header image

All posts in December, 2013

Before midnight last night I was woken by a clack clack clack. The lashing, which holds the port side steering line for the Aries, had chafed through and the chain, which provides for adjustment between the two lines, was clacking around on the deck. I cut off a new length of line and we were back in business in no time.

The wind picked up for a time around 0300 and I had to take in a reef but it only lasted half an hour before lulling back down again to a F4.
We are in a position now to bear away a little more towards the coast of South America so that we are taking the wind and sea more on the beam rather than ahead of us, as has been the case for the past few days. It makes for a more comfortable motion and better day’s runs as well as the sea is helping us rather than knocking us back and slowing us down.

Today is the solstice, mid-winter for those in the north and mid-summer for those of us down here. The sun is at the farthest south it will be this year and the Antarctic has 24hrs of daylight. From today it will start climbing north again. Slowly at first and speeding up as it crosses the equator then slowing again as it reaches the top of its bounce on 21st June next year. The Simmer Dim in Shetland. It will pass overhead of us somewhere off the South American coast in January and from then on, until we are back in the South Atlantic next September, we will have to look to the north to see it doing it’s daily round.

I spent the morning putting some whippings on the ends of the halyards. There wasn’t too much spray coming over us so I could get the Spanish hams out again to try and dry off some more. There’s not much wildlife around apart from flying fish. I heard one land on the deck last night but he slipped out through the scuppers while he was still flapping around. I’ve seen them out of the water for about the length of a football pitch and there is some evidence to say they can glide upwards of 300 metres at times. As we get nearer to the coast we will probably see a bit more activity.

For something to mark our passage across the equator I got my two Burra Bear crewmen Tirval o’ da School and Andrew o’ Fuglaness, which the Hamnavoe Primary School and my sister put onboard, out on deck. We wrote out a message, stuck it in an empty wine bottle, wrote, “Open Me!” on the side and threw it overboard. The winds and currents should carry it to the north coast of South America or the Caribbean but who knows where it will end up.

Well, that’s us in the Southern Hemisphere. We crossed the equator about 0330 GMT this morning at around 25º 25’W. There would have been about 3500nm on the log at the time. This will be our fortieth day out from Falmouth so that’s roughly 87.5 nm per day of an average. So far everything has been going very well really. I haven’t had to do any sail repairs yet. The mainsheet horse developed a crack and one of the headsail leads broke off but apart from that it’s all been fine.

As a treat Alyson bought two legs of Spanish ham for me to have onboard. They are a couple of real big trotters, one is 7kg and the other is 10kg. I had been saving them and to celebrate crossing the line I thought I would open one of the hams and have a good feed tonight. But…..they have been in plastic inside the linen wrapper and have gone damp, I wouldn’t say mouldy, but damp. I actually thought they were shrink wrapped inside the linen and they would last longer to keep them in their original wrappings but that’s not been the case.

They don’t smell too bad, a sweetish smell almost as if they had been coated in honey. I have them out on deck right now trying to dry them a bit but I’m not sure if direct sunlight is good or bad for them. I cut off a slice to taste. Instead of being dry inside the fat was still glistening and moist and so was the meat. I tried a bit. It was tough but didn’t look or taste too bad. The meat was still a fine reddish colour and I’m hopeful I’ll be able to salvage most of it.

I won’t keep them in the plastic any longer. I’ll put it them back in the linen bags with maybe an extra pillow case over the top.

For lunch instead I had a tin of tuna salad. It was all carories and will keep the life in me but it was as wet and tasteless as you might imagine a can of tuna salad to be. Thankfully I only have four of them onboard so I might eat them all over the next few days to get rid of them.

The wind picked up a bit now to become a SE F4 most of the time. I’ve set a staysail along with the Genoa and we are making about 5kts just now. The old square-rig men used their older gear in the Trade winds and saved their heavier canvas for the higher latitudes of the south.
To an extent I’m doing the same here. The headsails sheets I’m using are the original ones from when Elsi was first launched. I’m fairly careful to watch them for chafe and to be sure they are not perfect now but they are still holding the strain of the two headsails.
I’ve end for ended them a few times and cut off some bits but they will do a few miles yet. My new sheets are below waiting for their turn.

The halyards are different. They were all renewed in 2006 and they have all been renewed again before this trip. The spare ones I carry with me. It’s easy enough to see wear on a sheet and sort it but not so easy to re-run a halyard at sea, especially if it breaks.

There may not be many sail changes in the next two weeks as we will probably be on the port tack all that time and should have the reasonably steady winds of the SE Trades to blow us further south. But then…the NE Trades were all feet up and fickle so we won’t take anything for granted just yet. It’ll be what it’ll be.

