6 December 2013

All yesterday afternoon I thought I could hear the low rumble of thunder but as if were very far away. To windward the sky looked overcast but it didn’t look like a thundery sky and at times I began to imagine I was hearing things. But as the afternoon wore on the clouds built up and there was no doubt any more that it was thunder I’d heard. It grew louder and at times seemed to rumble on and on so that there was hardly a break between. Then the lightning started. It was right ahead of us and we were sailing steadily towards it. Brilliant forks with immense electrical power in them streaked down to the horizon. I counted the time between the strike and the rumble starting. It was twelve seconds. Not very far away. Elsi’s mast isn’t very high but it was the tallest thing for miles around and I began to feel very vulnerable. I was due to have a radio schedule with the local club about that time but I pulled the fuses from the radio and other things just in case we got hit.

While all this was going on we were suddenly surrounded by a large school of dolphins. They were mainly at the bow but were all around us. If they were concerned by what was happening above the surface they certainly didn’t show it. It was a kind of surreal experience, all this potentially deadly thunder and lightning and dolphins playing casually around us.

It started to rain. As I went below I could hear my onions sizzling. I’d put on the tea to cook while all this was happening. As it happened the rain cleared away and so did the thunderstorm. When it did we were left with enough wind from the NNE to hold a steady course and keep the sails from slapping too much. The wind held all night and it was the best night’s sailing we’ve had in a while. It wasn’t enough to keep the sails full all the time but we were underway.

As the days light started to come in the sun rose like an orange hot air balloon. It slowly filled and appeared to cling to the water for a bit when it was almost full then finally got enough heat in it to lift up and rise above the surface. A tanker, the King Edward, passed us at the same time bound for the Cape Verde’s with some kind of fuel. The AIS said they would be there by 2300 tonight.

I rigged the towing generator this morning. It’s just something I made up myself using a permanent magnet alternator with an aluminnium propeller on a length of braided rope. It seems to work fine and at 4kts was giving out 2 amps. I should really have a funnel to slip over the line to stop the propeller from turning when I retrieve it but I don’t. So the hardest bit is actually pulling the prop back in again. If it’s too difficult I can always heave to or drop sails to slow us right up to get it back aboard.

Chafe is a continual problem onboard as Elsi is constantly moving and I have to watch for it all the time. I can check the halyards easily enough but the topping lift has to be lowered to the deck to inspect it. Today I pulled down the topping lift to check it. I have three reefs in Elsi’s mainsail but in these latitudes I have taken the third reef pennant off the sail. I don’t need it and it only adds to the chafe. If a storm were to spring up suddenly I could rig it without too much trouble. So to lower the topping lift I sew the end of the third reef pennant onto the end of the topping lift and that gives me enough length to lower it to the deck. When I got it down it looked ok, which was reassuring. I have the halyards and topping lift greased up with Vaseline where they run over the sheaves so I gave it a fresh coat and pulled it back up again. I made a note in the logbook to check it again in 30 days time.

The clocks have gone back another hour today so we are two hours behind GMT now. It’s just after mid-day now and the wind appears to be holding. It’s still a NNE F3 with a low swell from the NW. We’re making 4 knots and the towing generator along with the shaft alternator and the solar panel are topping the batteries up. Our noon position puts us about 180nm from the west end of the Cape Verde’s. If we keep up this speed we’ll be there in two days time; another milestone on the journey.

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