In the Menu

Here we are after work last night, off Bradda Head, in a 10’6 hot pink rowing boat. It is a beautiful evening, mirror calm, warm and sea is full of life, gannets, jellyfish, plankton. It has all the right ingredients for basking sharks. We get a little excited when I spot something, it is moving too fast over the water for a bird…. could it be? Oh my word it is!!! It’s a SHARK.  We’d been sat at a good distance away from the shark, just drifting, quietly wishing it would come closer for a photo, but at the same time quite happy that the giant is over there. Then we realise we may have drifted in to “the menu” and we are hoping our little pink boat won’t get mistaken for a prawn! Careful what you wish for…. eventually the inquisitive creature did want to find out if we were a prawn. Mild panic sets in when I realise that I am never going to be able to row us away from the shark at any speed. The only option is to stow the oars in the boat and sit tight. I look at the seagulls around the shark, they aren’t worried by them, I shouldn’t be either.  But oh my word, this one is big! And swimming straight for us. We are treated to an amazing sight, its head must be the same size as our boat almost, its enormous mouth is wide open. We are 10’6, the shark is easily 3 times us… 30+ feet.  It is hard to describe the feeling of complete awe at these majestic creatures, the world’s gentle giants, so close you could have touched it (if you were brave enough – we weren’t!). It is a totally humbling experience, you’re in a tiny boat with a massive shark, there is nothing you can do other than trust the shark. I have to trust the shark, it swims under us, inches away giving us a rare display of its whole body through the clear water. Life is blessed.

Saved by the pager

1819 Launch ILB, I was just about to do the dishes, oh well!  Into the car and down to the Station. Given the time of day and that it’s an ILB only page, I don’t anticipate making it on the shout, I live too far away.  

  There are a good few cars at the boat house already.  I jog in asking “have you got enough” “yes” is the answer.  The shout is to a 30ft yacht which has gone aground on the rocks in the harbour.  The tide is rising, but the wind has her pinned on an unmarked reef on an lee shore.  “You might as well get dressed” the helm said to me, “it’s in the harbour, we can take four, one of us might need to go on aboard”.  Aaaaah, I need this. I’ve had one of those days, a knock down and you lose your sense of direction, kind of days. Putting my drysuit, my thoughts are grounded again.  Our LOM or ALB coxswain, I can’t remember which, did a crew count as we went “Four good strong hands there, good oh”. Sometimes the smallest of sentences make the biggest of differences.

  We push the ILB down the slipway and off the trailer, there are four helms aboard, so the operation is pretty slick, one is already on the VHF to the coastguard, “jump in and start her” I’m told…. “Ok then… I think…..” Engine down, astern gear in as the lads jump in keeping us off the same lee shore we’re headed for just round the corner.  I am home where I belong.

  All aboard, I spin her round and we’re away.  Assessing the situation, the general consensus is to hold her off and let the tide rise.  I take us alongside, close to her keel, thinking if she’s sat there then we’re good here, I know the reef is pretty flat.  We spent many a moment as kids in Oppies stuck and wading around that very spot in these conditions.

  We have a chat with the skipper.  The boat is at present anchored at her bow.  We suggest transferring his anchor into the ILB so we can set it for him upwind and he can kedge himself off as the tide rises.  We’re at around mid range, so the rise is quick enough. He has 30m of chain and then rope. We get all the chain on board before I reverse us out slowly while he makes off the warp on the bow paying out the slack to us.  Gradually some load comes on, we run out of warp and start paying out the chain. All of a sudden “pop” she’s away….

  And now heading straight for us at full speed.  Now, I am well used to my tows of dinghies overtaking me under their own momentum, or a gust of wind, but not under full power and aiming straight for us.  This yacht has a white hull and red antifoul, it came very close to us. I somehow managed to dodge the yacht and then spin the ILB round so both boats are now pointing the same way and I can pace the yacht.  At this point we still have her anchor and all the chain in the ILB, they have the other end of the warp around a cleat. The experience of the crew meant the warp was quickly untied from the anchor chain in our boat, no discussion or instruction needed, just experience and intuition.  I’m just trying to hold her steady in the sweet spot between the bow and stern waves. We both succeed and our rather unusual “tow” is released.

