Thursday 4 December 2014

ARC 2014 Day Eleven

Yesterday started badly when I took over from Paul at 3am and he said ‘you might need your foulies’. This was an understatement. Rain was lashing the cockpit as he bade me goodnight and scuttled off to his dry cabin, leaving me sitting in puddles of water in the cockpit. Then things got worse: the wind dropped away leaving us rolling drunkenly in the swell, and still the rain fell. 

We get these short lulls in the wind every so often but usually normal service is quickly resumed and off we go again with 15 to 20 knots from astern. Not so this morning. The wind refused to blow, the rain continued to fall and although I was happy with the fresh water rinse for the sails and the deck, it made for a miserable watch. After watching our speed bleed away to 3 knots I finally lost patience at 6am and switched on the engine. The rolling motion and the sound of the engine must have awoken everyone else because by seven we were all having tea in the cockpit, the sun was up and the conversation had moved on to eggs and breakfast. 

I concluded today that many of the successful operations on Juno, from happy hour, spinnaker sets and galley productions come about with inspiration from Fatty, application form Kez and mostly perspiration from Paulus.  An example was when we set the spinnaker this afternoon in 12 knots of wind, perfect for our big red asymmetric and we were soon back up to nine knots on a nice broad reach. Then the squalls started to organise themselves on the eastern horizon, dark clouds with solid black columns down to the water, the sure sign of wind and rain. There is something menacing about these demonic beasts. We watch them on the plotter where they appear as pink blotches that move and dance around the radar screen, changing their course continually as they try and trap us.

Our spinnaker has an upper wind range of around twenty knots, however the stronger the wind, the faster we go, reducing the apparent wind over the deck, and its easy for the wind strength to sneak up into the twenties unnoticed.  With Paul calling the squalls on the radar we had managed to miss them all afternoon, however one big beast was lining up for its attack, directly upwind from us and Paul, the squall aimer, reckoned on a direct hit. By now the wind had increased around the edge of the squall, the cobalt water turning a more angry grey under the approaching cloud with white caps tumbling off the crests. It was definitely time to drop the kite.  One of the big investments over the winter was our Top Down Furler, a device that allows us to furl away the spinnaker in the same way as we do the genoa, only it’s a little more ‘sportif’ as the French would say.  Kerry organises the furling line, Fatty sails the boat deep downwind so that the spinnaker falls into the wind shadow of the mainsail and then she gives a big ease on the genoa sheet to depower it further while Paul and I pull like crazy on the furling line and the big red sail is tamed, furling nicely around the forestay which we then drop into a big canvas bag on the foredeck.

The boys, Jesus, Oxie and Wombat, may think from recent blogs serenading our female crewmembers that we are not missing their company on this trip. Au contraire. We are very much looking forward to Andrew joining us in January, maybe Steven on the Pacific crossing and Oxie if we can steal him for a few weeks.

Here I am again in the small hours before dawn sitting in the cockpit with my laptop. I now do the 3am to 6am watch most nights so that I can send my morning report to Chris, our router, by 7am UT which is now 5am Juno time. We put our clocks back one hour for every 15 degrees that we travel west, making two such adjustments so far; the next one will be at 55 degrees west, some time on Sunday or Monday. A big moon has been above us all night, lighting up the sea with a silver sheen. Now it is sliding down behind the clouds in the western sky, leaving us in darkness for an hour or two until it is replaced by the sun that will soon rise on the eastern horizon. I love the rhythm of the world at sea.

It looks as if there is a trough of light wind extending about 400 miles east of the islands so we are heading south to give us a better shot at sneaking around the back of it but we might have to resort to engine in the last couple of days.  Our friends the Oultons fly to St Lucia today where we hope to meet them on the dock. Oults has promised to catch our lines. It will take them about 8 hours on a 747, against 16 days on Juno. Maybe we are not going so very fast after all.

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