Monday, 9 December 2019

The cat's out

Oults is mother again; a diligent cook and a truly great housekeeper, vacuuming and mopping floors, scrubbing decks, and generally making Hera look pristine. ETA, a new crew member who I shall introduce shortly, is at the supper table, monopolising the conversation as usual, when Oults conjures up from the galley, Mahi Mahi, cooked with Harissa (if you don't know what this is go to any Waitrose in the home counties, and follow the frenzy of Ottolenghists, hoovering the jars off the shelves).

Rosie has very kindly swapped watches with me again, and the prospect of a full night's sleep makes me quite giddy with anticipation. I suggest a late night movie but to my surprise everyone declines, heading for their bunks, and the end of another day.

There is a cat on board named ETA, and now that's its out of the bag it's
proving very hard to get it back in, despite my best efforts. On every
Atlantic crossing that I have done, once the matter of arrival is raised,
everything changes. Instead of the days flying by, our timeframe
determined by the rise and fall of the sun, the clock suddenly stops and
three days seems like an eternity. I refer of course to our Estimated Time
of Arrival (ETA). Ever since the question was first posed, the topic has
dominated every meal-time, so at breakfast today, in an attempt to get ETA
back into the bag, I announce that the deadline for submitting estimates
from the crew will take place when the scrambled egg reaches the breakfast
table. But this isn't just any scrambled egg, it's Mervyn's scrambled
egg, accompanied by sausages and roasted tomatoes, followed by English
marmalade on boat-baked bread.

Each of us writes down our ETA on a scrap of paper and I slip them into an
envelope. Once the bids have been submitted, everyone of course wants to
know who said what? In fairness to the vicarious sailors amongst you, and
on the basis of full disclosure, I must say that we had a very slow night
with the wind far less than forecast, only around 10-12 knots. This made
for a great night's sleep, particularly as Rosie had very kindly swapped
watches with me again, but not much progress towards our destination. On
board we have all factored this into our estimates but to level the
playing field for those who aren't here to see the conditions, I am
extending the deadline, just for the postal votes, until SET (scrambled
egg time) tomorrow. This will occur at around 9am Hera time, which is now
GMT -3. At 1500 GMT today we have 430 miles to run and we are sailing on a
course of 255 degrees true, direct to St Lucia. The wind is now around 20
knots from the East and our VMG (Velocity Made Good. i.e. boat speed,
adjusted for tides, currents and leeway) to Pidgeon Island is around 7.5
knots. The forecast for Tuesday is 20 – 25 knots of wind from the East
(which should allow us to make 200 miles in 24 hours), falling to 18-23
knots overnight and then on Wednesday afternoon, dropping a little to 15 –
20. It's not too late to enter the sweepstake or revise an existing
entry, by sending an email to me by 0900 SET. Note that local time in St
Lucia is GMT -4. A prize, as yet unidentified, will be awarded to the
winning entry.

Lunch today is Spanish tapas, as Mervyn bids farewell to Europe. This may
conjure up in your mind a selection of small dishes, maybe a few slices of
chorizo, some small chunks of cheese, some olives. Well you would be
mistaken. Mervyn produces a massive feast of sesame chicken, patatas
bravas, chilli prawns, coleslaw, garlic mushrooms and yes, some sliced
chorizo, cheese, ham and bread. We stagger from the table, struck down by
this culinary extravaganza, each of us finding somewhere in the shade to
recover before supper comes round in a few hours' time. Fortunately we
have an extra hour to digest as we move the clocks back by one hour today,
making Hera time GMT -3.

Some of the fairer readers of this blog have commented, in the nicest way,
that the sailing jargon goes over their head, so I will try and return to
matters less dull and technical. I am sitting on one of the big reclining
cockpit seats, in the shade out of the hot midday sun, with Andrew sitting
at my side, reading his kindle. Oults is where he always is, clutching
what he always clutches, peering at the horizon and scribbling. Never
short of confidence, he beams that he is pleased with today's tabular form
of notation, neatly laid out on a fresh page of his notebook and I concur,
mentioning that I was a little disappointed at his earlier hieroglyphics,
thinking that he had rather let himself down. Mervyn, chef and sun god, is
lying bare chested, sunglazed, turning a mahogany brown, also reading.
Rosie is nowhere to be seen so I assume that he is in his favourite spot,
his burrow in the forepeak, under Caroline's bean bags, wrapped around his
precious iPad, devouring any scraps of news that he can find, regardless
of their provenance.

The atmosphere on board has altered in the past 24 hours since ETA's
arrival. There is talk of connecting flights, airport taxis, striking
train drivers and other matters from our lives ashore. The more abstract,
freewheeling conversations of mid-ocean have been replaced by the
practical considerations of arrival. Every time anyone passes the
speedometer they glance up, smiling if Hera is on schedule, harrumphing if
she is idling. "Nine knots" shouts Rosie from his watch keeping position
at the helm. The original arrive-ist, he is now a converted escape-ist,
his forecasted arrival time the most pessimistic, and unusually, Andrew
the most optimistic. With just our twin headsails and no spinnaker we are
slow in the lighter winds, but the forecast for tomorrow is for stronger
winds, when Hera, the queen of the gods, can show her turn of speed as she
counts down the miles to St Lucia.

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