Another side effect of learning just before departure, that the fridge & freezer were goosed, (we had been plugged in for 10days and not realised how bad they had got until we were in Martinique, by which time engine, generator, steering and autopilot took priority) was a lot of the meat we had stocked had of course to be binned. To compensate for this we had brought a slab of Hereford tinned corn beef. With Vicky incapacitated it fell to me to take over in the kitchen. Lasagna was programmed for that night and with Vicky adding a little ‘welcome’ advice from her sick berth, preparation went well. however gimballed though the oven may be, it seemed always to be on its way down as the boat was coming up and vice versa. Boat ovens generally don’t heat very evenly especially, when like ours you have to relight it every 20minutes, so the resulting concoction resembled bollangese & cheese sauce soup more than what had been billed on the menu. However being skipper, whose wife the chef is in her sick berth, due to a boys on deck sailing injury coupled with their collective inability to boil an egg, all agreed a fine dish, from which there was only a mild tinny after taste.
Rob had spent a lot of money on a wind generator made by a German crowd called Superwind and was understandably very proud of this expensive addition to the boat. Unlike myself he did not rate the solar panels which were mounted on the gantry with it. It was an ongoing discussion which came up, every couple of days. Rob would quote generating figures, pooh pooh at other yacht’s versions. To which I would helpfully point out, as eloquently as possible, yeah but it’s still a piece of crap. Now a couple of days after Burns Night with a good 6 to 7 chasing us up the chuff, the matter was finally settled and I have to admit Rob was correct, he just wasn’t happy about how he found out.
I had just spent my blustery 3 hour watch trying to get the boat balanced enough for the autopilot to steer and had finely succeeded when Konrad & Rob who had decided to share their 3 hour tricks arrived on deck. Hope you enjoy the fruits of my labours, I quipped, very nice skip good of you to think of us. Before collapsing into bed I was abluting when there was an almighty bang from outside. Signing, mid ablute I went back on deck to see what had happened now. Vicky & paws were poking out the aft cabin hatch pointing at the back of the boat. I have to add that I know now where she was pointing, whereas at the time it was hard to tell as she looked like one of those blokes who parks planes for Easy Jet, except with white table tennis bats.
It seemed that my solar panels had the temerity to break free of their fixings and triple selco into Rob’s windmill, smashing the bloody thing to bits. Since then we have had to run the generator a lot more, so it seems it wasn’t so crap after all.
After 6 days of those strong following winds, we were to a man and a 1 semi invalid heartily sick of rolling gunnel to gunnel every 20seconds, so the forecast for more gentle conditions was welcome. Of course we had to have one last kick in the butt. AP overload flashing & off course alarm screeching normally was no big deal. Yet since we had fitted a new autopilot pump, these familiar cockpit sounds had been absent, it was a real Oh bollocks that I flicked the pilot to standby and spun the wheel to get us back on course. Now normally when you turn the wheel, the scenery changes, but no matter how increasing vigorously I spun it, we inexorably ended up broadside to the swells, creating a whole new smogsaboard of noises down below.
Shit the rams stuck! I supermanned head first through the aft cabin hatch and ripped the mattress off the bed, not impressing its occupant. Sorry babe, problem, kisses as I dived into the subbedeterran. Sure enough the pin that connects the ram to the tiller had come out. Phew, easy fix. All I had to do was line up the ram and the 1 foot long tiller and pop the pin back in,piece of piss done it 100times. Not however whilst 25tons of boat is jumping 6 metres up and down every 20 seconds. It was a bit like hunting, I would call instructions to my ankle region, which was closest to Vicky, she would pass the request to Andras at the wheel and I would track the tiller and strike at the right moment to secure the pin. What a bloody farce, it would have been comical were it not my pinkies almost being crushed every other wave. Eventually like frigid lovers, we got it in, more by luck than anything else and got it double ‘f…t…’ this time to lock it in place. Ye gods I ask you, when will it end.
