Monday 2 December 2019

Fast as a hare

Every day, during the ARC, there is a roll call held on long-range radio. Not everyone has these sets as they are expensive to install and of limited use in coastal sailing. But when sailing offshore, where the distances are far greater, the SSB radio comes into its own and allows us to keep in touch with other yachts who could be many hundreds of miles away, far out of the range of a VHF radio. 

We tune into the agreed frequency at 1300 GMT, and listen. Apart from a lot of static I can't hear anything and then it crackles into life, a female voice, American: "This is Aqua Dulce. Would any other ARC boats like me to relay their position?" For some reason, the net controller for today, a boat named Emily Morgan, is out of range and can't be heard, so another net controller has stepped in to act as a relay. I press the transmit button "Aqua Dulce this is Hera, do you copy?"; "Loud and clear Hera, please go ahead." I read out our position, wind conditions and boat speed. The net controller has obviously decided to liven up proceedings today and asks each boat if they have an anagram for their boat name. "Hare" I quip, "like a rabbit, but faster". And we are sailing fast, very fast.

We are sailing on a beam reach, with the wind at 90 degrees to the boat,
the fastest point of sail for Hera in these conditions. With our big fully
battened mainsail and genoa we are fully powered up and as we accelerate
we generate our own boat speed as the apparent wind angle moves forward,
increasing the apparent wind speed further. There is always a fine line on
a catamaran between sailing fast and being overpowered, so everyone is on
strict instructions when on watch to monitor the wind speed, which is on a
large digital display above the entrance to the saloon, and to call me if
we exceed our agreed limits. I hasten to add that these limits are well
below the reefing guidelines set by the manufacturer so we are in no
danger, but when offshore, it's important to have red lines set very
conservatively. Unlike a mono hull, a catamaran doesn't heel and spill
wind from its sails when it is overpowered, acting as a natural fuse; it
just goes faster. Have I mentioned that we are going fast?

Mervyn exceeds even his high standards in the galley and for lunch serves
a platter of tuna sashimi, caught yesterday, frozen overnight to kill any
bacteria and now defrosted, finely sliced and served with soya sauce,
wasabi and pickled ginger: every bit as good as the finest Japanese
restaurant. This is followed by a pasta salad and much appreciation from
the crew, and even Andrew, not known for giving his approval lightly, is
fulsome in his praise.

The afternoon is warm and humid and in these conditions Mervyn can
normally be found in a sunny corner of the boat, soaking up the sun,
reading his book and perfecting his tan for his return to Antigua where he
and his wife Amanda live during the winter months. Don't think for a
moment that he is being idle, as the ratatouille has already been prepared
for this evening, the beers are in the fridge for happy hour and the
cheesecake is cooling in the fridge. Andrew is on watch, hand steering
and making it look very easy. I put this down to his soft hands from years
of show jumping but when I say this to him he scoffs, although privately,
I think he is pleased.

As the afternoon sun begins to cool, I interrupt a game of Banangram in
the cockpit to take a reef in the mainsail. The wind strength is nearing
our red line and I am keen not to be overpowered during the night. When
we first left Las Palmas, we had five capable individuals on the boat but
now we have a team and everyone knows their role. I point the boat
downwind to depower the mainsail, we move the boom to the centre line,
Mervyn releases the halliard while Rosie and Oults haul on the reef lines
and the sail drops neatly into its bag. Andrew takes the helm while I
check the final position of the lines and within a few minutes the sail is
reefed, the lines are flaked into the rope bins, and we are off again,
actually sailing slightly faster but well within the wind limits of the
shortened sail.

With the boat settled, it is time to run the water maker again, charge the
batteries before dark and switch on the oven for Mervyn's magic; all
requiring the use of the generator. It starts happily enough as usual but
then just as I am heading for my evening shower, it switches off, the
solid green light replaced by flashing orange, a warning sign that the
machine is overheating. I check the sea water supply, the levels of the
coolant tank; everything seems fine so I restart and everything runs
normally, but I am not happy that I have discovered the cause of the
problem so I ruminate over it for most of the evening. While in the
engine room I also check on the condition of the autopilot. Jan, our
friend from Lanzarote, has emailed me in response to my last blog with
some advice so I take two large spanners and nip the clevis pin up tight.
It moves, but not much and although our repair yesterday seems to have
been effective, I make this inspection part of my daily checks.

As the wind has picked up we have supper in the saloon, and for the first
time on this trip, the salt cellar has the temerity to slide across the
table as we surf down a wave at speed. Although the motion is benign
compared to Ocean crossings on Juno, this is more like the Atlantic that
we expected: waves whipped up by the trade winds and no land to interrupt
the two-metre swell that rolls in from far away in the northeast. It
hasn't been like Sunday at home but everyone seems upbeat and another
early night takes the crew off to their bunks, leaving me on watch until
9pm when I handover to Oults who is happy gazing at stars and marvelling
at the enormity of the heavens.


  1. Please can I reserve a place in one of your future trip - its sounds amazing...

  2. I am keen to hear the verdicts on JUno versus Hera. At least you will come off the boat with both legs the same length this time... And Andrew praises my cooking often!