Today is a much better day than yesterday in many ways. We’ve had a N’ly swell which has been running into a fresh wind for the past few days creating a lumpy motion. But during the night the wind dropped to about F3-4 and the swell crept round to flow with the wind so they are both from the SE. The current here is flowing to the west as well. As a result the sea is a lot flatter today and more regular. For the first time in quite a number of days I can go on deck without oilskins. There is still some spray coming over the rail but it is a thing of nothing. The horizon is a straight line again and that always makes it easier for taking sights.

The sky has cleared a lot as well and the sun is burning hot again. It was 30º C in the cabin this morning. From our noon position today we have 52 miles to go to the equator. If this wind holds, which it looks like doing, we should be across tomorrow.

There was still a bad smell coming from the saltwater pump so this morning I shut off the seacock, disconnected the pump and poured bleach down the length of the line. I’ve shaken the hose around a bit to disperse it and I’ll leave it overnight to see if it’s any better.

What I said a day or two ago about how I deal with the fresh water is similar to what happens with all the food onboard. All the grub I need for a year is stored in separate lockers and while I was stowing it in Alyson was taking a note of where everything was. How many cans of mince, what weight they are and so on for everything. Enough for 400 breakfasts, lunches and dinners. So, I have a folder detailing all the quantities of food onboard and where to find it. When I take out a tin of corned beef or a packet of biscuit it gets stroked off the list and so I have a running total of what’s left and where it is.

I am very aware that everything onboard is finite. Once something is used that’s it. It’s gone. Fresh water I can replenish but food, no. I have enough onboard to keep me living for a year but I do have to ration the “treats” I have stowed away. As much as I would like to fill the boat with an extra case or three of Guinness or Coca cola there came a time when putting stores aboard that we had to stop.

When I left Falmouth Elsi was well down on her waterline and there comes a point where enough is enough. It’s always the problem with a smaller boat. If Elsi were 40′ long I could fit an extra half-ton of stores no problem. If she were 50′ long two tons of stores spread round the boat would be barely noticeable and would make little difference to the speed. But a ton of stores and supplies on a 31′ boat makes a definite difference to her waterline and to her performance especially going into a head sea. So I’ll have to resort to rationing and have my treats as and when.

But maybe when you can only have one can of beer or one Mars bar a week then you enjoy it all the more and savour every mouthful. When I get back I’ll either be a complete convert to rationing or else pig out for a week!

Imagine your house is suspended from a giant bungy cord. The cord isn’t in the center of the house but to one side so your house isn’t flat but hanging at an angle of 30º. It is continually being jerked from front to back and from side to side. Every few seconds it is lifted up then dropped down suddenly and every now and again it is lifted a bit higher and dropped so that it hits the ground with a bang and everything shudders and shakes.
You can’t move at all without holding on as your world is never still for a second but you somehow have to go about your everyday duties, cooking, reading, writing, trying to get your cursor steady enough to hit a particular dot on the screen…
The movement isn’t predictable at all but completely random and chaotic. You make a cup of tea but you can’t set it down anywhere and all the while someone is throwing bucketfuls of saltwater over your windows.
You are lucky enough though to have a cooker that is gimbaled i.e. the top stays reasonably flat while the house swings around. So cooking is possible once you get to the stage where everything you’ve prepared is actually in the pot. Then, of course, you have the fun of trying to eat it without ending up wearing it.

If you can imagine that you will have some idea of what life is like on Elsi right now. We are battering to windward in a F5-6 a couple of hundred miles north of the equator. The equator can be stark calm with blue skies or it can be like this. For all the movement though I would far rather have that than have nothing at all and be going nowhere. At least we are moving albeit in every direction as well as forwards.

The wind was more or less steady all night at around F5-6 and I slept through most of it. At first light there was little change but by late morning the wind had eased a bit and I could set the full mainsail again. The sky was more blue than anything else with a warm sun shining through. The upper cirro clouds appeared almost static and sentinel. The lower broken of bits of cumulus were fast drifting across us but as smooth and steady as a hand passing over sheaves of corn. Down on the water there was nothing smooth about it and we were still being pitched about as much as ever.

I’m not sure if these winds are the N’ly limit of the SE Trades. They feel steady enough and the sky is taking on a Trade wind appearance but we are still north of the equator so we’ll wait and see what happens over the next two days.

When the change came it happened quickly. I was up in the cockpit around 1400. I’d seen some whales and was keeping an eye on them. They were about a mile away and there were at least three of them as I could see three plumes of spray at one time getting carried away on the wind like smoke from a firework. There may have been more, as the sprays seemed to be coming up pretty frequently but they never came any nearer so I couldn’t tell what they were or how many.