  Next, to get them on a mooring.  No visitors moorings in the harbour it would seem. No wonder no one wants to visit!  There is a harbour mooring free, but the buoy has no strops on it, making it impossible to pass a line through the ring without the aid of a dinghy.  Now we are not in the tropics, we are on a lee shore with a choppy force 5 making things tricky. And of course, it is cold, we don’t just hop in a dinghy here, especially one you have to inflate and then row!  They had a couple of attempts at getting the bow close enough to the mooring for us to pass a line through. With an interesting and somewhat unconventional mooring method, where I once again saw too much of that red antifoul, we got a line through the ring and back to the yacht.  He made it fast, I backed us the hell out of there quickly, with some assistance from the wind pushing us out before the line went tight and he made it fast. Phew!

  We tie up alongside and I am sent on board to help sort the mooring out with him.  We double the lines up, both still rigged to slip as we realise he would otherwise have to leave a line on the mooring.  Not ideal, but it set good on a bridle with and independent back up. The skipper was happy with it.

  Meanwhile the other lads have realised that the other person on board is still gripping the wheel and not looking too great.  While I’m messing with lines, the knowledge, understanding and people skills of our team come out. They are quickly aware of a potential situation and have in in control and resolved, without any of a word needed between our crew.  It turns out it was a visiting yacht with two people on board, they had just completed a nine and a half hour passage, slogging against the wind, to arrive here and hit the unmarked reef. At a guess they slowed down as they ran aground leaving the wind to do the rest, she was pinned on the lee shore, fortunately on a rising tide.

  Less than an hour from the pager going we are “Back on Station and ready for service”.    

First World Problems

#firstworldproblems we say jovially, since there is no other way to cope with the reality of the truth.  To consider the #firstworldproblem we have just identified in any detail is to open a huge can of worms, we disappear down the r*bbit hole.

I do the dishes, look at the washing up liquid and I know I am contributing to a lasting scourge on the earth that will outlive me, the bottle is plastic and the contents “Harmful to aquatic life”. 

I am bombarded by advertising trying to entice me to “buy this” “aspire to this” “be like them” “the perfect lifestyle”, I think I am ignoring it, yet I can name more company logos than I can plants in my garden.  

It is near impossible to buy food which does not come in plastic packaging, hasn’t been grown without chemicals and hasn’t had cancer causing preservatives added.   I pick up “food” in the supermarket, read the ingredients label and see more chemicals listed than foodstuffs, I put it back.  Palm oil is hidden in so many products under so many different names that I cannot avoid it.  Every time I eat I am poisoning myself, I have little choice.   And we wonder why our children suffer mental health problems.

And I am one of the lucky ones, I live on an island where organic veg is easy to find, our diary cows enjoy range of the fields are well tended too, milk doesn’t come much fresher.  We can eat fish, crab and lobster on the same day it was caught.  But all of this comes at a price to the consumer. 

A price I can fully understand, I have seen and worked in the places our food comes from.  I can’t afford to buy the high quality foods all the time, but when I can I try to.  Again I am one of the lucky ones, my partner grows veg for us in the garden, I have friends and family with allotments, from whom I have had the joy of the finest tasting cabbage, peas and cauliflower.  All plastic free, all local and all with a flavour that gets lost in the supermarket.  But I still have to use the supermarkets, whose economies of scale keep us stuck in the trap.  And I am one of the lucky ones.

#firstworldproblems we say.  Take the plunge down the r*bbit hole I say.  If we make a one degree alteration to our course, and then another degree we can steer ourselves slowly and surely toward a new destination.  Right now I’m not too sure where I’m going to start, but I am going to start, that is the helm being turned toward that new destination.

     

BEEEEEP BEEEEEP BEEEEOOOOEEEEOOOO…..

Was the rude awaking of the RNLI pager going off at 0654 this morning, mostly asleep and slightly confused I stumbled around the bedroom for tracksuit bottoms and as many warm layers as came to hand, boots by the front door, car keys in the usual place and off out into the darkness.  At this point I still had no idea what time it actually was, I had been sound asleep, so it could have been any time between 0200 and 0800, once I’d turned the key in the car ignition the clock showed 0656.   It still looked like the middle of the night, dark, but a clear night with stars, ah lovely, I thought.

