Saturday 7 December 2019

Bandit Country

When Andrew wakes me for my watch I am in a deep sleep. I remember reading that in warfare, commanders plan their night raids for 3am when the body is at its lowest ebb, and I can see why.

I dress in the dark so as not to wake my cabin mate Oults, and wearily climb the three steps from our cabin up to the saloon. At night all the lights are off, except for a low-level red strip light that allows us to find our way around without ruining our night vision. From the glow of the instruments I can make out Andrew at the chart table. He switches on the desk light, on a long stalk, and directs its beam onto the logbook, where he records the statistics from his watch. He then briefs me on the conditions, strips off his wet weather gear and disappears down the steps in the port hull and into the comforts of his bunk.

I make myself a cup of tea and climb into my wet weather trousers and
jacket, still damp from the previous evening, and fasten my life jacket.
Mug of tea in my hand I settle down on the cushioned seat at the starboard
helm station and take stock of my surroundings. I scan the instruments to
check our course and wind conditions and switch to the radar screen to
check for squalls. The skies have now cleared, and so has my head, and as
the caffeine begins to take hold, I relax and enjoy the beautiful night
sky that emerges, like another world, from behind the rainclouds.

Although the skies are now clear, it has been a stormy night. We are now
deep into bandit country, there is a lot of energy in the atmosphere and
the squalls are on the rampage. At happy hour last night, line squalls
covered the entire horizon to the north and the south. These particular
beasts are solid walls of black rain clouds, low on the horizon and loaded
with energy. The ones that are the most dangerous are those that are
opaque with sheets of rain, from the cloud down to the horizon; the colder
air falling with the rain creates high winds as it hits the surface of the
sea and fans out. I am on watch at 7pm, just as Rosie is about to serve
prawn and lime curry with rice and mango chutney, when I see a large black
cloud approaching from behind. The radar screen on the chart plotter shows
the approaching squalls in red and there is a large band on a direct
course towards us. The crew, sitting in the saloon in T shirt and shorts,
knife and fork in hand, look at me quizzically as I hurriedly put on my
oil skins and slide the saloon door closed, with me on the outside.

I stand at the helm, interested to see how Hera will react to her first
encounter with the thugs. First the wind starts to increase and back a
little; then I feel the first drops of rain. I set the autopilot to steer
us deep downwind, regardless of the course. As the wind speed builds this
will minimise the actual wind on the boat as we sail faster, away from the
squall. The wind instruments start to tick over rapidly: 23, 25, 28, 30
then 33 knots as the leading edge of the squall hurls its venom at us. The
rain is now heavy, driven by the wind, and it washes over the decks and
sluices across the cockpit floor. Hera seems undaunted by this barrage and
simply lifts her skirts and runs, sprinting headlong down the front of the
waves at speeds topping 15 knots, occasionally looking back at her
assailant as if to say 'catch me if you can'. It is a large squall and
lasts over 30 minutes, thundering over our heads, then slowly the picture
on the radar turns from red to green, the wind drops and the rain eases.
Mervyn appears in the cockpit and hands me a plate of curry. We have
endured our first major squall without injury.

Nick (nee Oults, but renamed for ease of apostrophising) has decided to do
his washing, and offers to include Andrew in his bucket. Andrew grudgingly
accepts but rather churlishly wants to know the method, the timing of the
soak and even an inspection at key points in the process. Once the clothes
are washed, to the satisfaction of Jeeves, Nick empties the bucket over
the trampoline, which acts as a giant colander, leaving the garments
draining into the sea. It's not entirely obvious, but Nick is actually on
watch during the wash cycle and when he eventually returns to the helm I
ask him how the watch is going. When I ask this question of most crew
members, the response goes along the following lines "we are steering 270,
the wind is at around 160 and we are making good speed, around 9 knots.
The wind is gusting up to 24 knots and the waves are increasing a little."
Midshipman Nick however, looks at me distractedly, his mind on matters
from a bygone era and says "well, the sextant is hard to use in these
conditions, but I have been doing some further reading and I think If I
record the log and watch the rate of change in minutes on the sextant
reading I will be able to tell when the sun is reaching its zenith and
then I will have cracked it…..". Listening with one ear, I look over his
shoulder at the instruments that we are actually using to navigate with
and everything seems in order, under his occasional stewardship.

Rosie makes fresh humous from Saz's recipe (another tricky apostrophe),
with ham, cheese, a tomato salad and successfully baked bread. For pudding
he produces the best fruit salad that we have had so far; the secret
ingredient being chunks of tinned pineapple that Andrew has volunteered
from his secret stash. With the end of our journey in sight he is
becoming more generous with his precious provisions, offering all sorts of
delicacies to Mother, who is unused to these exotic ingredients. This
largesse continues throughout the day and Andrew seems pleased with
himself. Wearing only his finest swim suit (a term only Andrew uses, and
by only, I mean the only person in the world) he settles into one of the
director's chairs in the cockpit, stretches expansively, and waves a half
eaten banana at me: "You can take a photo of me now, eating the last

The last few days have merged into one and I realise that tomorrow, it
will be two weeks since we left Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Just as
Andrew is calling us for lunch, (toasted sandwiches in case you were
wondering), Magellan gets a dousing of warm Atlantic seawater from an
errant wave. Undeterred he continues with his sights, water dripping off
his sextant, smudging the pages of his notebook. Another day passes but
some things don't change.

1 comment:

  1. Relishing your captivating & inspirational blog with it's apt titles,informative, witty descriptions & fab pics- a daily highlight- transporting me to Hera to experience the individual foibles (of crew & sailing vessel!) & brilliant camaraderie! Impressive , mouth watering menu- well persevered with baking bread, even battling squalls! Much Love Katie xoxox