Wednesday 11 December 2019

Last day at sea

We wake to an amazing dawn. Oults very kindly stands my night watch, andby 5am, after eight glorious hours of uninterrupted sleep I am in the cockpit, refreshed and ready for our last day at sea. Rosie comes on watch at 6am but Oults can't drag himself to his bunk, away from the marvel thatis taking place on the huge stage in front of us. Massive cumulus clouds soaring thousands of feet into the sky behind us, are suffused by the glow of dawn, creating a tangerine sky that becomes more intense and then, by degrees, is washed out by the glare of the risen sun. We gaze in rapture at the beauty and enormity of this spectacle, conscious that by this time tomorrow, land will obscure this endless horizon and we may never see this sight again.

Booby is back this morning, soaring just above the waves, fishing for
breakfast. We look for any distinguishing features; maybe a piece of
sashimi in her beak, a smear of wasabi or a small flask of soya sauce
tucked under her wing, but without these signs we can't be sure she isn't
a stranger. It has been raining during the night; oilskins are hanging in
the cockpit, damp lifejackets piled up by the saloon door, the decks slick
with moisture. I do my calculations and determine that by staying on port
gybe all night we are making too much speed and that we are in danger of
arriving before dawn. We gybe onto starboard and leave three reefs in the
mainsail, underpowered for the wind conditions but travelling at the best
speed to arrive in time for breakfast.

However, before then we have another full day and night at sea and Andrew
is on Mother watch. No longer hoarding his precious provisions he is a man
transformed, offering us crisps with our morning tea, ice cream for
breakfast and the south col of the apple mountain for elevenses. Unable to
find homes for all his wares and on notice from me that the freezer will
be switched off when we leave the boat, he can be seen all morning
carrying his babies to the stern and casting them adrift. He is a man in
mourning and we have to gently prize his fingers open so that he releases
frozen fish, green beans and other beloveds, which we respectfully send to
a watery grave. However, he soon cheers up when he discovers some of
Jeannette's date and nut bars, forgotten and entombed at the back of the
freezer, now defrosting for afternoon tea.

Rosie has to be surgically detached from his ipad for the gybe, but
quickly returns, cradling his digital darling in his arms, doing we know
not what; perhaps a love letter to Saz, or maybe lying in the undergrowth,
a sniper in thrall to his favourite computer war game. He is always a
happy and inquisitive watch keeper, but when off watch, and particularly
after lunch, he retires to his burrow.

Andrew serves up an eclectic lunch; anything he can't bear to throw in the
sea appears on the table: coleslaw, salami, ham, chorizo, the very, very,
last tomato and more ice creams. Mervyn, Rosie, Andrew and I tuck into
lunch while Oults, rather unsurprisingly, is perched on the helm seat,
peering at the horizon through Sexy the sextant. A large wave smacks
against the hull and a shower of spray drenches Oults, Sexy, the notebook
and a little of his enthusiasm. Still dripping, he records his latest sun
sight and joins us at the lunch table, beaming. The reason for Oults being
even more jolly than usual is because his latest clinch with Sexy has
produced a beauty: his midday sunsight, the last of the voyage, is
extraordinarily accurate. Only 2 miles north and 7 miles west of our exact
position from the boat's GPS, the fruit of billions of research dollars
and many years of development. Not bad for a novice with a silly machine;
but then Oults is never a novice for long.

Mervyn applies himself diligently to everything he does; hugely capable,
whether reefing a mainsail or baking a quiche, making insightful
observations and acting as a great sounding board for me. When off watch
he is just as focussed, engrossed in the depths of his Kindle reader,
which by now has also acquired a sun tan, almost as bronzed as its owner.

It wouldn't be fair to satirise my fellow crewmembers without looking in
the mirror; so here goes. Oults claims that the watch on his wrist informs
him that he has completed sixty-three steps today, against a target of ten
thousand. He thinks that by comparison I might be exceeding his target.
This is not because I am doing much exercise, or that I am any more
energetic than anyone else; I simply seem to have lots to do. I regularly
disappear into the engine room, clutching spanners to check the autopilot
(which has worked flawlessly and without adjustment since our minor repair
on the second day), sometimes wearing a head torch so that the hatch can
be closed above my head while I start the water maker, or check the water
strainer on the generator. Much of my time is spent at the chart table,
downloading weather maps, navigating our route, or downloading the torrent
of emails that we receive each day over the satellite link, mostly for the
crew and some for me. Lastly, but most important, are the regular checks
of the deck, looking for chafe on the ropes or the early signs of
potential problems, chatting to the watch keeper, reviewing the trim of
the sails. This blog probably takes two very enjoyable hours each day as I
draft, delete and tinker until I find a subject that I can get my teeth
into, one that writes itself, and then I am in another world, describing
our trip for anyone to read but primarily for my Mother, Fleur, who joins
us on board for every leg of every journey, vicariously, but with great
interest, encouragement and affection.

Today the subject has been arrival planning. For the past two weeks I
haven't consulted a single list, normally my preoccupation on Hera, an
attempt to ensure that anything and everything that comes to mind is
recorded, actioned or discarded, and ticked. One tick when the task is
complete, or the item ordered; two ticks when it has been tested. Now with
only two days to decommission Hera before leaving her in St Lucia,
unattended for Christmas, the list has been reinstated: one column for
Thursday, one for Friday, tasks in one column, initials and priority in

Less than one hundred miles now to Pigeon Point, the northern tip of St
Lucia, but Neptune isn't quite finished with us yet. I am awoken from an
afternoon snooze by the sound of doors sliding shut, hatches being closed.
Nick is on watch, Mervyn at his side, both in their foulies and life
jackets. Andrew meanwhile is doing press ups in his swimming trunks which
is slightly bizarre as we have spotted behind us a huge squall bearing
down on us, a reminder that we are not in our element, but in the hands of
the gods. By now we are blasé about this beast, from the comfort of the
saloon making childish gestures at Nick and Mervyn who laugh in the face
of the storm. In the galley the whistle on the kettle sings out; it is
teatime on board Hera and all is well on our final day at sea.

No sailing journal would be complete without thanks to our fantastic crew
who provide most of the subject matter; the rest just seems to happen. A
special thanks must go to my on-board proof reader, who gurgles and
giggles in all the right places, correcting my tortured ramblings and
adding more apostrophes than you can possibly imagine, all for the better.


  1. Have loved hearing all about the trip (and travails!) - hopefully you have made landfall now and are enjoying seeing green again....

  2. Reminded me of the squalls and breezy conditions. It sounds as though you've all had a lovely time together. We'll done for holding the happy ship together. I very much enjoyed Andrew's burials at sea, it reminds me of the quartermaster at work; "Stores are storing, Sir - if they were for issuing they'd be called issues!" Merry Christmas one and all, from Gill and Lisa xxx