  This hour of the winter morning gave me a clear drive through the village to the boathouse, which was a treat in itself.  I wondered what the shout could be, the scallop grounds are closed, so unlikely to be a scalloper within the 12 mile limit anyway, leisure craft – I immediately dismissed that idea, lobster boat seemed unlikely in the dark too.   I get to the boathouse and am fifth in the door, my second treat of the day, I’ve actually made it on to the shout!  

  It is a call for the ALB (big boat), the only information we have as we get our gear on and launch the boarding boat, is the call is to a small fishing vessel which has broken down 2 miles east of Langness.  Coxswain asks for the time of high water, I check, 0637, 4.9m.  I am still not awake enough to trust my eyes and judgement, another crewman takes a look, now confirmed with four eyes and two brains we can go.  

  We launch the boarding boat, climb aboard and head out to the lifeboat, taking care to dodge the string of lobster pots between us and the boat.  All aboard and I’m in the wheelhouse, first job turn the breakers for the nav equipment on, the work front to back, radar, GPS, chartplotter, other GPS.  With our helmsman patiently reading our compass heading (which keeps changing as we swing on the mooring) I get the radar setup with heading, nav input and speed data, then sit down in the nav seat and look at the chartplotter.  RNLI Laserplot looks different today…  We have a new system running, it has been installed while I was away in the Atlantic, yikes!  We do have the same system on the ILB, which I can use fairly competently, but today I sit in the nav seat and my pre cup of tea brain is functioning in its usual way (breathing, moving and basic speech only).  It takes me a couple of minutes to forget my friend Laserplot and meet my new pal SIMMs, with some additional input from most of the crew we get our route on the system.  Fortunately this hasn’t caused us delay, we already know the way to Langness, radar is up and running and there is plenty of visibility to make out the lighthouse there.

  Once we round the corner at Langness we see one boat well light up and in the right sort of place so we start to head towards it, an update from the coastguard gives our casualty position as being more to the east, so it isn’t the boat we can see.  Our mechanic is talking to the casualty on the VHF, the casualty vessel has a good bright torch which he now flashes for us, and bingo, we are now sure we see him.   The dawn is starting to break now too and it is cold, but with the dawn light our job gets easier.

  The plan is to get the boat in tow, so our crew are on deck preparing the tow line.  The boat itself is only a very small fibreglass powerboat with Z drive and small wheelhouse with two guys on board, the ILB could have done this job!  Our coxswain brings us alongside the small boat, we want to pass the tow line and make if off to their bow.  They have somehow had an oil spill in their boat too and the decks are like an ice rink.  It is almost impossible for one of them to negotiate the narrow rail round the wheelhouse and on to the bow.  While we have hold of them alongside, our quick thinking and long legged mechanic hops over the rail, onto their bow.  I pass him the tow line, he makes if off on their cleat and hops back over the rail onto the lifeboat.  Job done, vessel in tow and we sit tight, making 3.5 knots through the water, luckily the Irish Sea is pushing past Langess at almost three knots, it is going to take just over an hour to get back to Port St Mary.

  I didn’t put any thick socks on before I left the house and by now, with just a thin pair in my boots, my feet are freezing and it is making the rest of me cold too.  Later today I will take a pair of welly socks to the boathouse for the future, being out all night like this would be very very unpleasant and being that bit chilly sure slows down your thoughts and movements.

  On the plus side, the sun rose some time around 0830 and it was a lovely morning.  The white anvil shaped clouds over the island were lit up with pretty pink colour.  It was a treat to watch the dawn at sea, although the last time I saw sunrise at sea I was in the tropics, shorts, t-shirt, sextant!

  As we were coming back round Langness the waves were starting to pick up as the tide was increasing against the wind, it was pretty rocky in our big boat, so I’d say it would have been fairly uncomfortable in the little thing we were towing.  As we headed further inshore it all settled down again into a comfortable tow and we in the harbour within a hour of picking them up.  

