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All posts in January, 2014

Yesterday I said I’d seen a Mollymawk and that it was a big seabird that looks a bit like an Albatross but is smaller. After I’d had a browse through my seabird book I realized a Mollymawk is another name for several kinds of Albatross! So, I’m sorry about that. I don’t know my Molly Mawk’s from my Albert Rosses.

While I was on the phone to Alyson last night I saw what I think was a Yellow nosed Albatross wheeling around. They barely flap their wings at all, just swoop and rise and circle round effortlessly. I rarely see them catching anything but they must always find enough for they are big birds and they must need a lot of feed every day to keep them going.

We had a settled night and this morning the sailing has been a fine reach before the wind in a ENE’ly F3-4. The barometer is still high and the weather is fine and settled. One of the signs of a Pampero is a slowly falling barometer and the wind in the north. So I’m hoping it isn’t going to swing up around a bit.

There were a few oil related ships to the east of me last night. I think they were survey ships by the way they were moving slowly around.

I was stunned by the news yesterday that Davie Henderson had died. I’ve known Davie for over 30 years and had spoken to him not long before leaving. He was a keen follower of this website and a real genuine person. Our sympathies go to Janice and the family.

Alyson had told me the wind would pick up from the south overnight and that’s exactly what it did. At 1840 I went on deck to take down the genoa and set the jib before darkness came on. Big masses of dark grey cloud were forming to windward but it was a beautiful crimson sky as the sun set.

It turned out to be a good time to do it as the jib was no sooner hoisted when the wind began to freshen from the south. I had to take one reef in, then another and soon we were tearing along with spray flying around us! I sat up a while enjoying the sailing as the night closed in around us.
I knew I wouldn’t rest easy below though as we were just on the limit for the sail we had set, it was about F6 by this time. So, I took down the jib and set a smaller staysail. We lost a bit of speed but it was marginal and Elsi was much better balanced.

It stayed fresh all night F6-7, slowly backing round to be in the SE by around 0700. It had eased a bit and I was able to set more sail. We were sailing along fine but the sea was very lumpy and there was plenty of spray coming aboard. Throughout the morning the wind was mostly SE F5 but it was very up and down, gusty then easing, which made it a bit tricky for the Aries to hold a steady course.

Mid-morning we passed a fishing boat. She wasn’t that big, only about 50′-60′. We gave each other a wave as we passed. I don’t know what she was fishing for, I couldn’t see her towing any nets, but I passed a buoy fairly close to her. It couldn’t have been anchored as it was far too deep but it was certainly one of hers.

The batteries had got a good charge because of the fresh wind and were both nearly fully topped up. I used the chance to transfer some photos from the camera onto the laptop and a memory stick. I’d taken some photos of the fishing boat as we passed and it was odd to see them right away on the screen.  As always, the ones I’d taken when the wind and sea was up a bit looked like we were sailing in fine weather. You had to have been there!

Now (1400) we’re going along fine still. The wind is a F5 on the beam and the sun is highlighting the breaking crests. It’s lumpy but we are making good progress. The sea is still warm but it will be starting to cool soon.

There are a few White chinned Petrels (Cape Hens) around and also a Mollymawk, a big seabird that looks a bit like an Albatross but is smaller.

The wind didn’t pick up as I’d hoped yesterday afternoon. It fell away light and we slowly carried on with sails slapping and us rolling more sideways than moving ahead. Then at 1715 I was below at the chart table, trying to get one of these emails sent off to Alyson, when I heard the Aerogen starting to turn and the sails started to fill. When I looked out there was one of the most amazing cloud displays I’d ever seen. I think they were lenticular clouds and were on the passage of a front. I took some photos and some video but I was wasn’t sure what the wind was going to do next.

