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All posts in December, 2013

The wind has gone round to the north and we are running goose winged with the Genoa poled out to starboard. The whine of the propshaft alternator goes up and down as we surge forward on a wave or level out after it has passed. We’re making 4-5 kts so the alternator is working well and the batteries are getting a good top up.
A tanker passed us just as the sun was setting last night. The MT Ottoman was chugging her way north bound for Casablanca.

We are about 150nm from the Brazilian coast, just a bit too far away to hear the thump of a salsa band for New Year. Rio is just round the corner and there will be some wild parties there tonight!

If this wind keeps up it looks like we’ll have a 100+nm day for the first day of the year so hopefully that will be the case. The current runs slightly stronger in our favour if we keep nearer to the coast. So we will try to hold a course from here to a point off Cabo Corrientes, just south of the entrance to the River Plate. The winds will begin to get more variable soon as we lose the benefit of the Trades and we will just have to take what we are dished out.

I’d like to thank you all for following the website and wish you all the very best for a happy and healthy New Year. I hope the next 12 months are all you want them to be and more. Cheers!

After the heat of the day we had a fine sunset last night. The last blue of the day blended seamlessly into a swathe of red that stretched across the southwestern horizon. I sat on deck, relieved to get some coolness at last, and watched the day come to an end. Gradually the night fell over our little world, all the colours slowly changing to black like a dark cloth being draped over a birdcage. In a book I read recently twilight was described as the hour between the butterfly and the moth. Out here it is more starkly the hour between the blue and the black.

The stars in the eastern sky come out first, as it gets darker there earlier with the sun setting in the west. The brightest stars are the first to appear. Sirius, the brightest of them is the first with Canopus not far behind. Then a bluish white Rigel in Orion’s right foot and the supergiant reddish Betelgeuse, 400 times the suns diameter, at Orion’s left shoulder. Because the eastern horizon darkens first it’s easier to begin star sights on that side before swinging around to see what is available in the west.
Last night Venus was still brilliant in the southwest. It will cease to be an evening star soon and by the end of January I’ll be seeing it in the morning sky for most of the coming year.

We hit something last night just after dark. I heard the thump on our port side and looked out aft but it was too dark to see anything. It doesn’t seem to have done any damage.
We had two visitors aboard during the night. I think they were terns of some kind but I only saw them in silhouette. They were both sitting on the rails aft. I had to go out several times during the night to alter the Aries and they were so near to me I could have touched them. They left a few deposits for me to clean up in the morning and a feather for a souvenir.

Today has been swelteringly hot again as the sun climbs ever higher in the sky. We’re not too far from Rio de Janeiro now so it must always be scorching there at every New Year. I was going to have my lunch on deck but it was just too hot. When the temperature is nearing your body temperature it’s a bit too much. It was 33º C inside the cabin but at least there was shade there. It was certainly hotter outside.

The wind shifted to the north and I had to gybe, for the first time in what seems like a long time, in order to hold our course.  I dragged all the onions, tatties and garlic out on deck to have a sort through and pick out any bad ones. I have banana shallots as well as onions and they have lasted really well with barely a bad one among them. The tatties are sprouting and some onions, which I have stowed down aft, are as well. The bag of onions, which were stowed beside the tatties haven’t fared so well and I had to throw out about a quarter of the bag. They haven’t had as much air around them as the others and this may be one of the reasons. The garlic is lasting well and I have enough to keep me going for a few months yet.

This might be the hottest day yet. Inside the cabin it’s 33º C. Outside there is not a cloud in the sky to hinder the sun so the heat is relentless. The sun is almost directly overhead now as well, 84º at noon today, so we are getting a real sizzling from it. The deck is scorching on bare feet and everything is bone dry. The sheets and halyards are stiff from having the salt dried into them and are reluctant to uncoil. Knots are hard to undo. I have to drink frequently but my body seems to be like a sponge that the water oozes out of as soon as I pour any in to it.
It’s as if the heat has worn out the wind as well and it’s just too much effort to blow today. It just wants to lie down and take it easy.

The wind was light most of the night too so we have a slightly poorer days run today. We’re still moving though and that’s fine.

We are about 50 miles to the north east of the Hotspur Bank. A pillar of rock rising straight up from the sea bed 3000 metres below. The contour lines so tight they seem to be piled on top of each other. Its summit levels out on to a flattish plain 50 metres below sea level with a single arm of rock another 30 metres high trying to reach to the surface. It was surveyed, I think, from HMS Hotspur in the early 1800’s.
Just inside there, between us and the coast is the Abrolhos Bank, an extensive shallow area stretching from the Brazilian shore to the edge of the continental shelf. Captain Robert Fitzroy of HMS Beagle surveyed this bank in some detail in 1832. He was a very competent and meticulous cartographer and his findings were used on nautical charts for many years afterwards.

