Tuesday 9 December 2014

ARC 2014 Day 15. Almost there

On the ARC in 2012 Kim brought with him a gift from Dr James Ashby, a close friend of his from Cornwall. If you have ever fished for crabs as a child you would recognise it immediately: a wooden frame wound with heavy monofilament fishing line, a large brass swivel impregnably attached to the end. When Mitchel, our grumpy fishing reel, gave up and cast all my best lures to the deep on our last Atlantic crossing, it was this hand line that came in to its own; we wound it onto Mitchel, despite his sulky protests, and hooked a big Dorado that we were able to winch in with no fear of the line breaking.

I am ashamed to say that when I was presented with my new rod and reel, the trusty hand line was relegated to the box of shame, almost forgotten in the depths of the lazarette. The box of shame is the box where I store things that don’t have a place on the boat. Everything on Juno has a designated stowage, catalogued and labelled, an entry in the inventory with supplier and part number recorded, exact location specified, quantity and re-order level noted. But there are always those last few items that defy categorisation; they refuse to be classified, always ending on my chart table when everything else is neatly stowed. This motley collection of misfits either go in the bin or the box of shame and there, discarded in its depths, is Dr Ashby’s faithful hand line, no longer used, replaced by a younger and more glamorous model, its day of glory long gone, but not entirely forgotten.

When the Whopper escaped with its life yesterday, taking my high tech fluorescent line with it, my beautifully designed rod and reel were rendered useless, hanging aimlessly in the rod holder, now of less use on our Atlantic crossing than our bicycles. But then I suddenly remember what we did last time we lost all our line.  I climb into the lazarette, moving aside fenders, dock lines and sail bags, to the very depths of the locker where lurks the box of shame.  Sure enough buried under all sorts of miscellanea lies the hand line, unused since our last Atlantic crossing but very much unaffected by its two-year retirement, still massively over-engineered and perfect for the job in hand.

So I attach a new lure to the hand line’s heavy brass fitting, heave it over the side into the water and slowly ease the thick nylon line into our wake. Once it is fully unwound, I untie it from its wooden frame and thread it through the titanium rollers on the new carbon rod, securing it to the drum of the big gold trolling reel. The hand line isn’t long; it doesn’t need to be. No need to let the fish run for fear of its snapping this line in its initial rush to freedom; simply lock the reel and start cranking.  In the space of a few hours we land two Dorados: the first too small to eat at around 2 kg which we release to grow bigger for another day, and a big fish of around 10 kilos that puts up a great fight but is no match for our weapons-grade equipment and it is easily winched through the water and into the pan. Dr Ashby, we salute you.

Yesterday was very frustrating; a day of lulls and squalls. After our fast passage so far, our luck seems to have run out and I fear that we have come too far south while out competitors have maintained a more direct westerly course.  The reason for our southerly track is that there is a trough of light air stretching a few hundred to the east of the islands and we believe that the wind will fill from the south, giving us a good wind angle and more boat speed when we gybe onto starboard and head up to the north of St Lucia. However the trough now seems to fill quite evenly across the eastern Caribbean chain so maybe we have gone too far. Only time will tell. The only thing that you can’t determine on the fleet tracker is for how long other boats have been running their engines. Ours has been on for only a few hours in the past two weeks.

We are now firmly in the trough of light airs and the wind has dropped right off – other than in the squalls. Coming back up on deck last night the sky was clear and dotted with stars, the moon huge, illuminating the cockpit . Looking behind us I notice some cloud and as I walk aft from under the cover of the bimini I see a huge towering cumulonimbus cloud; great bunches of white cloud stacked on top of each other with the highest section towering above me. Beneath this gentle giant an ominous black mantle reaches out across the night sky, completely obliterating the horizon.  This is a squall; not just any squall, it is a monster. I flip the radar on and there it is, a huge purple cloud on the screen, only three miles away and moving fast.  Large squalls are enormously powerful and as they release their payload of torrential rain, winds at the leading edge can be up to 50 knots, that’s the equivalent of a Force 10 Storm.

With squalls at sea you have three options: the first is to just tough it out and wait for the squall to hit. If it’s not too aggressive, as the wind increases you just bear away and head downwind, reducing the effect of the winds on the boat. If it’s a big squall it is likely to have winds of up to 30 knots and if you think one of these will hit you then you reduce sail, grab your foul weather gear and wait for the deluge that will certainly follow. The final option is to change course and run away, heading upwind and allowing the squall to slip behind your stern. Last night I choose the latter and avoided confrontation.

After a night of flapping sails and clanking halliards, a large squall comes up behind us this morning. Fed up with the lack of wind we line Juno up directly in the path of the approaching cloud. Beneath it the sea changes to a light green as the surface is whipped up by the raindrops hitting the surface. We climb into our foulies and watch the line in the water grow closer and then we are in it, a torrential downpour of clean fresh water and soon our decks are awash, rinsing off the accumulated salt and fish scales from 3,000 miles of sailing and scores of unlucky flying fish who, against all odds, have collided with one of the very few obstacles in the this vast ocean.  

We have had a glorious day today with sunshine and an increase in wind taking us down to St Lucia. With only 200 miles to run we should be over the finish line late on Tuesday night. Not the perfect time to arrive but I am sure that the rum punch will taste just as good. 


  1. Wow - Congratulations! Great writing as ever - enjoy the last stretch... seems over awfully soon - she says from the comfort of her office :)

  2. Hi Ruth, it was over very quickly but we had the best time. You did say last time that we need a bigger Ocean so we leave St Lucia for Panama on 10th January and then the Pacific. Happy Christmas.

  3. Your writing is fantastically expressive as always. Such a joy to read again. Good Luck on next bit. Louise