It had started to freshen and to play safe I dropped the genoa and set the jib. But it didn’t rise any more than a F4 from WNW. An hour later and the wind was from the SW about the same strength. By 2100 it had dropped away again and by the time I had got the jib down and the genoa pulled up there was hardly a breath of wind. There was a confused swell, with the change in the wind, and the sails were slapping and flogging all over the place. I dropped them a couple of hours later and turned in for some sleep. There was a ship not too far away but nothing came up on the AIS.

By 0100 the wind was back from the NW about a F4. I was tired and dragged myself yawning and sleepy from the bunk. By the time I’d set sails I was wide awake and then couldn’t get to sleep for a while. I could hear the wind getting lighter all the time till it was just hardly enough to overcome the swell and though the sails slapped and flapped and rattled constantly we were moving.

In the morning I witnessed a chase. A fish started leaping frantically out of the water not far from us. After a few leaps I saw a fin, it looked like a dolphin, chasing after it. Each time the fish leaped the fin got nearer and nearer until there was no more leaping and the water went still. Someone had got their breakfast and someone else hadn’t had such a great day.

By 1300 the swell had died down a bit and the wind had picked up to a F2-3. It was actually very pleasant sailing but it had also backed around more to the SW and so we were heading south instead of southwest. At least we were moving somewhere.

When I woke up this morning I thought at first we were at anchor. There was hardly any movement. But it must just have been a smooth patch we’d sailed through. The sea was slight though and that makes everything a lot easier.

By 1900 last night the wind had steadied enough to stop the sails flogging and get us moving. We ran goose winged before a NE F3 all night.
Marilyn had given me memory sticks full of music for my Christmas and birthday and this morning I spent a while copying it across to my ipod. There’s some really good stuff among it! Some artists I’d never heard of and some I’ll certainly try to hear more of in future. Thanks Marilyn!

Part of everyday just now is spent looking around Elsi to see how well prepared she is for the stronger winds of the south. Each day I find something that could be better stowed or lashed down or altered to suit the conditions. Today I swapped the winch handles on deck, my two best ones, for ones that are second best, just in case one happens to go over the side. I found a good place to put the biggest Spanish ham and the loose tins of coffee, tea, and odds and ends that usually lie loose around the galley.

There’s been a small zoo onboard today. We’ve had two, what looked like dragonflies, two moths and two of some other kind of fly. I’ve seen more insects this trip than I’ve seen whales!

I made a pan bannock from a recipe Mam had tucked away in a cookery book. It didn’t turn out as good as hers but it made a passable lunch for me.

The area we are sailing in to is interesting as far as weather goes. The area around the mouth of the river Plate is the place where the south going current running down the coast of Brazil meets the north going current coming up from the south. They split there are merge out into the south Atlantic.

The barometer needs to be watched closely. Low pressure systems can often deepen around this area before moving off E or SE. The geography also favours the development of secondary lows on a cold front and intensifies them. Strong SE winds, locally called Sudestadas, occasionally reach storm force.
Small anti-cyclones that pack a punch can also bring disturbed rather than fine weather to the area. These later become absorbed into the regular high pressure belt in mid ocean. This type of unstable weather rarely occurs anywhere else in the world.

Sudden storms locally called Pamperos can also form here. The cold front of a low pressure system can bring in a quick rising and violent wind from between south and west often with torrential rain. The worst of the wind is usually at the onset. About 20 Pamperos a year occur around the river Plate.

Certainly we can expect an end to the fine spell of northerly weather that has got us this far down the coast. The predominant wind from now on is likely to be from the west, from southwest to northwest.  It will make life interesting to be sure.

The wind now (1645) has backed into the west and fallen light. We are still moving but not making much headway. Hopefully it will pick up a bit later.

Jan 9th By 1900 last night the wind, which had swung round to come ahead of us, had fallen away light and we were barely moving. By 2100 we were not moving at all and I had to drop the sails. A cargo ship the Happy Success passed about a mile ahead of us at this time headed from San Lorenzo.

There was no wind all night. Before I got up in the morning the first thing I noticed was that we weren’t moving all that much. There was some swell, as you would expect 150nm from land, but it was slighter than it had been for some time. I thought it would be a fine chance to have another go at the goose barnacles.