On previous trips Fitzroy had been amazed by the overwhelming amount of flora and fauna he had seen but had no expert knowledge of and no time to detail it all. For this trip, a five year one which would take them westabout round the world, he insisted a Naturalist be onboard the ship to take note of all that was seen and to document it. The post was filled by Charles Darwin and the voyage ended up changing forever the way we look at the world around us.

We should sail over, or very near to, the Hotspur Bank in the early hours of tomorrow morning.

My hams are improving the whole time and I’m having a few slices for lunch everyday now. It makes a real good change from tinned meat. Today I had some with a few cashews, olives, crackers and water laced with lemon juice. At home I would be having a pie or a bacon roll so I’m probably eating healthier out here.

I had to squeeze down aft yesterday to get a box from one of the aft lockers. It was a struggle. There was hardly any room to move round in. Either I’ve grown bigger or Elsi has shrunk because I never had that trouble getting in and out of there 20 years ago.

We are moving towards an impressive mountain range and in just over a couple of day’s time we’ll float right over the top of it. From the city of Vitoria a massive chain of underwater mountains stretches out east 600 miles into the South Atlantic to the island of Trinadade. In the northern hemisphere it would be roughly the distance from Shetland to London. It is toweringly steep in places; rising from 4000 m below sea level, on both the north and south sides, to a summit pinnacle just 11 metres below the surface. We’ll pass over some of the northern range tomorrow afternoon and cross near to the main ridge sometime on Monday night.
It’s just as well it’s in this part of the world. If it were a thousand miles south of here the steepness of the contours would cause some pretty dangerous seas.

We tend to think that world geography has huge highs and lows. Mount Everest is about five miles high and the Mariana Trench, in the southwest Pacific, is about six miles deep. And they are massive to us, on a human scale. But on a global scale they begin to shrink by comparison. If you look at a map of the world and try to find Burra Isle, which is about five miles long, you’ll see it’s only a dot (if you find it at all), about the thickness of a sheet of paper. So, if you laid one sheet of paper on top of your map and another under it that would be the highest and lowest points of our planet. On a global scale the slim crust above and below us is a lot thinner than we think.

Well, that’s enough geography for one day! We are still going well. Each day is much the same in this part of the ocean. The sky was full of clouds this morning and I wondered what was going to come of it. The wind picked up very slightly but nothing of any consequence and by 1000 it was clear again, sunny and warm.
Now (1800) though the wind has fallen light. It’s still enough to keep us moving but we won’t make 100nm tomorrow if it stays like this all night.
Thanks very much to you all again for all your messages and good wishes. It’s much appreciated and keeps my spirits up. Thank you all.

The Grande Brasile passed us on her way south to Vitoria, Brazil around 0930 this morning. She could have been a container ship but she was too far away to see properly. It’s the first ship I’ve seen in days, we’ve been out here pretty much on our own for a while now.

One of the ingredients I have with nearly every meal is white cabbage. I slice it thinly into a pot with onions and garlic to fry before adding whatever tin comes to hand. It, like the onions and garlic, can keep for months and is one of many things recommended to me over the years by the vastly experienced Dutch sailor Jan wit de Ruiter of “Bastaert van Campden” fame. I’ve known Jan and his wife Paula for 30 years now and anything he recommends is backed up with sound practical experience.
He has done two singlehanded circumnavigations, one non-stop and one with one stop, quite a number of transatlantic crossings and with Paula they have been numerous times from Holland to Spitzbergen in the “Bastaert”. Usually they stop off at Shetland on their way back from Spitzbergen and that is where I met them first back in 1983.

I was planning to build Elsi and was always down at the harbour looking at yachts to glean ideas from. Bastaert van Campden stood out immediately as a proper long distance sailing boat and a number of ideas from her design were eventually copied when I was building Elsi. Both Elsi and myself have benefited greatly from Jan’s advice over the years and we are far better prepared for this trip because of it. Thanks Jan!

Each day is much the same here just now. The Trade wind blows steadily day and night and we get a bit further into the southwest every day. The sun is warm, the wind is warm and the sailing is good.

Last night before sunset we sailed past a Portuguese man o’ war. It was the size of a large transparent dinner plate and its edge was rimmed with a brilliant fluorescent pink. Many marine creatures in the tropics seem to be decked out in the most vivid and eye-catching colours.
I remember from diving on coral in the Pacific and Red Sea the amazing range of tropical fish, which swarmed round the reefs. Every time you went down you saw something different. Even the Dorados, which follow Elsi from time to time, are a striking sky blue edged with gold. Always good to see them.