  Next we needed to get the stranded casualty alongside the harbour wall, the Inner Harbour was going to be the best option for this little boat, so the plan was to stop at our mooring, put a couple of crew in the boarding boat and use that to tow them into the harbour.  In another one of those “make a call quickly” moments it was me that ended up in the boarding boat.  I started her up and went back to the lifeboat to collect another crewman and then off to take the casualty vessel in an alongside tow, while our big boat went to refuel.  It was a nice easy job on a flat calm day.  Leaving our big boat to go a refuel we took the casualty to the harbour and left them alongside a ladder with a phone number for the local boat services.  

  I don’t know much about angling, but if it means getting up in the dark to go and sit on a cold boat for no pay, I don’t think it is a pastime for me.    

Lady Captain and the Old Gaffer

“Lady captain, lady captain” came the cry from below the harbour wall “You made it back safely.” The pieces began to fall into place when my very able and dapper looking crewman reminded me of the day’s events.

I’d been tasked to take “Daddys yacht” out in a Parade of Sail that afternoon. By Daddy’s Yacht” please adjust your thoughts to a 23ft gaffer. This is no ordinary gaffer though, she was a former racing hull which Dad had salvaged from a field, removed the deck and topsides and rebuilt as an open dayboat, a gaff rigger with aluminium spars, asymmetric spinnaker and high profile lifting keel complete with Melges 24 bulb on the bottom.

  Dad being double booked and unable to take part in both the boat building and sailing events simultaneously, meant that daughter was given command of the part gaffer part race machine Genesta II, with instructions to “go and show her off in the Parade of Sail”.

So, I assembled a crew who mostly arrived suitably attired for the occasion. First in the door was our able and dapper crewman, dressed in Dubarry’s, bright red trousers and pin-stripe shirt. Upon seeing this our second crewman reappeared after a quick wardrobe change, now sporting a shirt and full Tweed. Lady Captain herself wearing the sailor’s classic “Number 1s” outfit a short skirt, shirt and blue blazer, the look being completed with a suitably tacky white scarf with blue anchors all over it and a pair of Aviators sunnies.

Son was the final crew member, my little brother was apparently the only one of us who had heard “sailing” in the event title, the rest had clearly just heard “parade”, yes here he was wearing actual waterproofs in the form of the finest Gill sailing gear.

Genesta is tied up on the pontoons, but with just inches of water under her. We get on board and after some head scratching manage to rig the mainsail with its heaven knows how many halyards. The jib was considerably simpler once we’d found the clutch with “Furl” staring at us. Sitting on a gaff rigger repeating the asymmetric “tack on sheet” mantra was an unusual experience. We looked at the lines several times and several times again, looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and hoped for the best.

There is a 5hp outboard on the back for marina manoeuvres, which is fortunate as there is not a huge amount of room in the marina and we’ve got to wait for a bridge swing to get out. We cast off the lines and make our way slowly toward the bridge. We are a few minutes early and there are plenty of other boats also trying to hold station, or more frequently spinning round in circles, waiting for the bridge. Being in what is essentially a 23ft dinghy we saw no harm in “just going alongside that yacht and hanging on to it for a couple of minutes”. So we did and we chatted to the fellas on the yacht as we waited “We’re taking Daddy’s yacht out in the Parade” we announced to them. After a brief and jovial exchange the bridge opened and we were on our way out into the open sea.
 

The Parade of Sail was less of a parade and more of a sail where you can affair. It is a Traditional Boat Festival and there were all manner of antiques bobbing around, slowly. And so we were off, trimmed hard to the wind to gain the upwind advantage, which to be fair we already had, given that we were one of the few boats that could actually sail upwind. With a suitable amount of ground made to weather we bore away and hoisted the kite. And there we were, flying around, scorching past a century’s worth of history, in this modern toy which proudly bears its very own genuine Old Gaffer’s Association stamp. It was a cracking afternoon’s sail, plenty of breeze and some nice rolling waves. Feeling we’d done our bit for Dad, there was a bridge swing and we were thirsty it made sense to head back in, put the boat to bed and open a can.