I had some breakfast and rigged lines around Elsi to pull me down on then got all suited up. I had a look over the side. There were two small black and blue striped fish swimming under us. Wasn’t that the kind that followed the sharks and kept their skins clean? I couldn’t see any sharks so thought I would just go for it and was in the water by 0700. I worked for about an hour and got a fair bit done in that time. The worst clumps were on the keel and on the weld where the hull met the keel, rather than on the flat of the hull. So they were a bit trickier, and took more time, to get off.

I went right round both sides and after an hour I’d had enough. I didn’t want to stay in so long that I got too tired and couldn’t get out and I was well pleased with what I’d got done anyhow. I got out and treated myself to a Mars bar and a long drink of fresh water. Alyson says goose barnacles are a tapas specialty in parts of Spain. I didn’t gather any but I’d be intrigued to try them at some time.

There was still no wind so we just had to sit wallowing around. There was a lot of stuff floating around us. There were huge numbers of baby Portuguese man o’ wars, thousands of them. There must have been a mass spawning, as they were great carpets of them all over the place. Tiny crabs were swimming among them and a small thing like a sea snake about four inches long. Yesterday I’d found a live moth tucked up under the helm and today there were quite a number of his relatives floating feet up among all the man o’ wars. Because there was so little wind the surface was glassy and in those patches it appeared to be covered in what looked like dust but I assume was some kind of spawn. Hopefully not goose barnacles.
I’ve seen more plastic floating this morning than I’ve seen the whole trip so far. Carrier bags, wrappings and loose strips all just in the small patch of ocean we were floating in. Not sure why it should be worse here.

By 1300 the lightest of breezes had come up from the east and I pulled up sails. Now at 1400 we are moving but only just. I can hear the sails flogging a lot. I’d best go up and see if it’s worthwhile keeping them set.

Noon position Jan 8th 31º 16’S  47º 52’W   Days run 116nm
The barometer had been falling since mid-day yesterday and after speaking with Alyson I decided to reduce sail before nightfall. It was as well I did. The wind had been rising slowly all night and then at 0130 it picked up sharply and I had to put two reefs in the main. I didn’t get much sleep between then and sunrise. At 0500 the wind was more a F7-8 and I put a third reef in the main and set the storm jib to try and keep our head downwind. We were rolling a fair bit and at times the end of the boom was a metre below the sea. According to the AIS we were making seven knots, which it about as fast as Elsi ever goes. I hoped it would drag every goose barnacle off the hull but they are too tenacious for that.

The first light of the new day showed an army of grey clouds moving fast across a red eastern sky. Red sky in the morning – sailors warning? We seemed to be fairly well settled though with the sail we had set and I turned in for some sleep. By 0830 the barometer was leveling out and an hour later it was definitely beginning to rise. I went out at 0930 to see how things looked.

As I sat down I was surprised to feel the deck warm under my hand in the midst of all this wind and sea. It was overcast but the sun was still shinning through the cracks. A flying fish had got lodged in one of the cockpit drains. The wind was still fresh but no worse than it had been. To windward I could see the smoky greyness of rain coming across the water towards us. As it hit and enveloped us it was short-lived but very heavy. Every drop was an explosion as it hit the water. I thought about going below for the rain bucket but I could see it was clearing on the back of it and it would be past by the time I had got it rigged.

A white chinned petrel having a rest on the water ahead of us obviously thought we were getting a bit too close. With an anxious look it lifted its wings, did a short run across the water into the wind and was airborne. The rain seemed to ease the wind a bit, which had now swung more NW’ly. I sat for a bit to see if it would stay as it was and it seemed settled enough. I let out a reef so that we now had two reefs in the main.

The day’s run was 116nm but from point to point on the chart it is more like 140nm. At times we were certainly moving fast on the night. Now (1630) we have the jib set in place of the staysail with two reefs in the main. The wind has backed to the SW and eased to a F5 but we can no longer hold the course we want. So, we are heading away from the coast instead of down along it. Hopefully it will change before too long and we can be sailing free again soon.