Finally our much hoped for calm spell arrived. This would mean no pink panthering through the cabin, no octopusing to make a cup of coffee and no contradictory grip & relax to use the loo. Unfortunately our wished for early days of the Atlantic Crossing were not to be repeated, that evening we got our welcome we got our welcome to the Colombian basin. When you read about this part of the world, the recurring theme seems to be about lots & lots of wind on the approaches to Cartagena, the long range forecast bore this out, showing consistently higher winds on that corner. We thought it would not affect us, being 140NM offshore, no gales or pirates for us. Wrong!
A gale would not be the same if did not start at 8 o’clock at night, if it was 3pm you pretty much knew by dusk it will have blown itself out, but old 8.00pm he is there for the night. I remember we maxed out very early at 40knots true, which was when I decided staysail and 1/4 genoa was too much, the boat was surfing up to 14knots, which was like putting a bin lorry on a black run. Rather than wake the off watch crew and endure the waking, dressing, toilet, do you want coffee period which precludes anything actually being achieved, I opted for the easy option & called the much recovered Vicky. I knew that she would instantly grasp what was going on, take the wheel, let me go forward to drop sail.
On my return, whilst catching my breath ( code for lighting a fag.) I looked aft and said “have you closed the transom windows?” The why was almost perfectly formed as she began looking over her shoulder, but died as the impact of 50tons of water crashed into the arse end of the boat. Wet bed again!
Strangely things quietened down after that, with a scrap of head sail out we jogged along at 6 knots reasonably comfortably. The only recent nuisance being that the pilot simply would not control the boat. Towards the end of my watch, I resolved to sit up with Konrad as this was his first real gale at sea, he did great, his enthusiasm for each wave, matching my worst case scenario planning. When Rob came up 3 hours later it was only natural to sit with him too, then it would have been unfair not to be there for Andras, all of which is very noble, but noble is not sleep. The hardest part was no pilot, the concentration required whilst helming is draining. I some how got through my morning watch and sat down below with Vicky, Rob and a cup of coffee. Andras poked his head down the companionway and said, “I throw the wheel away.”Oh fuck Donald Crowhurst syndrome. In the end he had not cracked, just wanted to get rid of the car tires.
I best explain, all of my early reading from the beginning of ocean voyaging in the 1940s seemed to carry areference to, we used a tyre as a snubber to ease the pressure on shore lines, or fortunately we had some car tyres to shove between us and the wall & even, we tied all the tyres together with the kedge and heaved the whole lot over the rail on our longest line. Mercifully we slowed and saved the ship and all souls onboard, that sort of thing. So when Rob asked me for a shopping list in August, I popped in four old car tyres just in case. ( I can never that line without thinking of the Irish insurance company.Justin Casey.) The four tyres had been lashed to the bathing platform and to be honest I had quite forgotten them. In fact the only thing that they had achieved was to get me embroiled in a conversation in Spain which started with air being sucked through teeth and carried on with you’ll be heading across then, aye, you think them tyres will be enough, aye, I’d like more on my boat, aye…. , sorry what type of boat have you, she’ll need more tyres than that for sure aye. I’m ever so sorry must go, I have some broccolli blanching in the pressure cooker. Anyway it was these tyres which had fallen off the back and had been dragging behind us since the wave which hit our cabin 15hours before.
Andras was asking rehterically, should I spend 2 hours battling these bloody things only for us to have to pay to get rid of them in Panama or should I spend 10seconds creating a mid Colombia basin eco friendly crap community housing project? When nobody answered, he said I thought so and walked away cleaning his finger nails with the point of a sharp blade. I never found out what happened to those tyre, but next time I looked they were gone.
Ten minutes later he turns up at the hatch again and says, I am no longer Andras, now I am Andrad the autopilot engineer, you will find it is working now. It seems that my 16hour watch had been because of 3 bald Pirellis and a Michelon.