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All posts in January, 2014

We had light headwinds all last night and so didn’t get as far as I had thought. At 0700 this morning the wind was still light and it was a fine chance to replace the steering lines on the Aries. I hove to and lifted it up and within an hour had got the old ones off and the new ones fitted. I was very glad of the chance to do it as the wind and sea will probably pick up from here on and the old lines would have chaffed through at some point.
The wind was in the south and it was noticeably cooler than yesterday.

While I was working on the Aries the sea turned red beneath me. It was a shoal of Krill swimming underneath us. At least I think they were Krill. I’ve never seen them close up but it was some kind of red crustaceans.

The wind has been light all day. In fact I had to drop the sails for an hour around mid-day as it fell away completely. We’re sailing again but the wind is in the SW and we’re actually heading north of west to try and make some headway.

There’s been a few Wilson’s Storm Petrels around today. They are funny birds to watch. As they hover near the water they look like they are either walking or skipping across the surface looking for whatever food they can pick up. They are such small delicate birds you would think anything more than a light breeze would flatten them. And yet they have developed survival techniques to face the storms which come through here.

In the afternoon we were sailing to windward in a light SW’ly F3. I’d seen an orange buoy floating and sailed towards it thinking I would pick it up if it was drifting. It turned out to be anchored, it’s not that deep here, and was obviously some fishing boats property. As we got nearer the sky to the SW got darker. To the south was a huge bank of brilliant white cumulus. It was so striking I got the camera out and took some photos. But on the under side of it was a dark band and as I looked I saw a waterspout forming. I’ve never seen one before and it was fascinating to watch but also un-nerving as well, they can generate powerful whirls of wind and can be hugely destructive, similar to a tornado.

The dark clouds in the southwest began to darken the sea below them and I could see something was going to come out of it. I dropped the genoa and while doing so saw another two waterspouts, one of them not too far away. I thought about five miles but it might have been further. The wind went from a F3 to a F7 in about five minutes. I could see this was going to be no normal sail change so I threw the genoa below and began to stow the main. If we were to get hit by a waterspout I would have to snug down everything as much as I could. By the time I’d stowed the main I’d seen another three waterspouts. I thought it was the kind of thing that was individual and a bit of a rarity but this was six of them in less than half an hour. I snapped some photos and took some video as well.

Below decks I secured everything as well as I could. I hadn’t had any dinner and it was coming on for that time so I scoffed a few Wagon wheels and a packet of crisps thinking I might not get a chance to eat for a while.

There was a sizeable crowd of birds around us, mostly Albatross and big Shearwaters. They usually don’t come that close to us and I thought it was odd they had flocked around at this time. I had arranged to phone Alyson at 9pm home time and it was that time now. I also managed to speak to my son Lowrie who is away back to University on Saturday.

I decided to cook some dinner and see how things were looking after that. The wind had dropped to about a F5. As I scrubbed a couple of tatties up on deck I saw yet another waterspout away to the east. The ones before had been to the south. I had some dinner, mince and tatties, and looked out to see how it was. There were no waterspouts just a lumpy grey sea with a generous helping of whitecaps. I tucked two reefs in the main and set a small staysail and got underway. I’d gathered up the logline earlier in a hurry and stowed it below and it was now in a tangle so that got sorted before it went over the side. We were making little headway with the staysail so I swapped it for the jib and we’re now battering away to windward. This is the first time I’ve typed this up in oilskins but I half expect to be on deck anytime so it feels better if I’m half ready to go on deck. I certainly hope I’ve seen the last of the waterspouts though. They were amazing to watch but I’m glad I saw them from a safe distance. If I never see another one I’ll be quite happy.

Just as darkness was coming on last night I had to alter course to avoid yet another big clump of seaweed. I think I’ll be lucky to get out of this area without running into one.

At 2100 I was below trying to get one of these daily logs sent out when we got hit by a sudden squall. I took down the jib and put two reefs in the main. This looked like it was going to last so I bagged up the jib and got the small staysail on deck. As I dumped it out of the bag the wind freshened more and I packed it back in again and set the storm jib. The wind had gone from a F4-5 to a F7 with only one a millibar change in the barometer. The Aerogen spins around a bit too fast for my liking at this wind speed and I tied it off to ease the strain on it.