And so it was, walking down the quay later that day as the cry of “lady captain” came, our dapper crew member pointed out that “those fellas probably thought we were completely clueless with our ‘taking Daddy’s yacht out’ dressed in our ‘yachting gear’ charade.” No wonder they seemed surprised to see us back safe!
 

Exam Day

Wednesday morning I cleaned out my cabin, packed my gear and said goodbye to the boat.  I walked back up to the sailing school arriving at 0900, “Come on in, sit down, here is the exam paper, you have 2 hours” the Examiner said to me cheerfully.  “Wow” I thought, this is the first hint of confirmation from another human being  that I might have actually got my head round this! 

I sat down and all my familiar friends were back around me, Almanac, plotter, dividers, plotting sheet.  I felt very comfortable, until I started to work through the paper.  I realised this was the first time I had worked through the calculation process without a pro-forma to copy from.  There was a brief moment of panic, but it was short lived.  My hand just started writing the figures down in the right order.  Of course!  Having done this repeatedly daily for the last month I really had learned it.  The answers flowed quickly, I’d finished with plenty of time to spare and handed the paper over to the Examiner.  

  Next was a oral assessment, which was basically questions and answers about the trip.  How had I organised the watches, provisioning, routing, currents, weather patterns, ongoing maintenance, stores, power considerations etc etc.  The way the trip had panned out couldn’t have been better for me in many respects, since I genuinely had done and could prove all of the above.

   At the end of it the Examiner shook my hand and gave me a sealed envelope to post to the RYA once I got back to the UK.  I had successfully done it, sat and passed the RYA Yachtmaster Ocean exam!!  It turned out that 30 years ago the Examiner had also set off out into the Atlantic with sextant and instruction books and taught himself, thus he was suitably impressed with my efforts.

I had just enough time for a beer with my shipmates before the taxi arrived to take me to the airport.  Skipper was over the moon for me, having seen me drowning in a world of books and numbers, bordering on insanity for weeks. 

And that was that, airport and a couple of planes later I arrive home to a large bunch of flowers, a lit fire and a newly installed electric blanket!  I felt like I had just taken an exam and then had a really long bus journey home, so I insisted we drank Antigua Rum by the fire in the middle of this Thursday afternoon.

The 3 ton library had made it back home, I put my bags down and my thermals on.  

Holed up in port, or out at sea? I sure know where I’d rather be.

A crazy few days occurred in Antigua.  Friday started with a bit of a rum coma and turned in to a slow day.  Speedophobia was setting in, so keeping my eyes closed most of the day seemed a good option. 

I’d make contact with an Antigua based friend who I had sailed a race with in the BVIs last winter.  He’d invited me for a sail with them on the Saturday.  So Saturday was an adventure to Jolly Harbour on the west side of Antigua.  A lift had been arranged for me from outside a sailing school in Falmouth Harbour, so at 0900 on Saturday I had escaped Nelson’s Dockyard and the confines of the last 30 days.  Aaaaaaah, that’s better.  An enjoyable day full of youth, laughter, sailing, guys with shirts on and of course more rum with Team Liquid was just what was needed.

I woke up on Sunday, two things surprised me.  Waking up was one of them, waking up back on my boat was the second.  There was a hazy golf cart memory floating round my head, an unquenchable thirst in my mouth and I was hungry.  

On Monday things started to get a little hectic and I really wasn’t sure what to do next, but I knew I had already had enough of being holed up in port with no work or purpose.  

I had found a Yachtmaster Ocean examiner at sailing school I passed the other day.  There might be the chance for me to sit the exam here, which would save a trip to the UK for the exam.  There was a boat heading to the BVI and looking for crew to get there, leaving on Tuesday afternoon.  To add to this I had been invited to a meeting which could lead to a really good opportunity for work in Antigua, the meeting was also on Tuesday afternoon. 

  What to do?  I had no work guaranteed in the BVI, nor a return ticket, so entering by sea could make things tricky for the boat.  The meeting in Antigua sounded more promising. 

There were other things on my mind too, like the three ton of celestial navigation library that I was carrying round and the Speedos… 30 days of them…  The decider was finding a flight home for £126 leaving on Wednesday.  This was too cheap to miss, cheaper than two more days in Antigua, my eyes agreed.  

