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!

 

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Leg 3: part 1 Cape Verde to St Lucia

The rest of the crew have now arrived and with some last minute provisioning, we fueled and left under full sail, with crew in training about kite trimming. After some shenanigans with kite, the next bit of excitement came from the intrepid fishermen at the back of the boat. Their knowledge and wisdom spanned the globe, from the skyscrapers of Hong Kong to the mountains of Hungary, this group was led by the beach wisdom of Hawaii. Never has such collective deep sea fishing knowledge been gathered together. However whilst we poured scorn, they succeeded, a strike, whirring of clutches, a fish on the line. It wasn’t even seaweed this time, as the gaff was put on standby ready for immediate use, Conrad fought the reel and Andras offered encouragement and wondered if the line would hold. Eventually a small mackerel broke the surface.  Conrad covered well by saying .”At least we had bait now!” and the gaff was stood down and stowed. I wouldn’t say the group was deflated, more wistful about big ones to come. Vicky helpfully said, “I take it you still want Chicken Curry tonight?”.
We carried on all night on a four sail reach fairly racking up the miles. Then, during the dawn watch the wind deserted us and it was engine on. This may seem a bit odd with so far to go, but we either ran the generator or the engine to top up batteries and fridges, so may as well grab the miles as well. Forecast talks of wind this evening but we will see. Meanwhile 30 degrees C on deck so all sunbathing.

Day 2
Wow how can you pack so much into a day where nothing really happens. Started off everybody a bit groggy after their first night, had doubled up watches to allow for new guys, which meant at least two people in the cockpit. Wasteful and boring for all concerned. First issue of the day started when, 1litre bottle of shampoo high dived off the shelf in the bathroom and head butted the shower faucet. No showering good thing, no washing hands bad. Used the swim platform shower hose as a donor however obviously it was not a direct fit, more jungle bodging upside down in a locker. Next on the list the freshwater pre filter shat itself, voiding precious freshwater into the bilge, again no spare housing, why would you? So a mini bodge to restore fresh water. Took a bit of wildlife break to photo huge swordfish and 3 hump back whales really close up. No wind all day so engine still on, this was expected on departure, so no big deal.
Bit of an issue over Lemon Chicken evening meal. We have a long term issue with both rudder and stern glands leaking, so when the engine room bilge pump burnt out, all got a tad wet. Now we did have a spare, but of course it was different. So I missed dinner, whilst battling arms length tropical plumbing.
Major revamp of watch system , which if it works I will detail next week. The bones of it leaves me out of the rota but on call.
3.15 call arrived, nice thunder and lighting storm to deal with. However as we discussed it the engine died. It transpires that our day tank gauge which has been shit since the day the boat was launched has finally given up pretending to work. So day tank ran out of diesel. Of course dragged sludge from the bottom of the tank and clogged everything. Big lesson in righty tighty and lefty loosely after half an hour of struggling to take the fuel filter off, then a surprisingly problem free bleeding period saw us back under way again within two hours. All in all though everyone had a great night’s sleep and determined for team maintenance before breakfast tomorrow.

Leg 2: Part 4

The last run in.
At this time of year, this is an empty bit of ocean, apart from yesterday’s yacht, we had not seen another vessel since leaving Gran Canaria.
I think the autopilot has got bored bugging us and now just gets on with it. We dropped the stay sail overnight as the wind was peaking around 23knots and we had no need for it. All in all a better day and night.

Sunday was a strange day, knowing that you have less than 100 miles to go, it’s hard to settle into routine, but peering into the distance gains nothing.
Our good friend Gavin from Ireland recently had a book published, it is named Harmattan, and it gives a great insight into life in West Africa. I knew the name referred to a wind on the African coast, what I didn’t know, is that it’s a dust laden trade wind, that means you cannot see the Cape Verde Islands, until you hit them, so to speak.

I mentioned earlier in the week that our main GPS plotter packed up, well to keep us on our toes the backup unit died as well, joy!!
This left us with my iPad as the only working unit, which in itself is no problem. Other than we had not downloaded the Cape Verde Navionics pack, as it would have meant taking all of Africa with it. So on the screen two yellow blobs sort of mark where we are going. Back to lots of scribbling on charts again and consulting the radar. As often is the case, a fairly anticlimactic landfall, just as the sun was rising we rounded the headland into Mindello on Sao Vincente, dropped sails and tied up in a really friendly marina, job done.
Glasses of wine all round. Then off to the joys of African style paperwork for Customs and Immigration.
No time yet to get a true impression of this place. It’s certainly not Europe, but pretty cool in a poverty meets wealth sort of contradiction.

Thanks for all the messages after the show on Tuesday, we caught snippets of it as the Internet here is prehistoric, oh well I’m sure we can catch a recording when we get back.

That’s going to be all from us until we get to the other side, so as Adele does, we will write you from the other side.