We carried on sailing but the wind was rising slowly all the time. By 0200 it was a full gale and I took down the storm jib and hove to under triple reefed main.
The motion becomes a lot easier when hove to. There is a lot less strain on the boat. The motion below becomes less chaotic than when trying to drive through the waves. The downside is that you don’t go anywhere fast. But, that is just how it is sometimes. There comes a point where heaving to is the best option. I hadn’t slept much up till then as I’d expected to have to go on deck at any time. Now I could relax and rest easy for a while.

By mid-day we could get moving again. The wind was down to a F7 from the WSW. I put two reefs in the main and set the small staysail. The sea was still very lumpy from the night before. One moment the bowsprit was pointing half way up the sky and the next it was buried under the top of a wave. Slowly we heaved and staggered our way into the southwest.

An hour later the wind was down to a F4 and I set the genoa and shook out the two reefs to give us the full mainsail. I noticed the steering lines on the Aries were starting to become chaffed. It’s no wonder really; they are constantly working the whole time running through the various blocks. I wrapped tape around the worst bits but I’ll have to replace them when I get a chance.

By 1600 the wind had veered to WNW and I could free the sheets a bit. The sea had eased slightly and because we weren’t trying to head into it and could bear away we were getting an easier ride and our speed picked up as well.
If it keeps like this we won’t be too far from Cabo Tres Puntas, (Cape Three Points) tomorrow. I hope to cut in towards the land there, as we have to round it and head SW to avoid going too far offshore. All the land around here is low lying but we may be close enough in to see some of it.

It been a morning where the wind has been very up and down. At first light we had full sail set and by 0830 we were down, by degrees, to a Storm Jib and a double reefed main. Then, an hour later, we had full sail again. It’s been W’ly all day and we are able to hold a course while either close reaching or sailing to windward.

There was a vessel astern of us this morning, which came up as a sailing vessel although at 65 metres long she is a big sailing boat. It was the Argentine registered Dr. E Holmberg and she was heading for the Zonadeinvestigacion. Maybe a government research vessel? One of the Argentine fishing boats near here also came up as “sailing” so maybe it doesn’t mean anything definite.

During the morning I emptied all the food from one of the lockers on the port side and put it into what I call the box locker that sits on the floor below the main hatch. This is a big plywood box fastened down to the floor which holds a lot of canned food and also my tatties and onions. I use the food out of here all the time and it had begun to get emptied. What I did today will fill the box locker again but will it also shift a pile of weight from above the waterline to below the waterline, which should help my stability a bit. As most of my food is stored on the port side there has been more weight there and Elsi tended to list to that side. So, this will help that as well.

Most of my food is canned, which gives me a good variety of food but adds a fair bit to the weight. It was a Frenchman, Nicolas Appert who hit on the idea of preserving food in glass jars by heating it to high temperatures and sealing out all the air. In 1812 the British firm Donkin and Hall began to do a similar thing but instead of glass jars they put the meat into tin cans. A year later they were supplying it to the Royal Navy. They labeled the cans “Bouilli”, from the French for boiled meat and the sailors soon began calling it bully beef.

The fresh meat in cans made a welcome change to a diet that was heavily based on salted meat. The basic diet of the lower deck at that time was salt pork, salt beef, biscuit, cheese, butter, peas and oatmeal. They were also issued one gallon of beer and a half pint of rum each day. So, it wasn’t only the meat that was pickled.

The first attempts at canning were mixed. Someone thought it was best to have large (30kg) cans because of the large crews carried onboard. It was pointless to have the cook open a can of meat for each man. This wasn’t a success though. The essential element of the process, which was the high heat failed to penetrate right to the center of the cans and left bacteria, which soon multiplied and turned the meat rotten. Some cans of braised chicken on a French expedition to the Pacific exploded with the pressure. I can picture the cook as he stuck his big knife into the top of a bulging can to hack off the lid.
Now (1800) the wind is heading us again. It looks like it could be a bit mixed overnight and freshening up tomorrow from the west. That’ll certainly give the decks a wash.

As the day was ending yesterday I was lying below comfortably reading a book. We were sailing along fine downwind with the jib and one reef in the main. Suddenly I saw a blinding flash outside through the for’ard porthole. When I poked my head up the sky ahead was filling with a huge bank of ominous looking dark cloud. The sun was setting red but it was behind a watery looking sky that didn’t look much like a “sailors delight”.

