Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Crossing the Atlantic continued (told by Sim)


Running before the wind


The next day the wind increased to 5, but not for long.

Until Saturday November 16th the average wind was below force 4. Even so we estimated that we were putting about 100 miles a day behind us. By now we had settled into a daily routine. I would awaken and tune the radio to the British Overseas Services to check my watch by the time signal, and then listen to the news. Then Penny would get breakfast, usually Quaker oats then bread or Vitawheats with jam or marmite. I would wash up and Penny wipe, after which it would be time to take a morning sight. We would then do maintenance work and odd jobs until it was time for the noon sight.

By this time it would be sweltering, and after taking the sight we would have a bath to cool off. To do this, we would plug the cockpit drains and half fill it with sea water. Then we would take it in turn to bath, using detergent instead of soap. To rinse, we would haul up buckets of sea water and pour over ourselves. On paper this all sounds easy, but you must bear in mind that running before the wind, the boat continually rolls, from up to 30 degrees one side to 30 degrees the other, but not necessarily evenly. It is impossible to put anything down without it sliding from one side to the other, and although one gets used to it, it is very tiring.


Penny taking a bath


After our bath we would take the afternoon sight and work out our position. Our usual practice was for me to take the sights and for Penny to work them out. In high seas it is not easy to “shoot” the sun from a small boat. The sun does not stay in the same relative position for more than a few seconds at a time, and swell continuously rises to obscure the horizon.

Concentrating on simple addition and subtraction is equally difficult and makes one’s head dizzy. On a firm platform, both tasks would be simple. At sea, it amazes me, how we get the accuracy, we do. Of course, to find a big island like Barbados is much easier than it will be to find a low atoll in the Pacific, but our technique is improving all the time. Anyway, it’s not the mystery it seems to be, to the beginner.

We find two meals a day quite sufficient. After taking the sight, I peel the spuds, then we have our evening meal, and by the time we have cleared up, it’s nearly dark. Penny nags me into playing cards for half an hour or so most evenings, but this soon gives me a headache. At 9.30pm or so we usually have a hot drink and then turn in. Even when there is no moon the stars give a reasonable light, and it is a peculiar sensation to lie in bed and watch the vane moving the tiller backwards and forwards. One gets no sensation that the boat is moving forward, only the eternal rolling from side to side.

Living as we do, in an area roughly 6ft by 16ft, we have no secrets from each other. I feel like a man with a season ticket to the Follies Bergere, but prohibited from going backstage. From a man’s point of view, a trip like this, would make an ideal honeymoon. Women, except for a few hardy spirits, would prefer the bright lights, I expect. Once one has confidence in the boat and in one’s ability to handle it, one’s fears recede. Our most worrying times are when we are nearest land. When you are only a few miles from land and an onshore blow is threatening the mid ocean, can seem a haven.

On Saturday the 16th, we went to bed with a force 5 wind behind us. We lay in bed, and listened to the regular swish of water every time we surged forward on the top of a sea. We were indeed being rocked in the cradle of the deep. Later, in my half sleep, I became gradually conscious that the periodic swishing, had turned to a constant roar. I became fully awake, with a start, and dived for the hatch. The bow wave was foaming out phosphorescently on each side and our wake literally shone behind us into the distant night.

The boat was sailing magnificently, as fast as I could ever hope to sail her. I thought of the 505’s at Lyme, planning at their fastest, and felt the same elation that I got from watching them, but with an additional sense of power, as well as the speed, involved now. The rear shrouds and the backstay were so taut, that they were humming in the wind. This was what we came for. Had we been on a day sail at home, I would have let her rip, and hang the consequences. But here, the risk was too great. With over 1000 miles to the nearest land, or perhaps, steamship, for that matter, we could not afford to lose our mast. I knew too, that this wind would soon build up much heavier seas, and that I must reef whilst I still could.

