02/18/2013, North Atlantic Ocean - 165 East of Barbados
We should be arriving in Barbados late tomorrow afternoon (touch wood) after 4 weeks at sea to the day from St Helena- hurrah! We will have sailed around 5,350 nautical miles since leaving Cape Town on 5 January, with just a few days in St Helena and only 42.2 engine hours, so we are feeling quite proud of ourselves. Matilda has behaved beautifully with no real issues despite sometimes trying circumstances. Conditions over the past 48 hours have been superb so we are back in love with sailing, but still can't wait to get there. Its looking good that we will have a place in Barbados's only marina (that usually only takes superyachts - clearly times are hard everywhere).
Life on board has been very routine, the highlight of the days being mealtimes where we have eaten very well, if rather unorthodox at times, trying to use up all the provisions. For example, lunch today was fried new potatoes in a Thai red curry sauce, topped by an omelette filled with whole button mushrooms and blue cheese sauce. Quite the experiment, but it turned out to be delicious and filling.
The passage has not been without its excitement. Since hearing of Peat Smoke's encounter with an unlit 'fishing' boat in the middle of the night, that then attempted to board them, we have been a bit neurotic on the night watch, intently scanning the radar. Although we have probably been far out enough not to be in any real danger of similar encounters, we have come across many (lit) fishing boats (without AIS) and one night one did look to be heading directly for us. I wont say we got in a panic, but when it got within a mile of us we had spotlights, flares (as weapons), boat hooks and other means of repelling boarders at the ready before the poor skipper replied to our calls on the radio; he was actually concerned about our intentions (sailing in choppy seas we do lurch around a bit) and then very kindly went well out of his way to give us a wide berth. Just goes to show...
Our next blog will probably be from Barbados, which we are inordinately excited about getting to. It's incredible to think that since leaving Cape Town we have pretty much completed a 1/4 global circumnavigation. It's a long time to spend in a small space, so we'll be very happy to get back to dry land for a change!
02/12/2013, South Atlantic Ocean - 300 miles North of the mouth of the Amazon
We are a few hours from arriving back at the Equator, but not much else been happening. The wind is reaching new levels of non co- operation and seems to want to give up the ghost completely. Yesterday it was either no knots and rain or 25 knots from all directions when squalls passed through. However the really sad part is that in the last 24 hours we have had to use the motor after sailing all the way from Cape Town (3,600 nautical miles!) with only 7 engine hours. We have just put the spinnaker up again, but it is a sorry sight in such light winds.
Ah would you believe it, just as I am writing this, a bit of a bang and the spinnaker falls in the water. Fortunately with so little wind it wasn't too much of a problem to retrieve; we had been nervous of using our second spinnaker halyard, and we were obviously right to be. Now underway again with the spinnaker no 1 halyard, but still only 9 knots of wind!
We understand that all of the Rally boats have made it safely into Salvador and getting ready to partay. We will also be missing the leg awards night - the first one we have missed - so our thoughts have been with the fleet. On this subject, I have been thinking in the wee hours of the night watches that the Rally awards seem a bit limited and a bit unfair that only Rally Control gets to decide who gets them, leaving some of the real achievements to go unnoticed outside of the bar. Wouldn't it be good if the skippers and crew could nominate some awards? I would like to humbly submit some suggestions.
The Donald Crowhurst Award for the Most Creative Leg Declarations - (OK this maybe a bit of a non starter for personal safety reasons, perhaps best left as the usual bar speculation) The Captain Bligh Award for Unreasonable Skipper Behavior - (nominations from crews) The Jack Sparrow Award for Unreasonable Crew Behavior - (nominations from skippers - suspect that the last two awards could be won by the same boat) The Lucrezia Borgia Award for Creative Boat Cuisine The Mrs O'Reilly's Cow Award for Galley Pyrotechnics (points will be added for degree of burn and eyebrow loss) The Mr Bean Award for Foredeck and Rigger Competence The Lance Armstrong Award for Performance Enhancement Excellence (Equipment, Tactics etc)
Eeek, should not have broken off the blog as it is now 2 days later! The weather is mainly to blame, we have hit the mother of squall systems where we plod along with 8-9 knots only to be hit by winds of up to 39 knots every few hours (we got the first mega-one in the wee hours with only one reef in the main, it went on for three hours - what fun, just at the time everyone else was enjoying being drunk and disorderly at the Carnival in Salvador). Very frustrating as we daren't not have a reef in or put anything up too interesting, so whatever gain we get with the squall winds, we lose in the quiet patches. However we now have a very well washed down boat - amazing we haven't dissolved with the amount of water across the decks. Even with all this considered, we still don't appear to be getting anything like the fair winds J'Sea has been reporting, just seem to be getting their dregs. Heigh ho, only one hundred miles to the 2/3rds point so probably a week and a bit from Barbados (Jonathan is still counting the miles) for one very well-earned rum punch.