When I got my gear on and got on deck it was starting to rain and I grabbed a bucket to collect some rainwater. The barometer had been dropping fast but now the wind fell away light. The rain stopped and almost as soon as it did the wind began to rise, quickly. It was still from the north and we were running before it but we were soon overpowered. I decided to drop the main completely. As I did forks of lightning were striking the water around us with incredible power. They didn’t look that far away. I counted to see how far away they were. I didn’t get to two seconds before there was a loud growling rumble of thunder.

By the time I’d got the main stowed the wind had freshened more and we had been forced beam on to the seas, which were getting bigger rapidly. I pulled the tiller to windward to get us going downwind again but the wind had risen so much that with only the Jib set we were now seriously over canvassed. I could hardly chance to let go of the tiller as we were tearing downwind but I had to get the Jib down. It had to come down soon as well as the wind was getting more powerful the whole time.

I saw a chance and nipped for’ard and managed to let loose the halyard and get the sail pulled down to the deck.  Now we were more manageable. Only the Storm Jib would do now. I got it out, hanked it on the forestay and pulled it up. I had considered whether I should maybe heave to but the wind was still N’ly and it was still possible to sail. I got Elsi pointed downwind and the Storm Jib was plenty enough sail for the conditions. It was a full gale by this time and even with the hanky sized jib we were flying along. Certainly the strongest wind we’ve had since we left.

We still had lightning forking around us. The highest points on the mast were the VHF and AIS aerials. I went below and disconnected them just it case we got hit. In the end we didn’t but as we were the highest point in the area I thought there was every chance we would.  I stowed a lot of loose stuff below as well to save it from getting knocked around.
We were now doing ok and Elsi was happy with what was happening. I went below and slept a broken sleep but every time I woke we were still ok and moving downwind.

It eased overnight and backed around so that by 0300 I could set the main with two reefs in and the full main and Jib by 0630.
By mid-day we had full sail set. The wind was now SW and heading us and only F2-3. If the water was flat we could move along ok with that. But the sea is still lumped up from yesterday and the swell keeps knocking the wind out of the sails. It’s slowed us up a lot today.
During the afternoon the wind fell away completely for a couple of hours. When it came back it was from the NNW about a F3. So we’re sailing along fine with that just now.
Alyson says we might get W’ly winds tomorrow so I may head a bit inshore overnight to give us a better angle on them when they arrive.
……..

The wind slowly backed round during the evening and night. I was up several times altering course and easing the sheets as the wind came more abeam and then astern. By 0200 I could set the full mainsail again and by 0700 the genoa was poled out as well.

I am spending more time on deck down here. The weather can change so quickly that it as well to be up to see what’s happening. I see Albatross everyday now and as we sailed towards two birds in the water I heard one of them give an indignant, “Squak”! When I looked closer I saw they were two penguins. They gave me the impression that I was encroaching on their territory and it was us who had to move and not them.
I was surprised to see them so far offshore; we were about 50 miles off. They don’t fly so it’s a fair old swim for them. I assume they Magallenic Penguins, as they are the most common around here. We passed another one soon after and another four after that.

The sailing has been good all day. We’ve been running goosewinged under full sail and making good speed. The sky filled with mackeral scales in the morning and the wind picked up a bit but only to a F4. In the early afternoon, when the barometer started dropping, a thin hazy cloud began to cover the sky to windward. I was sure the wind was going to pick up but it cleared again with no real change. But less than an hour later, when the barometer had dropped 5 millibars in 2.5 hrs it was the top end of a F5 and I had to reduce sail.

Not long ago we passed only a few metres away from something, which I thought might have been a wooden box covered in thick seaweed. The big bladed type you find normally clinging to rocks. It was just above the surface and whatever was underneath looked pretty solid. As we were making a good speed I was thankful we hadn’t hit it.
Then we passed another two in less than an hour and I wondered if it was just seaweed and nothing else. If we ran through a clump it could rip the steering oar off.
According to Alyson this N’ly wind looks set to continue all night so we should have a good days run by noon tomorrow.

The wind was very up and down again last night. At midnight it was S’ly and at 0100 it freshened quickly and backed right round to the north about a F4. As it did so the sky completely covered over and then cleared again just as quick. I sat for a while wondering what it was going to do next. Behind me I saw low cloud moving fast towards us and I hurried for’ard to drop the genoa. It turned out top be no more than a F5 but down here you’re never sure what you’re going to get.

