We are about 29 hours from arriving in Salvador and it is a bright and beautiful day. The winds have been quite light throughout our trip and as we get closer we are slowing down. That has to be the most frustrating thing imaginable. We have had a great trip overall. Mark and I have been talking quite a bit about the fact that this is the last long leg of our trip with the World Arc which has brought a rash of mixed emotions.
In our continuing quest to use the engine as little as possible, we sailed off our mooring ball when we left St. Helena. Not hard to do really, just drop the mooring ball line, raise a sail quickly, and avoid the shore and other boats as you leave the anchorage. Mark and I picked the mooring ball at the end of the mooring field in anticipation of this so we had no boats behind us that needed to be avoided. Why one might ask would we be so concerned about using our engine.
Each official leg of the World Arc is a bit of a race. As part of that race, we have to record our engine hours and your time is penalized for using your engine. Since this leg had a stop in between, the start of the second half began when you dropped your mooring line and thus we would have been penalized for using our engine. Now, some would think that we must be really competitive to leave a mooring field this way. Since we ended the first half of the leg with 1.2 engine hours (one of the lowest in the fleet) it became a challenge for us to continue in that vain. We actually have never learned how the rating and handicap system works for the races and only once have checked our standing at the end of a leg. I also might add that we have never placed in our division at the end of a leg and were more likely to turn on the engine when we reached below five knots than most other boats. So at this late juncture in the rally, Mark and I decided to sail the boat no matter what and force this boat to go despite light winds. The Atlantic Ocean was kind enough to oblige with some of the lightest winds of the trip.
Most notable for me on this leg is that I finally feel like Mark and I are getting the hang of sailing our boat. Given that this is our first boat and we owned it for a mere five years before doing this trip, it makes us relatively inexperienced sailors in comparison to the rest of the fleet. Many of our fellow rally participants have owned boats their entire lives and have over 40 years of sailing experience. Some have circumnavigated before. Others have sailed competitively in famous ocean races. It can be quite intimidating at times. As Mark and I look back at what we knew when we started this trip, we are astonished by how little we knew then and gratified by how much we have learned. Previously, a significant sail change could take us up to 1.5 hours - with at least a half an hour spent debating what sail change we should make. I would often defer to whatever Mark wanted because honestly I never was the one to choose the sail configuration or do sail trim for that matter. Shall I say I was just along for the ride. Well, I guess I have learned a few things because now Mark and I debate what sail change to make. That debate now only takes less than 5 minutes, we make a decision and get the sail change done in as little as 15 minutes. Things that I didn't even know how to do (hoist the spinnaker or raise the whisker pole) are done quickly and seemingly easily. Mark and I have to talk less while making the sail changes, we seem to anticipate what each other needs and have our duties down. Mind you there is still a little bit of yelling - there has to be - as Mark says this is serious stuff. Like when Mark told me to "sit" while we were taking down the whisker pole and I "barked" back that I was not a dog. But these "discussions" seem to stem from lack of sleep more than anything else and the apologies are quick to come after the task is accomplished.
In order to further challenge ourselves, we also changed some of the rules around sail changes and sail configurations on this trip to keep the boat moving forward. We used our spinnaker at night and even flew it for three days straight without taking it down. For those of you non sailors, the spinnaker is the big bright colorful sail that is flow off the bow of the boat. The spinnaker is a light wind sail and it can easily rip if the winds become too great. Most of the fleet has ripped their spinnakers at least once. So when you sail it all night you have to be prepared to take it down in the middle of the night. Taking this sail down in gusty winds can be quite difficult and further complicated by the dark of night. Luckily, we had a beautiful full moon and our foredeck light to help us see when we were making these sail changes.