We had been sailing in a NE F3 and suddenly the wind dropped almost to nothing. To the SE I could see the water darkening and I suspected something was up. I went below and pulled on my oilskins and was not long back on deck when the wind came in gusty from the SE. I dropped the Genoa and pulled up the Jib. I thought the wind, when it did change, would maybe veer round slowly into the south over a few hours. But that was it over and done in five minutes. The swell was rolling in from the north and because it was now running into the wind it made for a lumpy motion.

Once or twice Elsi got knocked down by a sudden punch of wind but always got right back up again and carried on. It was heavy going though and at times it felt like we were trying to slough our way through soft sand. A racing boat would have kept the Genoa set but I was unsure of how strong the next gust was going to be and as night was coming on I sacrificed speed for more peace of mind.

The morning again was overcast. Squalls were all round us. I counted five at 0700. From an outstretched hand a dark line of cloud one thumb width above the horizon marked each squall. Below each one vertical grey sheets of water poured down to the sea. I caught some more of it as squalls came across us. One bucketful I caught I dipped in a cup and filled it up, then poured it down the inside of my neck. It was fresh and clean and refreshing. The water that had been two minutes before in a cloud in the sky above us was now making it’s way down to my stomach. There’s so much rain but so few rainbows. I think the light can’t get through the dense cloud to make them. We did have blue skies and white clouds this morning for an hour but it was soon back to grey again.

Some squalls brought wind and some didn’t. At 0930 I had to get on deck quick to get a reef in and it was slipped out an hour later. That is the way here with the wind, very up and down and rarely steady for long.

We still have goose barnacles growing and getting bigger. I’ve scraped them off before, and I did again this morning, but they keep coming back. They will be with us now for the duration I fear. I’ll have to go under Elsi at some point and see how bad it is. We spent a lot of money on good anti-foul but it doesn’t seem any better than what I had last time. Disappointing.
Still we’ve made what is a good days run under the circumstances. We might have been becalmed or even drifted north of where we were yesterday with the current. We’re a degree south in 24hrs and I’m happy with that. The wind now (1400) is about SE F4 and we are beating into it. It’s never easy to make good speed to windward but we’re plugging away.

The wind is upside down here. We should be beating to windward in a S’ly and instead this morning we were running goose winged before a fine NE’ly. I’m not complaining, the shift of direction in the Trades was against us but here it works in our favour so it’s evening out not too bad. The wind had been very up and down the past 24hrs and more down than up. At times I thought it was going to fade away completely but there has always been enough to keep us sailing.

It’s been very damp though and over cast. The only lighter patches of the sky seem to highlight how dark the rain clouds are. There’s been either drizzle or rain on and off most of the time. This morning we had a heavy shower. Before I got oilskins on and got out it had mostly passed but I still managed to collect over a gallon of rainwater. I keep a close eye on how much water I use. The fresh water I use is never just pumped into a cup or pot or sink. Instead I have a litre bottle and pump water into there each day. Then I mark off in a notebook that I have taken a litre from whichever tank, I have two tanks. Any rainwater collected and put into a tank gets marked in a different column. So I have a running total of how much I have left in each tank.  If I didn’t have some kind of system I could end up with a dry tank when I’m parched for a cuppa!

When we crossed the equator last time we had more water onboard than we had when we left Shetland two months before. We had torrential rain north of the equator and I filled all the tanks, the kettle, pots and pans and buckets. I remember Terry and me doing the same in the Marquesas during a real tropic downpour. We filled everything but still it kept on raining.

All the rain is caught from the mainsail. I top up the sail so the water all runs to the mast end and have a bucket there to catch it. If there’s been a lot of spray the mainsail is salty and I have to let it run off some before using. Usually I’ll run some into the bucket scoop some up in my hand to have a taste. If it’s too salty then pour it out and catch some more till it tastes like it should. I can catch as much in two minutes, at times, as it would take me an hour to pump up using the watermaker.

There seem to be no dolphins here. I’ve seen plenty of flying fish but with the moon fuller now there is less chance of them coming onboard at night.
We’re less than 300nm to the equator now. But I’m not even thinking about an ETA for crossing the line. We might be less than three days but the wind might fizzle out to nothing and it might be a week before we get across. It’s that kind of place. For now though we have a fair breeze around a F2-3 and are continually moving so I’m thankful for that.

The sea is lumped up here as if there is a counter current and the Routeing chart seems to bear this out. The wind has been up and down all morning. No sooner is a reef slipped out then it needs to be put back in again. We’ve had a lot of rain today as well and I’ve managed to collect over two and a half gallons. Many people would think that as you get nearer to the equator the sun will be hotter, skies clearer and the weather generally brighter. But this region is notorious for squalls, heavy rain and an uncertainty with what the weather will do next. At times today I thought the wind had gone completely but two minutes later it was back up as fresh as ever, very up and down.