When that had blown past the wind fell away to nothing. I sat for a while thinking it might rise again but there was just no wind. As I dropped the sails we had a visit from three, I think they were, Peale’s dolphins. The wind came up less than an hour later and we got going again.

At 0630 there were three Argentinean fishing boats to the east of us. The wind was a light NE’ly about F2 and we ran goose winged under full sail. The tanker Maria Victoria V passed close by mid morning heading for the river Plate.

Between 1000 and 1400 there were a lot of wind changes and sail changes and we went from running easily before a N’ly F2 to battering to windward in a S’ly F6. An area of high pressure is moving through just now and we might have N’ly’s again after this blast from the south has gone through.

I put on the new headsail sheets today and noticed just how worn the old ones are by comparison. The lashing holding the tack block on the bowsprit was showing signs of wear so I renewed it during one of the sail changes.

The wind was up and down all night and I was up and down with it. At 2200 I had to get up to alter our course. There was a spectacular lightning display happening to the northwest. Immense flashes of sheet lightning constantly highlighted towering pillars of cumulonimbus over the coast. It was like a natural firework display on a huge scale. There was rarely a second when there was not a flash somewhere and it was more or less continuous. We were safe enough where we were but it must have been really impressive, and a bit anxious, to have been onshore below it when it was happening. I sat and watched it for a while in amazement. Probably the most fantastic display I’ve ever seen.

I had to get up again at midnight and again at 0200 and it was just the same. By 0430 the lightning had eased but the wind was up and I had to take a reef in again.
There was an amazing sunrise after all this. The clouds had moved out to sea but were still as tall and wide reaching. The sun was rising and created a massive crimson glow behind them, as a rain squall ran away to the south. In the west, below the full moon, there were streaks of light rising from a point below the moon and fanning out all around it like a laser show.

By 0800 I was able to set the genoa and pole it out. The wind was down a bit and the barometer was rising. At about the same time we passed south of 40ºS.
The sun seems really fierce here. I got burned a bit yesterday and have had to put on sun cream today for the first time since the oppressive heat of the tropics. Is it the weakening of the ozone layer?

Apparently we could be seen on internet AIS yesterday for the first time in a while. There must be a good VHF antenna around the coast as we were about 50 miles offshore at the time.

We’ve sailed well all morning but now (1330) the wind has fallen and although we are still moving the sails are slapping around a lot. I went into my drink locker to get something to toast all the old sailors who have passed through the Forties before. I had to move some cans of Dr Pepper out of the way to get to the beer and when I picked them up they nearly flew up into my hand. They were nearly all empty. The bottoms had corroded out of them. The aluminium they make them with must be really thin. Some cans of Ginger beer had gone the same way. I have a case of coca cola stowed under another locker and maybe it’s gone the same way. The beer seems to be standing up better so there must be a moral in there somewhere! I’d seen and mopped up brown water in the bilge for some time and assumed it was rust coming from somewhere. But I’m thinking now it was Dr Pepper. I was trying to ration them out but maybe now I’ll just have to use them up rather than let them go to waste.

It’s Mam’s birthday today so Happy Birthday Mam! There is a gathering planned for later tonight at the house so I’ll phone then and get to speak to the family.

As I’m writing this we have at least two Humpback whales breaching about half a mile away. We’ve been becalmed all day about 100nm to seaward of the mouth of the river Plate (Rio de la Plata). It’s been glassy calm all day and we’ve gone nowhere.
There have been plenty of birds around. Albatross, Cape Hens, they do make a sort of clucking sound, which is maybe where they get their name, and Mother Carey’s Chickens. They are nearly always in the air but a lot of the time today they have been sitting in groups on the water, maybe there’s not enough wind to make for easy flying.
I saw a shark earlier; I think only the second time I’ve ever seen one in the deep ocean. Not sure what it was but it looked to be about 10′ to 12′ long. He didn’t appear to be too interested in us and lazily swam around with two fins breaking the surface.

I took the opportunity of the calm to lift up the Aries and take off the steering oar.
I thoroughly cleaned it of goose barnacles with a scraper and scrubbing brush. The big ones were obvious but there were plenty of little spots of them on there just waiting to get bigger as well.
As I was working with it I could hear a soughing like a whale blowing but I couldn’t see any plumes of spray. The sound got louder and more frequent, like someone blowing across the top of a deep wide necked bottle. I was sure it was whales and as I looked up I could see the fins of at least two Humpbacks surfacing and falling away again. With the stillness of the day it sounded like they weren’t far away at all but they were at least half a mile away.

