24th November 2013
At noon yesterday we were only 110nm from the north coast of Palma and our course was such that I wasn’t sure whether we would pass to the east or the west of the island. In the evening I read for a bit then at 2000 put out the light and set the timer for 2 hours. But I couldn’t sleep. An hour later I got up and made a cup of tea then sat out in the cockpit for a while looking at the night sky.
I wanted to reacquaint myself with some of the stars and constellations I hadn’t seen for a number of years. It was a clear night and the sky was full of stars, so many in fact, that it made identifying separate constellations pretty difficult. By the time I drank the last mouthful of cold tea it was time to turn in. When I was up again at around midnight the moon had risen and now only the brighter stars were visible making it much easier to pick out the mythical figures and objects that look down on us in the darkness. I needed to sleep though and didn’t hang around to look any further.
By 0400 a clump of hazy orange lights was above the horizon dead ahead of us. I knew I was safe enough to sleep for a bit yet and set the timer for another hour. But I couldn’t sleep. I lay and thought the timer battery might run out. Or I might sleep through it. The first I knew we would be rumbling up onto the north coast of Palma. So, that was it, there was no more sleep after that. I got up and had a bowl of Weetabix and honey and washed it down with another mug of tea. The wind was actually freshening anyway and I took in a reef to keep us right. A shower of rain came with the wind and I collected half a bucketful of water from it.
Visibility closed in over the land around 0600 and from then until about half past nine all the horizon around me seemed clear except the bit I wanted to see. Then as I was thinking about getting a bite to eat I saw a diagonal line of light and dark grey. It was unmistakably the east side of the island. The wind was about F4 from the NW and we were shaping up fine to go around the west side.
Then at about 1000 the wind dropped and backed more to the west. We could no longer hold a course to clear the island and were having to tack inside the land. The wind dropped further until there was hardly any breeze at all. By this time we were about three miles offshore. What little wind there was kept getting knocked out of the sails with every wave that rolled in. The swell was drifting us towards the shore and we were sailing nowhere. We had no engine of course so we had no easy fix to get out of it.
I had been in a situation like this in Elsi before. We were two miles off the south side of Amsterdam Island in the South Indian Ocean when the wind fell to almost nothing. Again, like now, the swell was onshore. It had been a very nervous time then and I was very glad when we got finally got clear of the land.
I looked at my watch, it was 1015. I thought I would give it 15 minutes to see if the wind would pick up. If not I would turn round and set the lightweight cruising chute and try to get east. Onshore I could see the spray breaking on the rocks. At twenty past I didn’t wait any longer and dived below and pulled out the cruising chute, dropped the Genoa and got the chute set. The main was more of a hindrance than a help so I dropped that as well.
We slowly began to inch eastward. The log line wasn’t turning we were going so slowly. The wind was getting knocked out of the chute as well but not so badly and we kept on moving very slowly eastward. The wind very slowly began to pick up after about an hour of this to about a steady F2 and it kept at that for about another hour before it crept up to a F3. By then I could see light at the end of the tunnel. We came nearer to the NE corner of the island and as we did the wind picked up another force so I could drop the chute and set full sail again.
I breathed a big sigh of relief that we were moving again. Twice in seven years was two times too many. It then went from one extreme to the other. The wind freshened till we were really on the limit for the sail we were carrying. We were really belting along and I had to hand steer to keep us on a steady course downwind.
As we were halfway down the east side of the island in the afternoon I saw a rainbow behind us. It was stunning. But it also meant rain and that probably meant more wind. We were at the top end of a F5 already. I dropped the Genoa and got it stowed just before the wind picked up.
So, it hasn’t been a very restful day one way and another. I’m writing now as we near Punta Fuencaliente at the south end of the island. From what I saw of Palma the north side seemed sparsely populated and the east side was almost all farmed land though what they were growing I was too far away to see.
I’ll be glad when we are clear of the southern corner and have some searoom around us again.