The wind eased enough by 1900 last night for me to get a couple of reefs in the main and sail a bit faster. As I came down into the cabin the VHF was crackling into life, “Yacht Elsi Arrub, this is the Western Neptune on channel 16, do you receive, over”.  It was a survey ship 9 miles ahead of us and on a reciprocal course. They were towing cables, which I think he said were five miles long, and he wanted to be sure I would be clear of them. Bizarrely, they had internet onboard and had been looking at this website before calling me up. At about the same time the container ship HS Paris passed 2nm astern of heading in to discharge her cargo in Santos.

This morning the wind was light enough to get the genoa set and we sailed along fine for a while before the wind dropped light and by 1000 there was hardly anything. I saw something on the water ahead and altered course slightly to see what it was.
It looked like a green compost or fertilizer bag but as we passed it I saw it was, or had been, an inflatable toy helicopter with most of the puff out of it. Some little kid probably watched it disappear out over the ocean a few days ago.

I had been scraping off some goose barnacles and with the wind so light I thought it would be a good opportunity to dive below and see how bad the bottom was with barnacles and scrape some off.

I dropped the sails to bring us to a complete stop and as I did I noticed a build up of dark clouds that stretched from south to west. There was a thin dark line just where the sea met the sky stretching as far as the cloud base as if someone had emphasized it with a dark pencil. As I watched the line grew thicker and the clouds appeared to come nearer. I went below and pulled on oilskins. When the wind hit us soon after it rose from barely anything to a F6 in about two minutes. Luckily the sails were down and that made life easier.

I wondered what sails to set when the weather made up my mind for me. The wind was from the SW or SSW and continued to grow so that by the time I’d got the genoa below it was near a full gale. It was too much to sail against. I lashed the mainsail, coiled up the log line, lashed the helm and secured the Aries. Then I got up the trysail, a small heavy weather mainsail and got it set. I have a separate track in the mast for this sail so I don’t have to alter the mainsail. I pulled it up and got the sheets tightened up. Setting this sail meant we were hove to with Elsi’s bow now pointed more into the sea than if there were no sail set. The sail also helps to dampen the roll a fair bit as well. Being hove to isn’t really that uncomfortable and is a lot better than battering to windward. So that’s where we are now, hove to in the Santos Basin south of Rio.

The barometer isn’t low. In fact it’s at 1020mb just now. But I’ve seen before down here that a high of 1020mb can have as much wind in it as a low of 980mb. So, hopefully, with this coming up so fast it will be shortly past and we will be on our way again before too long.

The wind backed during the night and at 0230 I had to pole out the genoa in order to keep us on course. Otherwise it was flogging in the lee of the mainsail. It’s certainly cooler now in the early morning but as the morning grows there is still a fair bit of heat in the sun yet.

There has been poor radio propagation the past few days, and as a result I haven’t been able to send or receive email. Alyson got an email from Dean, a radio amateur in Chile who works with this service. He has volunteered to help by targeting his antenna towards me. So Dean, thanks very much for that.

I have the Aerogen wind generator rigged so that it can be taken down and taken inside if need be in strong winds. Normally it runs with six blades but today I took it down and removed two of the blades. I did this on the last trip about this latitude as well.

There are a few reasons for doing this. With the stronger winds in the south it’s not so liable to overcharge with four rather than six blades. Also it means I can get the whole thing through the cabin door without having to take the blades off the machine first. Inside I have a box rigged under the foredeck which holds the four bladed unit once it’s off the machine. I can stow it in there and it is completely out of the way. With all six blades on it is a circle about a metre in diameter and far trickier to stow so that it doesn’t get damaged. The downside is that it doesn’t spin so well in lighter winds but that’s something I’m willing to accept. The pros of downsizing outweigh the cons for me.