I spoke on the radio to Dean earlier. He is of the Winlink email operators who receive and send on these messages for the website. He is based in the north of Chile near Iquique and lives on the edge of the Alto Plano desert in a house powered entirely by solar power. Just now he is only one of two contacts I can get reliable emails sent through. The other is Colin, another radio amateur, based in Cape Town.

Well, I’ve seen more wildlife today than I’ve seen for a while. I was peeling an onion in the cockpit in the late afternoon when a seal popped his head up alongside. He took one look at me and dived under again. I haven’t seen him since. I was able to get sails up at 1630 with just a whisper of wind to move us. About ten minutes later there was a huge splash 50 metres to starboard, which I think was another Humpback. So, we’re moving again after a very windless day. I did get the steering oar cleaned so it wasn’t entirely wasted. The barometer is falling so there may be more wind before too long.

p.s. I’d written the above for sending and was on deck on the phone to Alyson when there was a school of about 50 dolphins appeared on one side of us and another with maybe 30 dolphins on the other side plus another three seals playing themselves not far away. Maybe this place is teeming with fish, there must be something attracting them.

The wind backed around to the SE in the late afternoon yesterday and freshened to a F4. We had a fine sail overnight, making good progress and we’re still going well. The wind has backed to the NE and we are running goose winged before it making good speed and on course.
It’s been a warm sunny morning and the sailing has been splendid. High above us an enthusiastic artist with a sweeping hand has been let loose on a blue canvas with a big tub of white paint. He’s drawn long wispy streaks of cirrus right across the sky, some Van Gogh swirls and a section with giant Albatross feathers as well as a gesture to the area.

I had the solar panel out twice today and twice had to put it away because the batteries seemed to be getting too much charge. The first time the shaft alternator was running as well and that can put out a fair amount of amps if it’s turning fast. We have been making 5 – 6kts at times today. Running downwind like this the Aerogen doesn’t do much. It’s not turning today at all in fact. The batteries seem well up anyway.

Some of my lemons had gone mouldy so I took them out on deck and scrubbed them in a basin with salt water. I have about a dozen left now. I’ll miss them when they’re gone as they make a good refreshing drink.

We’ve had a good days run of 107 miles but for the first time the distance point to point on the chart is less than that recorded by the log. The north going Falklands Current is beginning to set against us.

As we passed Mar del Plata the AIS registered a whole fleet of fishing boats and others lying in there. There were over 70 in all. It doesn’t look so big on the chart but it must be a reasonable sized port.
If this wind keeps up we’ll be in the Roarin’ Forties by tomorrow. I hope they don’t roar too loud for us. With any luck they will have laryngitis with all the roaring and will need to rest all next week. We’ll see.

We had a very pleasant end to the day yesterday. The wind picked up enough to keep us slowly sailing downwind; the nearly full moon rose astern and the sun sank down below a horizon that was fine and settled.
We sailed along easily all night with sails filled but around mid-day the wind dropped and backed and we are now having to sail east of south to keep going.

I really want to get a bit nearer to the land but this wind isn’t letting us. If it keeps up we may have to tack to get inshore a bit. When the old square riggers were on this track it was common for the larger ships, which were well able to stand up to the weather, to hold a course straight from Rio to the Horn. But many of the Captains on smaller ships said it was good advice to keep within 100 miles of the coast between Cabo Corrienties, where we are now and the south. So that is what I am attempting to do. When gales come on they are nearly always from the west and once they have blown through the sea isn’t too long in settling down again.
This wind isn’t helping us today and if it backs too far we will have to tack round to head nearer the coast.

I’ve spent a while of the afternoon swatting flies. We had a swarm of bluebottles land onboard as well as a few moths, a couple of wasps and two red and black things that were over an inch long and I don’t know what they were. I don’t mind swatting the flies and wasps but it seems a shame to get rid of the moths. Still, I can’t allow them to take up residence. You would maybe expect this close in to the land but we are about 80 miles offshore.

I was able to download a weather file for this area from the Winlink radio set-up. It said the wind for this area would be easterly F3 with a probability of isolated storms. I looked outside. The weather was fine and settled and the barometer was neither too high nor too low. But, I believe you can get storms coming from a clear blue sky down here so I’ve been keeping a watchful eye all day. So, far we’re ok.