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All posts in November, 2013

After two days of light headwinds we had a welcome switch in the weather. At 1600 the wind started to file in from the Se and by 1830 we were romping along on course with one reef in the main and the Jib set. It was really good to be moving again. Later on, about nine, I was up for a look round. Great swirls and whirls of mareel were spiraling off the keel then rising up to the surface to explode in bursts of luminous green. Although it was very dark the light coming from them clearly silhouetted the Aries steering gear on the stern.  The wind was so steady and fresh I had a feeling this would continue and it would gradually swing round to the NE to fit in with the normal weather pattern. But it wasn’t to be.

At 0300 I woke to find we were heading NW. I have a compass above my bunk so I can check the course when below.  The wind had fallen away and veered round to the SW again. By the time I had slipped out the reef and sheeted in the sails the best we could do was head north of west. I tacked around so that we could make some southing and we settled on a course between SE and SSE. I went below and pulled off my oilskins and wrote up the log then got into my bunk. I was up again within 20 minutes as the wind had freshened and I had to take in a reef again. I really hadn’t expected this, to be battering our way south to windward in the NE Trades. I smiled and shook my head at how upside down it all was. When you expect to be going to windward it’s far easier to accept. When we cross the equator (if we ever cross the equator) we’ll be battering to windward in the SE Trades for several hundred miles and I would expect that. But here.I wasn’t expecting this. Maybe the SE Trades will switch around as well…

When the daylight came in the sky was a mottled light grey, the sea was a slate grey with white fringes and there was not a trace of blue anywhere. I should have been on deck in shirt, shorts and shades and instead it was spray, grey and pray the wind was going to turn NE’ly! We could easily have been in the North Sea.

By mid-day it was still overcast but the wind had dropped further and it was raining. By 1330 I had to drop the sails and as usual pull in the log line and lash the tiller. There was just no wind and the sails were flogging around and getting us nowhere. Now at 1600 it’s still calm with a low rolling swell from the NW. The wind will come later maybe but for now it’s just a waiting game.

At 0200 I woke to the familiar slap and rattle of the sails. There was no wind. I pulled in the logline, which glistened in the darkness with mareel as if it were studded with luminous jewels. They ran off my fingers and on to the deck as I coiled the line down.  Mareel is also the name of my youngest daughter and she is just as amazing as her marine namesake.  I dropped the sails and tied off the helm and steering gear to stop it swapping about. It was overcast and hazy. The only lights in the sky were the vague pinpoints of light of two very high stars shining as if through frosted glass. The Routeing chart indicates there is a 3% chance of a calm here.

At 0300 I could see the lights of three boats around me. I thought at first they were fishing boats but they all turned out to be yachts. They must all be headed down for the Cape Verdes as well. One was on the AIS. It was the 16m Italian yacht, “Nefeli”. I could see the mainsail highlighted by someone on deck checking it with a torch. I made a cup of coffee and sat on deck till they were past and clear of us. Nefeli was calling a boat called, “Starship”, which I imagine as one of the other yachts. The other one turned out to be a Finnish yacht called, “Ironside”.

The day has been overcast again with frequent showers. All morning and up until 1500 the wind was only a handful of knots and we averaged 1.5 – 2kts. All the other yachts were the same and we all stayed in sight the whole day.  In the afternoon Starship dropped sails and must have started their engine as they soon then disappeared over the horizon.

My bread had all run out so I baked a loaf and while it was in the oven had a shave. It does put a great smell into the boat! It was still warm when I sawed a slice off it and spread on some lemon curd and very good it was too.

I pulled up the cruising chute in the afternoon but the wind was so light it made little difference to our speed. The batteries are running down because it’s been overcast and the little or no wind has meant slow progress through the water. So all my charging systems haven’t been doing anything.

There was more lift in the sea coming from the SE in the afternoon and I hoped it might be a sign of more wind coming in from there. Sure enough by 1600 we had a SE’ly F3-4 and were making good speed again. I hope it keeps up for a few days.

It was 25 years ago yesterday when Terry and I set off from the Canaries to sail across to Antigua. I remember it as if it were yesterday.