Must get on. Hope the fleet are having a splendid time in Brazil and will recognize us again in Grenada.
The gremilins have taken hold, we thought this blog went two days ago, but sadly the machine lied. The good news is that the weather is at last co-operating and we are on a bootiful starboard broad reach with consistent 18-24 knots for the last 2 days and looks likely to take us all the way to Barbados - we have certainly earned it, lets hope the grib files are not telling us porkies.
02/03/2013, South Atlantic Ocean - 260 miles East of Ilha de Fernando de Noronha
Jonathan is counting the miles - he doesn't like these long crossings and I think it will take some persuading for him to do an ocean crossing again once we get back. I am not so bad, but this is the longest we have done so we will both be very glad to see land again (roll on Barbados). The wind is behaving itself and, although it is not the quickest, it is comfortable and has picked up from the very slow conditions initially (although that was quite good when we were both down with colds/various plagues). We are pretty much healthy again so that is making life a lot easier. Haven't seen too many boats around, and are only picking the other boats up intermittently on the radio-net now we are getting out of range, but we are still keeping in contact via emails and can get world service over the SSB radio, so well up on the latest cricket scores.
Also haven't seen much other wildlife since we saw a pod of Pilot Whales crossing our bow just after we left St Helena. A bird tried to land on our rigging last night and, after about an hours worth of attempts, gave up. Must be worth their while and I was looking forward to the company, provided it didn't just stop to crap on the deck. We also keep seeing what looks like pinky-purple blown-up condoms on the water, we are assuming these are jellyfish like Portuguese Man-O-Wars, but not sure, perhaps the carnival has started early in Brazil this year. Jonathan keeps threatening to get out the fishing rod, but at the moment our only fresh fish experiences are the flying fish on the decks each morning.
I am continuing my embroidery (Possum Up a Tree), but it may defeat me, with the rocking of the boat and my eyesight not being what it was. I pretty much pierced my tongue after a particularly lively wave hit when the needle was in my mouth awaiting threading - I wonder if there are awards for extreme needlework.
We have been baking with mixed success. My bread is reaching new levels of density, I am blaming it on the rocking stopping the rising and not getting a reasonable temperature in the oven- we are still eating the stuff though! It would probably make good ballast or useful to throw if we want to stun a whale. However my vindaloo chickpea burgers, quishe and chilli's are going down a treat, and I am going to start making pizza soon. We have plenty of provisions, but we are down to cabbage, carrots and a few tomatoes on the fresh stuff.
Jonathan is on a personal crusade to save the water and reckless washing (ie washing everyday) is frowned upon. We will be halfway soon and still have more than half a tank, so we are doing OK so not too sure what the fuss is about (we also have a small water maker and fresh emergency water anyway for drinking). However I am relieved to say today is going to be a shower day for both of us - I think the atmosphere in here is getting a little spicy. I have to admit I quite like the lack of ceremony getting up and dressed in the morning, I literally do put on what's first to hand with no thought to co-ordination - only smell dictates - and the hair is in a permanent ponytail. Oh the joys of long distance sailing.
Heather and Jonathan, signing out from the middle of bloody nowhere...
01/29/2013, South Atlantic Ocean - 225 miles West of Ascension Is.