Curried chicken for dinner tonight. I’m still using up the tatties so it will be them instead of rice. I better get them scrubbed and ready for the pot.

This time seven years ago I was lying in a hospital bed in Albany, Western Australia minus my appendix, which had burst about a week before. Elsi was drifting around in the South Indian Ocean on her own about 300nm to the south west of me. She ended up drifting for seven weeks before we finally got her back. She was a bit battered and bruised but it’s a testament to her that she survived so long. The cabin door had been flung open at some point but there was barely a bucketful of water in her when the fishermen found her. I’m not sure if it was the weight of goose barnacles on her bottom that kept her upright or the half ton of corned beef I still had onboard. At any rate she had seen some pretty poor weather in that time and it wasn’t great the night they found her either. So we are probably both enjoying this stretch of balmy weather just now running down the Trades under blue skies and warm winds.

The wind has turned more easterly so the swell is aft of the beam now. It makes for easy sailing but the wind generator is less efficient. I haven’t had the solar panels out for a while because I haven’t needed them, there has really been no shortage of wind. But there isn’t much coming from the Aerogen today so tomorrow I’ll probably get the panels out.

We continue to make good progress with daily runs over 100nm per day. We should have another week at least before we start to run into more variable weather.

Many thanks to all of you who sent on Christmas messages and good wishes. It was really good to hear from you all.

My Christmas morning started a bit differently from most others I’ve had. At 0015 I had to take in a reef in the mainsail, the wind having picked up a bit too much. It was a fine starry night for all that and we were still making a good course and speed.  While I was up I gave Alyson a ring in NZ. The weather was warm and they were out having a picnic and had been swimming in the river.

In the morning I opened a stack of presents, which family and friends had put onboard before we left. There were new books to read, new music to listen to, sweet stuff to savour at leisure, wine to drink and clean fresh socks and T-shirts to wear.
Elsi was decorated with cards and a few novelties to add to the Christmas flavour.
The day actually turned out to be a near perfect sailing day. The wind eased down and I shook out the reef I’d pulled in earlier. The sky was blue and the warm Trade wind blew us easily across an equally blue and warm ocean. I put on some music. The lilt of Kevin Henderson playing “Christmas Day I’ da Morning” fitted in surprisingly well with Elsi’s motion as we rolled comfortably along. It could almost have been composed on a ship rolling down the Trades. There are always a few moments of any trip that when they happen you know you will always remember them vividly. This was one of those times today.

I rang Alyson again to hear how the day had gone and they had had a wonderful time. There had been plenty to eat, some excellent wine to drink and good company. Then I rang round the rest of the family to hear how their Christmas’s were going. A big storm was raging across Shetland but under the rooftops everybody was in good spirits and getting the dinner ready in the different houses.

I had some of the Spanish ham for my Christmas dinner. It’s the first Christmas I’ve ever spent completely on my own and, of course, it’s never the same as being with the rest of the family. But it will have to be for this year. Next year it’ll be turkey and all the trimmings and good company!

We continue to make good progress and the fresh wind overnight helped up to record another 120 miles down the track.

I found a new contact in Cape Town for these emails so there may be hope yet of getting a few more out. Anyway, hope you have all enjoyed a really good Christmas and that Santa brought you everything you wanted.

I was about to take a nap around 2000 last night and before I did I went outside to have a look round. Not too far away off the starboard bow were the lights of a ship. There was nothing on the AIS to tell what it was. We weren’t too far away so I pulled on oilskins and sat outside to keep an eye on things. I could see we were going to end up close together so I altered course to pass downwind of her. It might have been a fishing boat. There was a blaze of lights onboard and she didn’t seem to be on any particular course, almost stationary in the water. We probably passed 3-4 miles from her and once she was past our beam I thought it safe enough to head below again.

The wind had been slowly building all evening and at 2200 I had to take in a reef.
The past few days have been good sailing but always with the risk of getting soaked if you chanced to go on deck without oilskins. Today has been different. The wind is down a bit, there is hardly a sniff of a cloud in the sky and the decks have stayed dry all day. I did a bit of washing, just odds and ends in a bucket and hung them on the rail to dry. With the combination of hot sun and a steady breeze they were dry within the hour.

The magnetism that flows out from the north and south magnetic poles runs in long, slowly curving and constantly changing lines around the globe. But, near here, in the middle of the South Atlantic, they end up coming together in a huge circle that we are just now skirting round the edge of. It’s one of very few places in the world where this happens.
Since we left the UK the magnetic variation has increased steadily from 3º W in the Channel to 22º W here. As we go further south it will start to decrease again down to zero and then go the other way, so that by the time we are south west of Cape Horn it will be around 20º E. It’s something that needs to be kept track of the whole time otherwise you could end up miles away from where you thought you were going.