At 0400 the wind had lightened and I shook out the reefs in the mainsail but there was still enough wind to keep the Jib up. The sky has been similar to the past few days in that it has been dull and overcast in the morning and brightening up in the afternoon.
By 0800 the wind had dropped lighter still and I could set the Genoa. And, it’s been like that all day since then. Not more than a SW F3 and often less.

I spoke to Alyson this morning and asked which direction this low was moving. She said it looked almost stationary, SW’ly winds all day today then maybe S’ly tomorrow. The barometer is rising 1013 yesterday and 1020 today so we are slowly coming out of it, but it is uncommon for this area.

I began to hear a dull scraping noise like two pieces of steel that needed oiling. It was only occasionally at first then more often. It seemed to be coming from outside the hull. I went aft for a look and could see nothing obvious. I thought it was coming from the rudder, which on Elsi is a heavy 10mm steel plate. I oiled the top rudder loop, which was the only one I could get to but it sounded like it was coming more from under the water. I looked over the side but couldn’t see very much for our movement through the water.

In the late morning I saw a whale. I was sitting out in the cockpit and saw the plume of spray then the back and fin rise and disappear. It all happened in a few seconds so I couldn’t be certain was it was. It didn’t look very big, maybe 20-25 feet.

At midday it was fine enough to take my duvet out and give it a bit of an airing.
In the early afternoon the noise I’d heard earlier was still there and it began to bother me. The most likely thing I could think of was wear and tear on the rudder loops but maybe one of the rudder pins had come loose and fallen out. I decided I’d have to to heave to and check it out. Even doing that I still couldn’t see clearly under the water. I would have to go in and take a look. I dug out the goggles and pulled on a pair of swimming trunks. Then just as I was about to go in I saw three fins pop out of the water just yards away from the boat! My immediate thought was sharks but they were only dolphins swimming slowly south. They are the first I’ve seen and it was uncanny they should choose this moment to appear!

I’ve only ever seen a shark out at sea once before, in the Caribbean. Now, of course, I imagined the ocean teemed with them and they were all lying in wait for me just under the surface. Any shark who did gobble me up would have got a bonus, I’d just had a bellyful of fried tatties for lunch.
I tied a line around my waist and stepped over the rail. I have steel steps welded on the stern leading into the water just for this purpose. I was about to take my first step down when there was a sudden crack from the mainsail. I jumped and had to laugh at myself. Elsi was having a chuckle at my expense and had timed it perfectly. I took a brave pill, stepped down and slid under the surface. I didn’t hang around long but from what I could see all the rudder pins were there and it all looked ok.
So, I’m assuming it is wear and tear on the rudder loops. There still should be plenty of metal there but it’s odd I only heard it today for the first time.

The noon position today was right on the fold of the chart so I’ve flipped it over and it’s showing the Cape Verdes. All we need now is a fair wind to blow us down there.

Just after dark last night I saw a starboard light up to windward of us a few miles away. There was nothing on the AIS and I wondered if it was a yacht. It didn’t have the extra navigation lights for a bigger ship. The just after 2100 the collision alarm on the AIS went off and I looked to see the boat nearer and showing a port light. As I was looking out I heard a call on the VHF. It was the yacht “Hot Stuff” with nine girls aboard from a company they called “Girls for Sail”. They were in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (ARC) and had left the Canaries and were headed for St. Lucia. The two girls I spoke to were Clair and Sue and they were hugely enthusiastic were really looking forward to the challenge of the sail across and the party at the other side. I asked if they were all for sale and Clair said, “Young man, you simply couldn’t afford us!” They have a blog and asked if they could put me on it. I said of course and asked if they minded going on our website as well. They were sailing faster than me and we wished each other Bon Voyage and they sailed off into the night. I hope St. Lucia is ready for them. If I achieve nothing else on this trip at least I will have made it onto the Hot Stuff blog!

We sailed along fine for the rest of the night but the wind slowly veered so that by 0730 we were sailing to windward in a SSE F4 and could barely hold our course. The sky was a March grey and apart from the warm spray coming over the rail we could have been in the North Sea. Alyson said there was a low to the NW of the Canaries so we must be getting the bottom end of it.