The last month aboard matilda has been like living aboard a hospital ship. My cold started just as we left Cape Town almost a month ago, and Heather has been struck down since we left St Helena. I seem to be having a relapse, so with all the coughing and complaining going on, there's no place we'd rather be... in fact pretty much anywhere would do.
The 26th of january was Australia Day, and we celebrated by officially completing our circumnavigation. We passed the line of longitude for Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, which is as far East as we sailed matilda during our shake down in 2011. So whatever happens now, we have at least ticked "sail around the world" off our bucket lists.
Thoughts of Barbados are keeping us going at the moment. There is a nice new marina there and they say they have room for us in February - all we have to do is get there in time. Barbados is the home of by favourite tipple, Mount Gay rum. So we will definitely be paying the distillery, just outside Bridge Town a visit whilst there.
We are having the slowest leg ever at the moment, with incredibly low daily distances covered. Just our luck for this to happen on our longest leg (3,650 nautical miles!). The wind has been a steady 8 to 10 knots most of the time, which is enough to fly our parasailor, but only just. We have had the parasailor up day and night for the last week (we have been at sea for one week now) and we have been making slow progress. We didn't want to run the engine as we will probably need all the diesel we have for the dead zone near the equator. We are running the engine now, motorsailing to charge the batteries back up to 100%. This is the first time we've had to do this as the Duogen has been performing brilliantly as usual.
Unfortunately we had a little accident with the parasailor last night. The webbing straps which hold the wing in place have been sun damaged at the top, and each one failed in spectacular fashion just before night fall. It shouldn't be too hard to fix, as we have lost of new webbing - just a very laborious sewing job to do it right. What's more we can only use our white sails now, which are incredibly slow downwind. We do have a spare spinnaker, but it's buried under the forward bunk and I'm not sure I can be bothered setting it all up - might as well spend the time fixing the parasailor.
Despite the sickness aboard, we are managing to stay fairly chipper. We can still pick up some of the rest of the fleet occasionally on the radio nets, which is nice. It's looking like it will be a very long passage, which we may decide to cut down by stopping in Fortaleza depending on how our provisions are looking as we approach the Brazilian coast. Just keep thinking of that rum punch on the beach in Barbados...
01/23/2013, South Atlantic Ocean - 145 miles West of St Helena
Yesterday at 8am we began the last big sailing leg of our circumnavigation. We have now decided to head straight for Barbados where there is a nice marina and good rum. We've read up on the place and it should be a good place for us to unwind and recharge after almost 4 weeks at sea (yes, that's right, almost 4 weeks). The distance from St Helena to Barbados is 3,650 nautical miles and we're already a day or so into it.
St Helena was a very worthwhile stop; we stayed five days in the end. We made it to the BBQ party at the yacht club and had a last drink with everyone - we should catch the rest of the fleet in Grenada in March (if our generator replacement timing allows).
The principal town is Jamestown, basically one long street in a narrow valley, and to enter the town means going through some serious defenses, including a moat. If you look up at the mountain tops above, there are forts and gun encasements everywhere, they were really serious about defending it back in the day. Most of the buildings in the town are at least 200 years old and seriously quaint. We did a tour of the island with Robert, our local tour guide - he was very friendly and welcoming, typical of the local "Saints". The local accent was a bit challenging sometimes (courtesy of the rich ethnic mix and history) but he managed to impart some fascinating facts as we trundled about. We visited the Governor's Residence, where they have five pet giant tortoises in the garden. The oldest tortoise was called Jonathan, and he was at least 160 years old. It was strange to see him in the flesh, and then to see him featured in some art work from the 1800s outside the same old house. The tour took in the house where Napoleon was held from 1815 till he died in 1821. The museum they have made of it is fascinating and well worth the visit in itself.
The highest point on St Helena is called Diana's peak. We saw this when we did our tour and resolved to walk it before we left. David joined us and we spent a lovely morning walking up, which only took 40 minutes or so. Unfortunately there is little or no signage, and there are trails everywhere, so we ended up somewhere called "Green Hill". Robert had warned us before we set off - "whatever you do, don't go to Green Hill". So of course we got lost and ended up there - it must have happened a few times before I guess. It was a hell of a long walk back to our rendezvous point along the sealed roads, but the scenery was stunning so we didn't mind too much. It was good to get some serious exercise before the long period of inactivity at sea.