Leg 2: Part 3

Thursday.
After the shenanigans of the previous 24 hours, Thursday remained windy, with us trimming more for the sake of the auto pilot than any sailing efficiency. Only two things to note, went to plot our position at 7.00pm and found that the main plotter wasn’t getting a position, gulp, have the Americans got something planned? Checked my iPad, phew working perfectly and the Mickey Mouse repeater in the cockpit is working, so a problem with the main unit.
I couldn’t let Andras sit through New Year on his own, so got back up at ten to twelve and had a coffee party in the cockpit. Wanting to add a bit of zest to the occasion I opened the naughty locker, where we keep all things necessary for boys and girls to be naughty. I made my choice and asked Vicky what she wanted, a little coy smile, quick look to see if Andras was listening, then she said “chocolate digestives”, crest fallen I put my choice back, I suppose we can have Jaffa cakes another night.

Friday.
More of the same, still very rolley, however the boat was looking after itself. I have managed to check the alarming rate which I have been going through novels on board, by picking up a door stop called the history of Jerusalem, I’m only a couple of charters in, but it already sounds like Nidri with less sex.

We are using a passage chart which in the North starts at Lisbon and finishes in Freetown, Sierra Leone. A small cross marking your LAT and LONG covers an area of a couple of hundred square miles. It’s interesting though, on leaving the Canaries we would have a position marked every twelve hours. Looking at the chart with 200miles to go, the plots are so close together that it looks more like one of those WW2 maps, showing anti tank defenses along the Siegfried Line, anticipation I guess.

Sail came up astern at about 3.00pm, as we were going for the slow and easy straight downwind, aiming for 120nm per day, these guys were banging the corners, i.e.sailing on a broad reach much faster, but having to cover more distance. At around 8.00pm they were heading west straight for us, rather than second guess whether they would pass ahead or astern, I called on lower power VHF “yacht on my Port side this is Lady SeaBreeze.” You are having to rely on common sense that the other boat will twig on that they have also not seen anybody in days, so most likely it’s the boat ahead of them. We were rewarded instantly by a chirpy Aussie, changed down to channel 10 and got the altering course conversation out of the way.

“Can you go to starboard 5 degrees and I will go to port 5 degrees.” Sorted nice, easy and seaman like. After that it was the gossip hotline. Where from, where bound, how many days out, swell been terrible etc. They had mum, dad, mate and their 5 year old onboard, having spent days gybing South, before they closed with us, they had just completed their final gybe, then two weeks over to Antigua. Really nice 15 minutes chewing the fat with basically a speaking navigation light, as we could see nowt else, then off on our separate ways. After we signed off, Vicky and I had a half hour comparison post mortem and before you know it, another hour has gone by. There’s really not enough hours in the day for this lark.

Leg 2: Part 2

Tuesday.
Fairly uneventful, fortunately the westerly cross swell started to dissipate and we could get a real feel for what these north easterly trades were to bring. You could never imagine standing on board in a marina, wondering if you can make it to the pontoon without a step, that the high sided thing which is your house and transport for the next couple of months, would happily tick off the miles whilst waves washed unimpaired across the deck.
Andras finished his watch around 2am and for the first 20mins I sat thinking, is the incessant rolling going to continue for the next 3500miles?.. No way. I though about putting up the mizzen up, sheeted fairly flat to dampen the roll, but it is so far back in the boat, that all it achieves is to piss the autopilot off. Let’s face it, second only to Vicky we have to keep the autopilot happy. The main being fully battened in lazy jacks is a ball ache to put up on your own and even deep reefed, before the wind it tends to make the boat want to round up. That left the mizzen staysail, of which my only experience, was for photo shoots. It’s now my best friend, it killed the rolley polley, added 3/4 of a knot and being just aft of the balance point on the keel, even the autopilot likes it. Happy Days!

Wednesday.
Tuesday rolled into Wednesday and as agreed 8.30 seemed to suit everybody’s sleep patterns as a good time to run the generator, chill down the fridge, freezers and make some fresh water. After our shenanigans in Mogan I was confident of kicking out 50litres of fresh water per hour, so 8.30 to 10.30 would give us loads of charge, chill and water whilst allowing everyone to charge iPads, phones, cameras and all the other tech shit that we gather around us these days. This is much more preferable to a tree of multiplies growing out of the inverter. As an experiment I wanted to see if the solar panels / wind generators could cope with the nav stuff, autopilot and freezer during the day.