When I wiped the encrusted salt from the glass cover of the Walker log this noon I saw we were just three miles short of 4000nm.

I’m not sure how easy contacts will be tomorrow for getting an email out so I’d just like to wish every one of you a very Merry Christmas and thank again all those of you who have sent on comments and good wishes.

The knuckle of South America at this latitude acts as a splitting point for the west going current created by the SE Trades. Above here it bends more to the north and below here it tends to follow the coast and is turned more southerly. So it should be running more in our favour soon.
The wind, which had been fresh all night, eased slightly around 0830 this morning and I got the Genoa back up again. There was one flying fish onboard the size of a canned sardine. It was too small for eating so it got thrown back over the side again.

The stars were brilliantly clear last night. Each one seemed to have switched to an extra large wattage bulb and they were putting on a rare display. The Pole star is below the horizon now and the Plough is getting lower with each night that passes. Familiar groups of stars are giving way to new constellations. The Toucan, the Crane and the Dolphin are all coming into view and it takes a bit of time to try and recognize them all.

At 1130 the wind suddenly picked up fresh as if a squall of rain was coming through but there was really no change in the sky at all. I was in the middle of getting a bread ready for the oven and had to leave it to get the Genoa down and Jib up. Even that wasn’t enough and I had to take in a reef in the main as well with spray lashing over the deck.
An hour later and the wind had fallen to lighter than it had been before. It might have reached a F3. I went on deck to set more sail. The dough was in the oven by this time and when I was at the mast shaking out the reef the wonderful smell of the bread baking came rising up out of one of the for’ard vents.

When I was doing this a tanker passed by our stern about a mile away. She was the Cape Bastia bound for Singapore for orders and due in on Jan 19th. While I was watching her I saw we had passed what looked like a marker buoy of some kind. If I’d seen it earlier I might have gone a bit nearer for a closer look. Then two minutes later we passed a decent sized Portuguese man o’ war. From having seen nothing for days it was all happening at once! Back home you wouldn’t think it worth writing about to see a boat, a buoy and a jellyfish all at one time but it was seemed significant here.

After all that excitement I sat down in the cockpit with my lunch of warm crusty bread, canned mackeral and a drop of red wine. I was half expecting to see something else but that was obviously enough distraction for one day. We’ll see a bit more as we close the coast I imagine.

What the NE Trades lacked in wind is being made up for here in the SE Trades. We sailed fast all last night with a press of wind on our beam. I was up several times in the night thinking we were over canvassed but each time I got on deck and looked around we didn’t seem too bad. Elsi was throwing up arches of spray from her bow from every wave she dipped into and our lee rail was well down.

By late morning though the wind had increased that little bit too much and I had to drop the Genoa and set the Jib. We might have dropped half a knot in speed but we are still pounding along. By the time I got back below I was pouring with sweat. Heavy oilskins in 30ºC heat isn’t a good combination! But it was either that or get drenched. Too much spray around for me to get my hams out but Alyson has been in contact with the producers and they say there should be no problem with them.

We got set farther to the west overnight than I would have liked. The west going current is stronger here but maybe I put Elsi’s bow too far off the wind as well. So, I’ve altered course more S’ly again so that we don’t close on the land too soon. The wind will back around to the north of east as we get farther south but I’ll try to keep a bit of distance between us and the land for the time being.

Our day’s run is 123nm but we are nearer 150nm between noon positions. The current will be responsible for a lot of that. A fine clear day here with blue skies and scattered white cloud. Sunlight glinting off the water.

For a while now there have been fewer contacts available for the connections I need to send these updates for the website. Around northern Europe there is really no problem but as we have gone further south the quality of the signal has decreased the further away we get. It also takes a longer time to send each email with the weaker connection so I’m not sure how much longer I will still be able to keep sending. It might all change as we go further south and open up new contacts but I think there aren’t that many in this part of the world.

Either poor signals or too many people on the frequencies have hampered my contacts with the local Shetland Radio Club as well.  The quality depends a lot on the 11 year sunspot cycle. Right now it should be at a high and contacts should be good. But, maybe the chance of getting a good contact brings more people on air and the frequencies get swamped with people calling up. Whatever the reason it has been very difficult to hear anything from home over the radio for a while now. In 2006, when the cycle was at a low point, the contacts were much better. But there are numerous reasons for good and bad signals, time of day, aurora, interference all play a part and it can be a combination of many things.

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