Saturday 29 November 2014

ARC 2014 Day Five

We continue our fast passage across the Atlantic today, tracking just south of the greater circle route, with another 24 hour run of over 200 miles.  All is well on board with everyone settled into the watch system and the routines of offshore sailing; and then we had a minor drama.

I was down below answering emails when I was called up on deck. Sitting on the aft deck, Fatty had noticed a large red object being dragged just behind the boat, and a few metres further behind, something white being pulled along behind it.   We guessed that this was a fishing net that had got wrapped around the propeller and my first thought was that I would have to dive under the boat to cut it free. Now, at this stage we were making nine knots through a moderate sea four miles deep, in 15 knots of wind and a big swell running from the north so you can imagine that it wasn’t perfect conditions for a swim.

Before doing anything we wanted to understand better how badly the net was entangled so I attached my GoPro waterproof camera to a boat hook, and suitably attached to the boat with a harness I stood on the bathing platform and pushed the camera down under the water behind the boat.  Despite having slowed the boat down it was hard to keep the camera immersed in the foaming wake but when I downloaded the video to my laptop we could clearly see the problem.  A rope attached to the net had somehow become wrapped around the bottom of the rudder and thankfully it seemed that all we had to do was to unhook it and it would fall away. However the bottom of the rudder is about 2.5 metres under the surface of the sea and I realised that a swim may be necessary after all; but first we had to slow Juno down.

Many of you will recognise the term ‘Heaving-to’, an ancient technique for holding a yacht almost stationary at sea using just the sails. To do this we tack the boat as usual but leave the headsail sheeted on the wrong side, preventing the boat from fully completing the tack. The mainsail tries to push the bows into the wind and the backed headsail blows the bows off. The knack is to get these two forces in balance and hold the boat with its bows just off the wind, making a knot or so of leeway as the wind pushes the boat sideways. So we hove to – and it worked beautifully.  The boat stopped, everything went very quiet and still; it was hard to believe that only moments earlier we had been thundering along at nine knots.  In the calm that ensued we were able to take a closer look at the fishing net; only we couldn’t see it, because by stopping the boat the pressure on the rope had reduced and the whole fishy mess had dropped off and disappeared into he depths of the ocean.  We used the GoPro again to take another video, this time showing that the rudder was free of the obstacle and we were soon able to get Juno back up to speed and on course.

Today we crossed the tropic of Cancer, still making good progress but tomorrow the forecast is for lighter airs as the wind veers to the north east and we consider a gybe south on Sunday. We put our clocks back one hour today as we crossed the 25-degree meridian so dawn should break earlier tomorrow.  The sunrises in the East have been quite apocalyptic, with shards of light piercing the soft grey pastel clouds, spreading wider across the distant horizon until the sun rises high and bleaches out the vivid colours of dawn.

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