We have some serious carnivores on board for the next leg and I don’t really want two live pigs tethered to the foredeck cleats. Could happen yet though as the freezer murdered the batteries all day. Anyway turned the generator on again for a couple of hours, thinking fill up the batteries etc and switch the water heater on for a nice hot shower before turning in for a pre-watch kip.
Wrong!
What’s that smell?… Minute or two to get the access panels off, then, bollocks. Steam coming out of a fresh water cooling pipe on the genny. Of course not a straight pipe, but a molded one with 2 x 90o bends along its length. Needless to say no spare, so it’s out with plumbing fitting hodge box, which is a collection of non matching odds and sods left over since Noah fitted a flushing bog. Fortunately one of the splits was on one of the 90o bends, unfortunately the only fitting to match was a T piece, which would turn our leaking split into a leaking round hole. An hour of buggering about with hacksaws, soft wood bungs and jubilee clips, closed up the unwanted hole, to a workable drip. High fives all round, fire up the genny, no more leaks, cool. Except for the bloody thing was not pumping cooling sea water, obviously the original cause of the burst pipe. Andras uses all English words like, wicked, killer, or awesome, his pronunciation though may be steeped by his Eastern bloc ancestry. The best of this is the word “Baastard”. I’ve never seen it written the way he pronounces it but it definitely suggests and additional long A before the s. I’ve heard it used as a noun describing a beautiful view, nice car, a particularly pretty girl or in this case a bastard water pump. ( Go figure, I cannot.)
Rooting around in the engine spars box turned up a new impeller and as the unit has a habit of chewing water pump belts, I thought change that as well. Of course being a boat we only have access to one side, so changing belts is a knuckle skinning, swearing, agonizing ten minute exercise. I was surprised then that the whole process was producing a warm glow from my lower back to just above my knees. Cottage pie, was the cause, tonight’s dinner in the oven, slowly roasting my back end, grrr…does it ever stop.
Now I had done this right, waited until I got onboard in La Manga and ordered belts filters etc from the team back home, for Vicky to bring out with her. That way as all this stuff originated from there, everything would fit…..Naive. Another 40 minutes of pulling, stretching, knuckle skinning finally saw the belt on and water pump bolted down, albeit at a funny angle. Fire in the hole, genny starts and fire quickly extinguished by water pissing out of the pump assembly. Baastard. Take it all apart, fight it back together again and finally success, sure it looks a bit impractical boat owner and it does leak a bit, but hey it works!

Leg 2.Gran Canaria to Cape Verde. Part. 1

Monday 28th December – Depart Mogan.
Rather surprisingly, given that the average Canarian office day starts. 9.00am, we got to the fuel quay by ten having negotiated a very complicated fresh water tariff from the marina. As you initially tie up, a marinaro takes a water meter reading from the tap adjacent to you berth, I agree the figure and all is well. I hadn’t thought about it until I climbed the steps to the office 10 days later, that it could be a substantial fee. Let’s face it Mogan by Canary standards was not cheep!! Boom boom. When the girl in the office got someone on the blower to go our berth and take a final reading, I thought uh oh, going to be stung here. All in all the water process took 40 minutes and for two tons of water over ten days we were charged five euros, I mean really, jobs for the boys. Met by a very friendly glam lady at the fuel quay, who was also a bit of an amateur sleuth, I mean in no time she put together, her geographical location, big long distance cruising boat and fourteen Jerry cans waiting to be filled on deck and asked ‘ are you going to the Caribbean?’ When we answered affirmative ‘si by sea’ she replied, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that.’ It must be the same feeling a window cleaner at Heathrow gets.

By 10.30 we had cut our ties with land and by 10.34 I had nearly run over one of those silly submarine tourist thinghys, fancy putting it under the water.

We spent most of the day mucking around with sails, waiting for the promised north east trade wind to kick in, which it promptly did at eight o clock at night.

Offshore like this we have a fairly loose daytime watch with Vick covering 7am to 9pm, Andreas 9pm to 2am and me on until 7am switching back to Vicky for sunrise. Of course when the wind started to blow and the NE swell met with the encumber the Westerly swell, it took two hours of messing around with sail combinations to get the autopilot to be even vaugely interested in taking part. By 10pm I left Andreas with a poled out Genoa and his finger on the reset button of the autopilot.

Heading down the passage way to our aft cabin, I had a sense of foreboding. Due to the cross swell, we were pretty much rolling gunnel to gunnel and moving about down below was a tad tricky. On entering our cabin, 2things were obvious, the autopilot situated under our bed was continuously screaming from lock to lock and Vicky,God love her was face down star fish fashion, as if she had been shot from an overhead cannon. I don’t think it was a territorial thing, more she was hanging on for dear life…

Either way I beat a hasty retreat to the saloon. To be greeted by the Lady Sea Breeze percussion band, why can’t boat food come in soft spongy packing? Thus started two hours of listening at a locker door to identify the offending item, then fling the door open to silence within and a mocking banging from the locker I had just been too. To be honest I would have given up earlier if I had twigged the fact that most noise was from stuff hitting the back of the locker door I had just opened. The above period of time and a jumbo roll of kitchen roll later, all I had achieved was a bass beat.

Due to the lack of lee cloths I woke up under the saloon table and thought bollocks to this, I will go on watch early. Andreas happily handed over and went to begin his own off watch nightmare.

About an hour in, I hoisted the mizzen stay sail, things quietened down a bit and we fairly rattled off the miles, till Vicky came on watch at 7.00