We had what I think was a Brown Booby flying around us today. It circled the mast for a while looking to check out a landing spot then it’s tail gave a shudder and I could see it thinking, “Looks a bit iffy trying to get on there!”

That’s about it today. We still are sailing well, even with the variable wind it’s still getting us further south and I just hope it will hold for a bit yet.

Two flying fish came onboard last night so it made a welcome change to have fresh fish for breakfast. They are a bit like herring in taste and in bone structure and very nice fried up with some olive oil.

Luckily this wind has held and we continue to make good progress south towards the equator. It was steady all night so no sail changes and a quiet night in for me. Clearer skies today so it has been warm despite the fresh wind.
I was sitting in the cockpit thinking I hadn’t seen any shipping in a while when two seconds later we rose on a wave and there was a ship right ahead of us! She was about four miles away and was crossing us heading north so that was as near as we got to her. She was the Panstellar and looked like a bulk carrier. Her destination on the AIS was given as EG Dam, whatever that means, and she was due to arrive there on Christmas Day.

There are several clumps of seaweed floating around, all of the same kind. It must have broken off from the African coast, as there are no islands near here.
We passed the 3000nm mark just after lunch. It seems a lot but we’ll have done ten times that and more by the time we get back.

Thanks again to all who have sent in cheery and welcome comments. It’s all very appreciated. My best regards to you all.

By 1900 last night the wind had risen and we were being hard pressed with the sail we had set. I had to reduce the amount of canvas to match the conditions. I had already taken a reef in an hour before but the wind had picked up some more. I dropped the Genoa and unhanked it from the forestay and got it stowed below. Then pulled up the Jib, hanked it on and reattached the sheets. When I glanced aloft to see the halyard was clear before hoisting the moon was above us shinning through mottled cloud. I pulled up the sail then made my aft to the cockpit with knees bent to keep my center of gravity low. One handhold for every footstep I took. The moon daubed the slate grey and white crested sea with silver and there was no need for a headtorch. Soon after I had to take in another reef and with two reefs in and the Jib set our speed barely altered but we were far better suited to the conditions.

The seas are pretty much beam on and the decks are constantly wet. The windward side is plied with spray and the lee side gets a regular sloshing of white water as we hell and dip into the wave tops. Although it’s still warm anything outside has to be done in oilskins.

Trying to get a sun sight is tricky and this morning I ran Elsi off before the wind to steady us up and reduce the spray coming across. Any sun sight from a small boat in a rolling sea is never very accurate and if my position is within five miles of where we are I’ll be quite happy with that.

There’s not much else really. We’ve had another very good days run and are still going well as I write this at 1445. Alyson is en route to New Zealand for Christmas so updates may not be posted as regularly as before but the website will get updated as and when she has an internet connection. Some people may think that I update the website but I only send the reports back to her. I have no way to access the internet and only send reports back as data over the radio, which end up as an email with her. I’ll be interested to see how it all looks when I get back.

The wind held steady and fresh all night, which has given us a fine days run of 140nm. It’s overcast again today which is not uncommon at sea in the Tropics. But, we are still making good speed and reeling in the line of the equator the whole time.

Ocean Passages is a guide to mariners, which is found onboard every merchant ship and should be onboard every long distance cruising yacht. It lists the recommended routes between ports and places for all parts of the world. One section is for sailing vessels and the other for powered vessels. The sailing section was originally written for the old square-riggers to take advantage of the most favourable winds and currents in getting from A to B. The older volumes are usually recommended for sailors as the sailing information is said to be more relevant. I have two copies onboard. One is from 1973 but I also have a facsimile copy of the first edition from 1895 and it is interesting to compare between the two.

Elsi probably sails as close to the wind as the old square-riggers so the information is very relevant. The recommended route from here to cross the equator and head down the coast of South America is to sail south between 26º and 29º W. At this time of year, in a “normal” year, S’ly winds will be met with around 8º – 6º N. Then steer a course to cross 5ºN between 20º – 23º W and cross the equator between 24º and 29º W.  The reason for going to the east first is to get a better angle before getting into the SE Trade winds south of the equator.

After the non-existence of the NE Trades between the Canaries and the Cape Verde’s I’m not convinced that this is a “normal” year. So, we are heading a more direct course to 5ºN  23ºW, which will take us to the east of 26º W earlier. Time will tell if it’s a good decision or not. It’s more uncomfortable as we are having to close reach (sailing into the wind) to get there but for now it’s all going very well and we are still making good speed. If this wind could hold for a couple more days it would see us in a good position to head down to the equator.

« Older Entries     Newer Entries »