So Tuesday I donned my best flip flops and went to a meeting at a resort on the east side of the Island.  My taxi driver insisted on giving me a tour out to Devil’s Bridge at no extra cost, he was enjoying a day out.   

Later that day I delivered all of my celestial navigation notes, charts and logbook to a Yachtmaster Ocean Examiner.  I was to return in the morning and would either be sitting the exam, or getting a couple of hours of tuition, depending on whether he could make head nor tail of my “Learn yerself astro nav course”.  

Day 24. Dolphins at dawn…. Land Ho

My day starts at 0200, I come on deck to find the wind has dropped, we turn the motor on.  It had been raining so it was too wet to sit out on deck and enjoy what is hopefully the last night of stars.  

Skipper is still flapping that we haven’t enough fuel to get there.  I am sure that we have.   There is still more than ¼ of a tank in each (around 250 miles at best estimate) there are only 70 miles to go now.  Ok, so the gauges are up and down because fuel is low and sloshing around, but there is plenty of sloshing and therefore fuel.  All being well we’ll be in later today.  Once we’re a bit closer he should hopefully have the confidence to go with two engines and put the hammers down, my enthusiasm for spending a whole night bobbing around looking at Antigua tomorrow night is nil!

The clock changed again in the night as we passed 060W, which is handy because firstly I got an extra hour in bed and more importantly it buys us another hour to get into Antigua in the daylight.

  There is a lot of low cloud around and on the horizon I can see the unmistakable loom of lights indicating land. Similar to the haze you see over Liverpool and Belfast way some evenings, no one else had spotted it, I guess it must be an island thing.  

On my starboard bow is one hazy light patch and to port another hazy light patch.  My instinct says I’m looking at Antigua to starboard and Guadeloupe to port.  I get the hand bearing compass out and take, what I know is a very very rough fix.  Sure enough 285 mag to Antigua and 240 mag to Guadeloupe, a quick plot of this fix on the chart makes perfect sense and is within 9 miles of GPS.  For a rough rough fix 70 miles out using just the indicators of land it gives an acceptable confirmation of our position for now.

  The dawn creeps in beautifully and I get a star fix with all seven stars the Book gives me, plus Polaris too, so after 24 hours with no sun, I have a good fix for our approach.  I estimate around 50 miles to run, having chosen the furthest west position of the cocked hat, giving me worst case scenario from my fix.  Sure enough the line between my two star fixes runs exactly through my hazy land lights fix too – mighty!  

Then the day (which hadn’t really started yet) got even better. Just before the sun rose we were greeted by a welcome party of dolphins!! There must have been about 20 odd of them, common dolphins I think, small and very playful.  They spend about 5 minutes playing around our bow, leaping out of the water and doing tricks.   I told the lads they were there, but by the time they left the “wheelhouse” the dolphins were gone, to so those guys were just for me – wonderful.

  Burger and chips for tea tonight I hope!!!!!!   Well the morning was rather tense, to tense for sleeping.  The skipper was fretting about fuel, thinking we weren’t going to make it in daylight.  At this speed (one engine at 1600rpm and full sail in 8 knots of breeze giving us the usual 4 knots) we are still pushing it to arrive in daylight.  I am running round shaking reefs out, trimming sails and eeking every fraction of a knot I can get out of her (which is not a lot!).   

At 1015 I get to shout “Land Ho!!” as I see Antigua on the horizon, 30 miles off the starboard bow.  I’m just hoping now that we pick up a bit of sea breeze as we get closer, I’d really like to arrive before the customs office closes at 1700.  Finally, now it is in sight we can start to burn the black smoke a bit, 7 knots and we’re going to make it.  I await phone signal next….

Thoughts of land are making me nervous.  I’ve got butterflies in my stomach and I feel uneasy.  Is it the final pilotage or is it the land itself?  I haven’t really missed it.  People yes, but life on land, no.  That shape on the horizon marks the end to this ship board routine that I have become very much accustomed to.  My celestial companions, my clock, our position will all soon cease to matter.

I go into “harbour mode” and start cleaning out the galley, cupboards, storage spaces.  Partly to burn off this nervous energy and partly thinking the more I do now, the more time I can spend on the beach.

