Wednesday 4 December 2019


Overnight the wind has risen, gusting at up to 30 knots, creating a big
following sea that chases in behind us. The water is pure cobalt blue,
shot through with streaks of brilliant white where the crests of the waves break in the bright sunshine. We have definitely found the trade winds and we blast downwind on a broad reach, covering over 200 miles in the past 24 hours.

We are travelling fast, eating up the miles, but the waves are
travelling faster. They roll in behind us, towering briefly above the
stern, and then they overtake and as they pass, lift us and with one firm
push send us accelerating down the face of the wave. If we get a gust of
wind at just this point then we surf, our speed goes up to 10, 11,
sometimes 12, 13 knots, until gravity takes over and the wave thunders
past beneath us, rattling under the bridge deck.

Yesterday was Rosie's turn at mother watch and this time he turns his
attention to making bread. I ask him what temperature he needs the oven.
"One hundred and sixty degrees" he announces confidently, gesturing
towards the recipe. "Really? That's seems very low for bread making", but
he assures me it's correct. Into the oven goes the proven dough, one of
our precious stock of ten loaves, while we have a supper of Chicken
Basque, "One of Sarah's favourites", and it's cooked to perfection. Less
perfect is the loaf, which hasn't risen and provides much after-dinner
amusement. Andrew attempts to resurrect it with anther blast from a hotter
oven, but Lazarus is not responding to treatment and is heaved
unceremoniously overboard .

Rosie is always very diligent with his cleaning responsibilities but as he
prepares to vacuum the saloon, Oults and I are seated at the saloon table;
I on the laptop writing this blog, Oults with his constant companion the
sextant, assorted notebooks, charts, dividers and other antiquated
navigation equipment that follow him around the boat. I take the hint and
move out to the cockpit; Oults doesn't. Rosie eventually speaks up in
exasperation: "Can you please take your silly machine and buzz off out of
the way", only he doesn't say buzz, but this blog is written for my mother
and buzz sounds better.

It's an hour before dark and I am contemplating a sail change. We are
flying a full mainsail and genoa, 200 sq metres of sail, but as we are
sailing off the wind its effect on the boat is reduced. However this is an
easy mistake to make. If the wind then increases further the boat goes
faster and the wind can creep up without one being aware, and suddenly the
boat can become overpowered. I decide that we should, after all, put a
reef in the mainsail, reducing its sail area and its power by about one
third. By now it's a slick operation and we are soon reefed down, ready
for the night and ready for happy hour. It turns out to be the right

Andrew wakes me at 3am for my watch. Waking at this hour, the mind is a
bit fogged at first, so the off-watch crew takes time to brief the
on-watch crew, make them a cup of tea and spend five minutes summarising
the conditions, before filling out the log and heading for their bunk.
Andrew tells me that it's been relatively quiet, nothing to report, but
that the wind seems to be increasing a little. Without even touching my
tea I step out of the saloon to the cockpit and settle in at the helm to
take stock of the conditions. Just in the past few minutes the wind has
come up to twenty knots and I am pleased about that reef, knowing that we
have a lot of contingency before we cross the next red line. The wind is
not forecast to increase significantly; but as we know the wind can be 25
per cent higher in the gusts so I watch the anemometer carefully and it
continues to rise. I steer Hera further downwind, reducing the force of
the wind on the boat but when the wind starts gusting up near 30 knots I
start to get concerned about our boat speed. We are simply going too fast
with too much sail up and I decide that we have to reef the mainsail
again, now. I call Mervyn and Andrew from their bunks and we click into
gear, but this time the wind is really blowing, making our job harder.
However it doesn't take long, and as the wind continues to howl, the
motion of the boat becomes a little easier and our red line moves away.

After last night's experience I decide this evening that we will be even
more conservative, as the forecast is for stronger winds after midnight.
Just before dark we drop the mainsail completely, sailing dead downwind
with just our two headsails and the difference is remarkable. The violent
motion that we have experienced all day has simply disappeared and instead
the boat settles into a gentle rhythm, lifting her bows and surging
forward on each wave, with no apparent effort and yet we are still sailing
fast on a moon lit sea, directly to St Lucia.

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