Yelling to Penny to come up and stand by to release the sheets, I scrabbled into my safety harness, and clipped my way forward, from hold to hold. The working jib, (100sq ft) was boomed out to port, but not clipped into the forestay. As Penny eased off the sheet, the boom swung toward the bow until I could reach forward to detach the boom clip from the sail. Then, after fastening the boom end inboard, I released the halyard, slowly smothering the wildly flapping sail at the same time. The effect was almost magical. We had lost over 1/3 of our sail area, and although the boat was still traveling fast, the tension had gone and the movement eased. I felt that unless the wind increased considerably, we were safe enough like this.

Penny went below, but I stayed up for half an hour, until I was satisfied that there was no more danger. This was the first time we had touched the foresails since we had put them up, nearly 1000 miles before. The following day the wind had eased a little, but the seas had built up a lot. I spent sometime, checking over the foresail, for chafe, and renewing the lashings which had worn through on the sail hanks. In the evening we were able to put the sail back up. We now went back to force 3 for two days. On Monday the 18th, at 6pm, I rose from my seat in the forecastle, put my head up through the hatch, and looked aft. Penny, who was preparing to cook our dinner, (kippers) thought I was joking, when I said “There a ship right behind us”.

At 7.30 pm we had just finished our meal, which we had elected to have in the cockpit when the motor vessel ‘ULYSSES’ of Amsterdam, pulled across our stern and went past at a distance of 150 yards on our port side. We were not the only people in the world after all. We waved. They waved back. Then they pulled away from us and gradually diminished in size.

On the following day the trade winds gave us a good kick up the pants, and our daily runs increased. Our log showed around the 112 mark each day, but our sights gave us considerably more, so we were now getting a fair amount of help from the north equatorial current.

The wind stayed with us for the next three days. On working out our sights at 7pm on Saturday November 23rd, we found that we had done 147 miles in the previous 24 hours and the distance to Barbados was only 59 miles. At this rate we would follow our usual pattern and arrive in harbour during darkness. As we felt we should not risk hitting land in the dark, we decided that we would continue as we were for another 35 miles, during which we would sleep, and thereafter lighten sail and keep watches. Now came the 64 dollar question. Had our navigation been accurate?

I found I was unable to do more than doze, fitfully, and every half hour or so, pushed my head up to look around. At 1 am I though I saw a lightening in the sky on the horizon ahead, but could not be sure. At 1.30 when I had looked again, the glow seemed brighter. At 2am I was sure. I awakened Penny, and after a short discussion went forward and took down the jib. Penny went back to bed and I sat in the cockpit trying to estimate how far away the glow was. It is difficult to express how elated I was, that after 3000 miles we hit the nail right on the head.

In another hour I could count the flashes and identify the light. After a while other lights came over the horizon. I called Penny to take over, and went below for my spell. It seemed only minutes I had slept, when she called me. Barbados was now outlined against the sky and we could hear the surf. Easing round to port we ran down parallel to the coast. In a short while the sky began to lighten in the east. The sea subsided as we slowly came round into the lee of the island, and soon we had to put up the mainsail and were reaching northwest. As the coast came nearer we made out the brilliant green of the vegetation above the yellow sandy beach. It was wonderful to sail with the wind on our beam, in a flat sea, heeling to the breeze, instead of rolling as we had done for the last 4 weeks. At 7am we had rounded the buoy at the southern extremity of Carlisle Bay, and were eagerly scanning the 30 or so yachts moored in front of us. Penny said that she thought that she could recognize ‘SHE’ so we tacked up in that direction.

It was ‘SHE’ and to our surprise, she still had her quarantine flag up. Sailing past her we threw our anchor over and dropped back to lie 20 feet off on her starboard beam. As we lowered sail, Sheila and Bob came on deck and we exchanged greetings and discussed our respective passages. They had arrived late the previous evening.

By 10am, both boats had cleared quarantine, and then we all went ashore. As it was Sunday we could not go shopping, and in any case we had no local currency, so we went to the Cruising Club, where we were made welcome.

1 comment:

simmo said...

So did you try out for the Folies Bergere?