Thursday 6 December 2012

ARC Day Eight

Oilskins are hanging out to dry in the cockpit and we have had the most delicious breakfast after a morning of excitement. Last night started calmly as we sailed close-hauled with jib and full mainsail, making 8 – 9 knots of boat speed despite the wind easing and veering further to the south.
I came on watch at nine pm where I spent three happy hours in the cockpit with Emma Thomson, Sir Clive Woodward, Michael Caine and Martin Shaw hearing their desert island discs before handing over to Andrew at midnight. I went below to my cabin and slept like a log until five a.m. when I was woken by a distinct change in the boats motion and the sound of the wind snatching at the sails. In the cockpit, Kim was reefing down in preparation for a huge squall that was bearing down on us at speed. Against the night sky I could make out an immense black cloud extending across a quarter of the horizon and at its centre, an opaque column of rain, like a celestial jet wash hosing everything in its path.  I struggled into my foulies and shot up into the cockpit where rain was pelting down against the spray hood. Then the wind struck, first from the west, then from the north as the squall blasted past us on its way north. Then nothing: no wind, no rain, complete silence as the departing monster dragged its entourage behind it leaving us in a brief oasis of calm. 

At six Kim went below to dry off and Steven came on watch as reinforcement.  The radar was showing a picture of quivering squalls all around us and it was clear that there would be no escape from this gang as they surrounded us and started to close in.  We reefed the sails again, zipped up our foulies and the heavens opened with a deluge of rain that swept across the decks creating rivulets of fresh water sweeping down the side decks. Steven and I looked at each other and laughed in exhilaration, soaked to the skin but with our senses alive to the drama and immensity of the elements.  As the squall eased, the companionway hatch opened and Andrew appeared from his burrow with offers of breakfast and coffee. What a fantastic way to start the day.

Yesterday by comparison was not such a good day for me. I awoke with a bad headache which got progressively worse as the day went on. To add to my bad humour, both our fishing rigs had been ripped off the rod, either by fish or by the seas, and I was cursing the reel that I had been meaning to replace for so long.On my daily checks around the boat for chafe, I discovered some loose machine screws which attach the goose neck to the mast. The goose neck is the fitting that connects the boom to the mast and is essential to the structure of the rig. It is with relief that I tightened the screws thinking what might have happened if I hadn’t noticed. I also email the three other 575 owners on the ARC as well as Oyster to alert them and seek their advice. By early evening I am feeling even worse and I start to worry that the blow to my head might be having a delayed effect. Then I recall Fatty’s warning about dehydration and I drink 4 litres of water over the course of the next two hours. By midnight my headache has gone and my mood lifts. I can already see a waggy finger being wagged in my direction and I warn the rest of the crew to keep hydrated or they will become grumpy like me!

One final squall came through after breakfast this morning and as we huddle in the cockpit, Oxie heads to the foredeck for an Atlantic shower. Now that the squalls have passed we are in the trough of light airs, exactly as forecasted by our router Chris Tibbs. His ability to predict weather conditions, accurate to the minute from his study in Devon is quite uncanny and we are convinced that we have a spy in our midst. The downside of light airs is that we have had to start the engine, however there are many advantages: the sun is out, the sky is blue, the sea is calm, Juno is making 7 knots directly towards St Lucia and for the first time since we left Las Palmas the boat is level. It has been oppressively hot down below for the past few days and now we are able to open all the hatches to let the breeze in. Washing is hanging on the guard rails, Kim is sunbathing on the fore deck, Paul is plotting our position against the fleet on our paper chart, Andrew is fiddling in the galley and Steven is – asleep.  After eight days pushing quite hard, making around 200 miles per day, it is a great break and a chance to rest before the trade winds return and we sail the remaining thousand miles to St Lucia.  We hear via email that the girls are packing suitcases and excited to be leaving the cold English winter for the sun and sand of the Caribbean where they will meet us and catch our lines. 

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