At 1400 there was a heavy but short lasting rain shower and the wind veered through more than 90 degrees so that it was coming out of the SW, almost the direction we want to be going in. I really wasn’t expecting to have to tack down through the NE Trades but that’s what we’re having to do here. The sudden shift in the wind of course made for a very jumbly sea (there is a SW going current here as well) and it was heavy going as we pitched and heaved our way into the SE. By 1500 it had freshened to a F6.

The Hydrographic Office publish what are called Routeing Charts. They show the predicted winds and currents for each month of the year for each ocean of the world. The wind in each part of the ocean is shown as a circle with arrows pointing into the center. The longer the arrow the more predominant the wind is from that direction. The shaft has different thickness’ to show the different wind strengths. All the arrow lengths together make up 100% of the wind to be expected in the area. For where we are now, SW of the Canaries, it shows the wind should blow from NNE to ENE almost all the time. A sw’ly can’t be ruled out entirely but it is so unlikely it doesn’t even figure as an arrow or even an arrowhead; only a dot inside the circle. You would need to be very unlucky to hit that dot. We’ve hit it or rather it has hit us.

This was to have been one of the most relaxing legs of the trip, rushing southwards with a warm NE Trade at our backs under blue skies with orderly lines of white cloud. I had a list of jobs to do, a spot of painting on deck, mend a couple of the masks on the pulpit netting that had worked loose. But not today. The headsails have been up and down, up and down reefs have been pulled in and shaken out till I’ve lost count.

The one bonus is that this email setup seems to be working again after a blip of a few days, which is really good. Thanks again for all your comments and good wishes. I was able to pick some up tonight from Alyson.

All yesterday evening the wind blew strong from the NE and we sailed with only two reefs in the mainsail. I woke at midnight and the wind had fallen away enough to set the full main and pole out the Genoa. There was just enough wind all night to stop the main from slapping around but not much more. By daybreak though it was lighter and I had to drop the main, it was flogging around for no reason. I kept the Genoa up and we made very slow headway in the NE F1-2 light air. I shook my head and laughed, from a feast to a famine.

I had expected sunshine and Trade wind sailing once we had passed the Canaries but this morning was overcast, dull and damp. I should have been sitting in the cockpit soaking up some sunshine as we sped along south, but I was huddled up in my oilskins watching the Genoa fill and empty itself continuously. I had to steer SE, almost 90 degrees off our course, to try and keep some wind in it.

To windward a grey lacy curtain of rain draped down to the horizon. The rain, when it came, didn’t bring any more wind; it just changed the sea surface around us to a million ever changing circles. To the southwest was a patch of blue sky and lighter cloud, which held a promise of better weather if we could ever reach it.
An insect like a dragonfly flew over us! It hovered around the masthead then made a decision not to land and headed off to the north. At the time the nearest land was the island of Hierro about 50nm to the NE.

The sky eventually cleared and it was like a door opening into a different climate. The sun came out in a mostly blue sky and the wind picked up to a fine NE’ly F4. We were underway again and sailing!

Well, that’s been a very mixed 24hrs. Last night just as I cleared the south end of Palma as the darkness fell the wind fell away completely as well. In the motion the sails were slapping, whacking and rattling and there was no point in keeping them set. Crucially for me it wears them out and loosens and breaks stitching when they are whacking around.

I had the sails up and down again three times on the night. Each time it seemed like a breeze was coming in and each time it had died away again within half an hour. At 0530 I heard a breeze starting to lift and ignored it for half an hour to see if it would hang around. It did and I set sails again; Main and Genoa. There wasn’t much of a breeze and there was a very awkward motion, which hindered our progress a lot. It was like a wind against tide motion without the wind. The sea was all over the place. I wondered if it was the meeting of two tides at the bottom corner of the island. Whatever it was it rolled us pitched us and corkscrewed us and on occasions seemed to do it all at one time. I shook my head at how chaotic it was.

The wind was from the NW and only about F3.Just enough to keep sailing even though we kept getting the wind knocked from our sails. As we got farther away from the land I could see there were two definite swells. One was rolling in from the NW and another coming in from the NE. With the two at 90 degrees to one another it made for a very confused sea. Astern I could see clouds darkening and a sheet of rain misting across the water coming our way. When it hit us it was heavy but the wind didn’t match the ferocity of the rain. It was short lived and passed us by as quick as it had come on.