Another part of our tour was a visit to the site for the new airport, which is breathing new life into the local economy. We feel privileged to have seen St Helena before it opens, because I can imagine it will be a very different place in a few years' time. From what we can gather, the population seems to be split in half on whether they want it or not, most we talked to would have preferred a decent breakwater. Currently the cruise ships stop by, but apparently the passengers often don't make it ashore. The landing platform is quite an experience, especially if there is a swell. You have to grab a rope hanging from a bar above and monkey your way ashore - you can imagine 500 or so cruise ship passengers trying this; I guess it's not worth the liability unless it's dead calm. The town was all geared-up for a party to come ashore from the MS Sinfonia on Sunday, but the sea was too rough (although it was as flat as we had seen it). They did manage to come ashore on Monday instead, so the local hotels and businesses didn't have to waste all the preparations they had made for the huge influx of visitors. The local hotel landlady was telling us that she has to prepare for 500 meals or nothing - very difficult. It made our last day on the island a little more challenging as we tried to provision and get water aboard, so in the end we stayed another night in the mooring field and left Tuesday morning.
I also managed to climb Jacob's ladder one day with David and Hillary from Peat Smoke, while Heather watched from the swimming pool below. It was quite a hard climb up but well worthwhile. I radio'd Gunvor from the top to say goodbye as we noticed them nosing out of the harbour and heading for Salvador. We can still hear a couple of the boats on the radio net each day, but that will get more difficult as we work our way further North, away from the rest of the fleet.
So far the winds have been light, and although frustrating, probably for the best as Heather has come down with the dreaded cold and so is better doing stuff horizontally that requires the strength of a toddler.
01/16/2013, South Atlantic Ocean - 75 miles from St Helena
We should arrive at St Helena tomorrow morning, but this trip has been a bit frustrating and we're feeling a bit cheated. Everything pointed to longed-for straightforward sailing, but it has actually been a bit more challenging with the latter part of the crossing characterised by light winds with lots of squalls. So, for example, yesterday morning we put the parasail up (poled out) so we could at least make some progress downwind with all of 8 knots of wind, only to be taking it down again 2 hours later in the midst of a sudden squall at 25 knots (Laurel and Hardy antics trying to get the frickin thing down and not doing a Dorothy). An hour later and all is still again, the white sails are cracking so we talk ourselves into putting it up again - ARGGH!! Hard work for two tired people, especially with one not at his best having contracted a nasty cold in Cape Town. This pattern has also delayed the time of arrival in St Helena, so we will be there on the day that the locals are putting on the do for us.
However for the past 24 hours things have been lovely, really easy light wind sailing and we have, at last, caught up on our sleep - so all again is well with the world. Lets hope the weather behaves for our last night tonight. I sometimes think these ocean crossings are a bit like how my mother described going into labour. A challenging experience, but after a joyful arrival you completely forget how painful it was - until the next time...
For the first time this trip we are close to a few other boats, so its nice seeing their lights at night and catch up on the VHF (Peat Smoke, Anastasia (left 2 days after us), Sophie, Trompeta, Spirit of Alcides, Juba and At Last). Strange how we can be so far apart for over a week, some doing well, some not so, but all ending up close together towards the end.
We have never seen so many squadrons of flying fish as in these waters, it makes cleaning up the deck in the morning a bit messy. We even get a few squid (how they can jump so high is a mystery), I better start thinking about breakfast sushi. This morning we saw our first birds in a while, so I suppose it shows we are heading towards land. There was a really pretty white one with a long tail feather (as you can tell, I am really up on my ornithology, the Gunvor boys must have their head in their hands) that objected very noisily to our big yellow parasail - it kept circling and squawking at it for some time, I guess he's never seen such a thing in his waters before and clearly up to no good.
We are looking forward to St Helena, but not saying goodbye to everyone. Because of our deviation from the ARC route, tomorrow evening will be the last time we will be with the rest of the fleet in one place until probably St Lucia. Its hard to explain to anyone not a part of this trip how close you get to the other boats and how much we are going to miss everybody.