The sun sets under "Big Al"
We also maximized the use of our whisker pole. The whisker pole is a pole that you hoist and attach a sail to which will keep the sail out and full in light winds. We actually read a manual during the passage to see if there was anything else we could be doing with is. We were telescoping it, moving it forward and aft all in an attempt to sail in the lightest of winds. We also did not hesitate to make major sail changes at night. If we were motoring and the wind picked up we previously would have waited until first light and change of shift to make the change to sailing. This leg we would wake the other person up, even if it was the middle of the night and hoist the sails. We also switched to the spinnaker at night, took down the spinnaker at night, hoisted and/or took down the whisker pole, etc. Nothing was off limits. The end result was that we certainly used less engine hours, sailed in very light winds, and maximized every bit of the wind that we could. We felt like we became real sailors on this leg.
The end result of all of this work is that we had the most physically challenging leg of the rally. When you open yourself to major sail changes at night, someone is left with less sleep. Going to sleep after making that major sail change in the middle of the night is not easy. Your adrenaline is pumping and you need to take time to rejoice in the extra knot of speed you just gained through all that hard work. The physical nature of these sail changes is very challenging. In addition, the spinnaker must be trimmed constantly while it is flying which cut greatly into my nights of watching movies and reading books. Some nights my arms would ache from winching in and letting out the spinnaker an entire three hour shift. As we near the end of this leg, we continue to have one of the fewest engine hours of all the boats in the fleet. We even tolerated going less than four knots at times - now that is slow. Anyone could run faster than that. At this point, we have motored 23.5 hours out of the 620 hours of this leg. This was a real accomplishment and was still one of the fewest hours in the fleet. As we look back, we can't help but to be amazed by how much we have learned, what we have accomplished and that we have remained safe while doing so.
I have come to the conclusion that I really enjoy these long passages. The sense of accomplishment that one gets by sailing a boat across an entire ocean is indescribable - we are about to finish crossing our third major ocean. There is an intimate connection with nature - the rising of the sun, the light of the moon, the endless stars - while at the same time you are fighting that same nature - the swells of the sea, the rain from the squalls and the gusts of the wind. There are things that I certainly don't like about these long passages - lack of sleep being the hardest. But one quickly learns that things aren't always easy on passage and that is the magic. Things go wrong, you resolve them, disaster is averted and you keep moving forward. Each of these resolved difficulties fills you with a deep sense of satisfaction. There exists only you, your fellow crew and the boat on this challenging journey. And when we finally we tie up to the dock tomorrow, we will pop open a bottle of champagne and toast to all the challenges we overcame on this leg and the fact that we made it and we are the stronger for it.
After I finished writing this blog, Mark and I had the most amazing encounter of our trip with a large group of porpoises. I was down below cooking dinner when Mark called me up to see the porpoises which were swimming by the boat. Sadly, my first thought was that I had seen my share of these animals that I was more anxious to get dinner served so Mark could get some asleep. But I went atop and was pleasantly surprised. All around our boat had to be about 40 porpoises but that was far from the most remarkable thing about our encounter. As we looked out for about a mile on either side of us there were porpoises jumping and heading toward our boat. It was as if the word had gotten out and everyone in the neighborhood was heading our way to check us out. There must have been a few hundred for they kept coming from all around for a couple of hours.
Mark and I began to talk to them, clap, bang on the boat - all in our poor attempt to communicate with them. We told them how happy we were that they came to visit us. And then things got really amazing. They started to perform for us. They jumped out of the water and did barrel rolls. They walked on the water, did back flips and belly flops. They surfed down waves. And they slapped their tails on the water to make big splashes. With each performance, we would clap and yell encouraging them to do more. Our response seemed to work because they kept going. As we looked out in the distance, all of the porpoises around us seemed to be trying to get our attention by their antics. Mark and I just ran around the boat saying things like - did you see that? We abandoned the notion of dinner and spent the next hour or more playing with these incredible animals. Who needs dinner or sleep when you have such quality entertainment? We took plenty of photos but they don't do the experience justice. So we have some videos we will post as soon as we figure out how to do that.