But there was another squall behind it coming in from the NE and this one did have wind in it. I could see a rush of dark water getting ever nearer and white horses building as it came towards us. By the time it reached us it was a full F6 and we were seriously over-canvased. I nipped forward to drop the Genoa then hurriedly got 2 reefs in the main, then went back to lash down the Genoa on the foredeck. By the time I’d done that the wind had fallen away to a F3 again. But that didn’t last long. Soon another squall this time about F7 swept over us. We were better prepared this time and I kept Elsi pointed downwind and we surfed forward on the strength of it. The half bucketful of rainwater I had collected yesterday and left in the cockpit to have a wash with today had been knocked over. I glanced at my watch. It was still only quarter past ten. It had been a full morning!

At least there was no slap, whack and rattle any more. The main, with two reefs in, was more than enough sail set and it was pressed firmly onto the shrouds.
I have a gybe preventer rigged from the end of the boom to the bow to keep the boom from moving when we are running downwind. I use it a lot and it is earning its keep today. In the biggest waves the boom dips into and gets dragged through the water. The same waves usually give us a few gallons of water as a present to wash out the cockpit as well.

There will be a pile of yachts ready to leave the Canaries now to head for the Caribbean. Any who leave today and expect to find blue skies and a warm NE Trade wind will be sorely disappointed. It would be interesting to know what the wind was like over Palma today. The west side always seemed clear, even sunny when I looked astern, but to the east it was a mass of light and dark grey cloud.

Now at 1330 the wind is still F6 but at least we are moving and heading in the right direction. The Cape Verdes are about 850nm to the SSW and they will be our next turning point. But hopefully we will have some good Trade wind sailing between now and then.

6/7th November 2013

Monday was to be the start of Elsi’s big trip and the weather forecast, when we looed at it over Saturday and Sunday, didn’t look not too bad. The wind should be NW F4 all morning and afternoon before backing west then south west and freshening. That should let us get past Ushant (on the NW corner of France) and into the Bay of Biscay. I wanted to clear Cape Finisterre (on the NW corner of Spain) by Saturday as there was a deep low coming in affecting the Bay of Biscay and the English Channel with winds up to F9.

However Monday started with a flat calm and it was early afternoon before there was any wind from the NW. The SW’lys were now a more persistent F6+ which was less good. But I still hoped to clear the Channel and have some sea room before the worst iof it came in.

I left Falmouth at 1435. Alyson and her sister Penny and friends Robin and Carolyn Wilson Webb were waving final farewells from Pendennis Point.

Less than 2 hours later the wind had gone south of west and any benefit I would have got from a fair wind had gone. To make matters worse the combination of the (initially) light head wind and the flood tide running up from the Lizard pushed us into the SE for a time when we should have been going SW.

The tide eased and we were able to make a course SSW but as the night wore on the wind freshened and backed it was obvious we were not going to clear Ushant on the one tack. There is a traffic zone for shipping on the corner there and as we neared it the wind picked up to F7-F8 and we had to hove to for a couple of hours. Monster container ships and gas tankers rumbled by in the darkness. I was really grateful for the AIS to help me keep track of them all.

We were not going to clear the traffic zone and so had to tack north again.

Sailing to windward is not one of Elsi’s strong points. She is heavy and under canvassed compared to modern yachts. To add to that she is carrying almost an extra ton of food, water and supplies for a year at sea and she is at her heaviest right now. As the seas got bigger and the wind freshened we were pointing to windward but the waves were knocking us back so that we were more or less beam on. In other words we were getting nowhere.

The forecast was to stay the same for the next few days and if I continued to tack back and fore across the Channel making no headway I would eventually get hit by this low pressure coming in on Saturday.

I decided to come back in to Falmouth and wait for a better forecast.  It isn’t easy or pleasant going back on a decision once made but I feel this is the most sensible thing to do just now.

So now we are at anchor in Falmouth and it will be Sunday at the earliest before we move from here again.


A huge thank you to everyone who has sent on good wishes either speaking to Alyson or through the website. I won’t be able to reply individually but I am grateful to every one of you.