We’ve had some good sailing today. The wind has been F4-5 from the NE and we have been clipping along goosewinged at a good rate of knots. We will be south of 30º S by tomorrow and I will have to dig out new plotting sheets for the sights. The next sheet will take us down to 48º S. Whether we get much sun down there and whether it is possible to get reasonable sights we’ll just have to see.

 For the first time this morning it was more comfortable to go on deck with a shirt on than with bare skin. The sky was overcast all morning. The sky was overcast all morning but it cleared off to a fine day later with Trade wind like cumulus with plenty of blue patches to let the sun shine through.

The galley has been rigged for fine weather cruising up till now and today I sorted through it to make it more ready for stronger winds in the south. Anything I didn’t want flying around I stowed in various lockers.

I still wanted to get under the water and check the goose barnacles and today seemed as good as any. There wasn’t too much wind but there was a swell of about one metre. I checked around and could see no shark fins and nothing swimming under Elsi. There were three White Chinned Petrels, (Cape Hens), bobbing together not far from Elsi. Trying to be optimistic I figured if there was a shark around he would have gone for one of them.

I found a length of braided rope that would sink and rigged it around Elsi, from one side the other, so that it passed under the keel, then tied off both ends. This would give me something to hold onto in the water and let me pull myself under to get near to the keel.
I lashed a scraper on to the boathook and tied it on to my wrist. Marilyn and Terry had bought me a new drysuit as a present before leaving. I got it out and pulled it on and went in. There were certainly plenty of goose barnacles but not quite as bad as last time. It was very patchy. There were dense clumps in places while other parts of the hull were untouched. I scraped off the denser lots first but the motion really hampered me. With Elsi rising and falling about a metre I could see what I was scraping about half the time and the other half I was working blind.

I swallowed more salt water than I wanted to in the times I thought my mouth was clear enough of the water to get a breath and it wasn’t. I stayed in just over half an hour and that was enough. The motion was wearing me out. The motion and trying to hold on with one hand and scrape with the other while holding my breath. I’d got some clearance made and it felt better to have done something. I got sails set again and, maybe it was just my imagination, but it felt like we were going faster.
If the wind falls away again and we get less swell I’ll have another go to get some more off. They’ll grow back again though. It seems even if there’s a sliver left after scraping them off they regenerate and grow again.



It’s my birthday! I’m 55 today. What’s an old fool like me doing out here on his 55th birthday? I should be in the comfort of my own home with a cold pint and a slap up feed on the table, family around and taking it easy. Ah well, that’ll be next year. I’m here this year and it will be something to look back on next January.

Where does all the time go? It’s only a few years ago that I was leaving school and starting a job and yet shortly I’ll be 60! Where’s all that time gone? This life is pretty short and we have to make the most of it while we’re here. A lifetime is no more than the blink of an eye in the great scheme of things. Carpe Diem!

The gale had eased down during the night but I waited till daylight until I put up more sail. By that time I could set the jib and the main with one reef in. The wind was SE’ly about F4-5. A couple of hours later and it had backed more to the east and dropped to a F3 allowing me to set the full main and the genoa.

I opened presents that the family had put onboard before I left. Socks and sweets, puzzles to keep my mind active and exercise stuff to keep my body active, a pendrive with loads of good music and podcasts and a blank jotter for me to draw some of what I’ll see this year. All brilliant stuff! I phoned round all the family and thanked them all for thinking ahead and making sure things were onboard.

A few of the masks in the netting I have around the foredeck had come undone so I re-tied them to keep everything together and also pulled down the topping lift to check it for chafe. It was fine. I gave it a fresh coat of Vaseline to hopefully keep it that way.
It’s been overcast all day with barely a glimpse of sun. I did get a morning sight when the sun was behind some thinner cloud but there’s been no blue anywhere in the sky today. The temperature is still pleasantly warm, 27º C inside the cabin, a lot more bearable than the mid 30’s we were getting a couple of weeks ago.

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