Since coming back in I have taken advantage of the calm water here to finish off some of the jobs that weren’t quite done when we left last Monday. Read full log entry  The first day though was a drying off day. I was lucky and the weather was fine and dry. I try to keep below decks as dry as possible but when there is a lot of rain and spray around and you are clambering in and out in wet oilskins or, especially, changing headsails it is impossible. Elsi has hank on headsails rather than roller reefing so if a headsail has to be changed the old sail has to come off and the new one brought up and hanked on. I never keep bagged sails on deck so the old sail comes below. If I am changing to a smaller sail it usually means the weather is getting worse so the sail comes below soaked in rain or salt spray which ends up in the bilges.

So the first day I had the sails hanging up to dry off along with sail bags, oilskins, wet socks (my new pair of rubber boots had split the first night out) and any other wet gear. I mopped out the bilges and generally got everything else back into place. I’ve also sorted through some lockers and got myself more familiar with what is where.

I’ve checked through the initial route again from the Channel out past the NW coast of Spain and down to the Canaries. I’ll be able to hang up the oilskins for a bit and break out the shorts, T shirt and shades!

The forecast is looking better for the first half of this coming week so hopefully I’ll get away again with a wind that will get me south and west from here. If I were lucky enough to get a fair wind for the first few days it would give me good headstart.


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.


23rd November 2013

T-shirt, shorts and bare feet for the first time today! The few crumpled rags of clouds dotted around could offer the sun little resistance to warm everything up and by 1030 the cabin temperature was 23 degrees. I rigged a fishing line today as well. The lure was a plastic squid so enticingly well made I could almost eat it myself. Surely it would be irresistible to any fish in the area. I paid it out and could see the lure astern and for the first hour I was checking it every five minutes waiting for a bite. The second hour was probably every fifteen minutes and now six hours later it’ll probably be a can of something for tea again tonight. I’ve actually seen very little wildlife. I haven’t seen one dolphin yet or any flying fish. Birds were something I could almost guarantee seeing everyday last time, almost at any hour of the day, but they have been very elusive as well so far.

We had the wind ahead of us all night as we made our way south. It was no more than a F3-4 and was a fine and settled night. I was up several times to check that we were clear of the Salvegem Islands that lie to the north of the Canaries. But we were able to hold a course SSW and I didn’t see the islands at all. Our noon position puts us about 110nm north of Palma the most NW’ly of the Canaries. We should pass there tomorrow.

The book I’m reading at the moment is A Shetland Country Merchant by Robert L Johnson. It’s more of a booklet really at only 63 pages. It details the life of James Williamson who ran the shop at Linkshouse in Mid Yell in the mid 1800’s. Besides the normal business of running a shop at that time they sold virtually everything from needles to anchors, cotton thread to mooring ropes and oatmeal and flour in bags that ranged from the size you could carry home in your pocket to “bolls” weighing 140lbs. I remember the Hamnavoe shop in the sixties and they had to stock a huge range of goods to supply an island without a bridge at the time.

A merchant of James Williamson’s time, besides supplying the local folk with all their groceries and other needs also acted as a money lender to supply those men heading away to sea a loan to get on a ship or arrange to supply goods to the family before the man was able to secure a passage on a ship and send home some money to pay him back. Many Shetland men went to sea then as there was so little work at home. Any money sent back was commonly sent to the local merchant and several letters have survived to give some indication of where men were headed to at that time and what they could afford to send home.

Quite a number of the letters were sent from Liverpool from seamen usually outward bound. They were sailing on full rigged ships bound for ports all over the world including Melbourne, New York, New Orleans, St. Johns and Quebec. One man wrote there were seven other Shetland men on the ship he was on.

Daniel Scollay on his way back to Yell from Liverpool wrote to James that he intended to come home,”…to see my family and then if God spares my life and health I will proceed to California again as soon as possible”. The route he would have taken to get there would have been almost exactly the same route as we are on now; past Madeira and the Canaries, across the equator and down to Cape Horn. Then up the west coast of South America and on to California. It was one of the major shipping routes of its day.

So we will be sailing in the wake of Daniel Scollay and the hundreds of other Shetland men who have passed down this way over the years. We’ll be doing it in a lot more comfort than they had. I have a good variety of food aboard, warm oilskins, a dry bunk and I can speak home almost every day. It’s a very different and far cosier world than the one they had to live through 150 years ago. I’ll sit on deck and drink a toast to them tonight and pour a drop over the side as well as a sailors toast.


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