We close on Antigua over the next few hours.  Phone signal is my first contact with the outside world for 24 days and apparently “all is well” out there.  

The approach to English Harbour is fairly straightforward and we are anchored by 1530.  Shirts and shoes on, ship’s papers in hand, we drop the James Bond tender platform and head ashore to clear customs, drink rum and eat burgers.

Staring at me on the wall of the Galley Bar at Nelson’s Dockyard was the Three Legs of Man and the names of shipmates from home written next to it.   I drank rum… quite a lot of rum.  Back at the boat and although it is dark all of those stars are gone, just the brightest making themselves known above the lights of the land.  I wonder when I will see them all again.  I shall miss them.  

Day 23. Stars, showers, speed!

I’m on watch at 0600  and the clouds broke sufficiently for me to get a fix from the stars this morning, much to my relief and the fix looks good on paper.  Within an hour the sky had darkened and the rain had come in – really ridiculously heavy rain, no chance of a sun sight this morning or at noon, so for the final couple of fixes I’m relying on stars at dusk and dawn.

For most of my watch I’d had the hotel shifting at around 8 knots, with 2 reefs and a smallish headsail, it is a nice treat when the squalls come through and the wind blows.  In the biggest downpour we’ve seen yet I get the deckbrush out and give the topsides a wash down, then I have the joyous task of emptying literally gallons of water out of the mainsail stack pack, I basically had to half crouch under it with arms outstretched, put my neck and shoulders under it and stand up to lift the weight of water out of it!  “This could be a Youtube moment” I say to my shipmate, who reaches for his camera.  

Before this unexpected cool shower I was ready to get back into my bed at 0900, but after the soaking I am wide awake, so I set about getting the charts out and looking at an approach plan.  At an averge speed of 7 knots we’ll be there early morning, 6 knots, just after lunch, 5 knots and we’re holding off the coast for the night waiting for daylight.

I get the passage chart for the Caribbean out and note what longitude we will appear on it and then come up with an approach plan for English Harbour, Antigua.    We are now at 17 26’N 59 29’W, the clock will change again in around 30 miles time, soon after we’ll be on off the Atlantic chart and on to the Caribbean chart. I am determined to finish the journey by traditional navigation, as I started it.  I’m also not hugely comfortable with the over reliance on the chartplotter in these parts.  I want to know what I am looking for to use the physical navigation marks on both land and chart.

It doesn’t look like the job at that was promised at yacht show is going to happen, the owner doesn’t seem to have made any arrangements even for a berth at the show.   I’m not sure what will happen in Antigua, but I’ve got a day or two more to not think about the land.

Day 22. The Stars have their own reflections on the ocean

The 0200 – 0600 watch was a bit of treat really, flat calm and we are quietly motoring through the glassy ocean. The lightning had stayed away and the view out here is like nothing I have ever seen before.  There is no Moon and the Atlantic Ocean is so still that the brightest of the stars are leaving their reflections on the sea like fairy lights.      With the naked eye I can see the haze of a galaxy in the constellation of Cancer.  I have never even seen this through a telescope before.  It is just incredible. 

  At 0600 I am waiting for the horizon to come into view with the dawn. I’m ready with sextant, notebook and chronometer to take this morning’s star sights.  Between the clouds and the quickly brightening day it was a bit of a race, I got Arcturus, Spica, Sirius, Alphard (which I’d managed to identify in the night in the constellation of Hydra), Betegeuse and Deneb both disappeared into the clouds before I could get them to the horizon and I wasn’t quick enough to catch Jupiter before she also vanished in the cloud.  Back in my cabin by 0700 and a good fix plotted by 0730.

  As it happened that would be the only fix I could get all day.  When I woke up at around 1100 it was thick cloud and we were shifting under sail!! Yep, the breeze had finally materialised and for the first time on the whole trip I saw 20+ knots true wind.  2500 miles of ocean crossed and all of it in a force 3 or less –  unbelievable.   

The day looked like the Irish Sea (except the ocean was maybe a little bluer), it was cloudy, windy, rainy and looking kind of stormy, a huge contrast to yesterday.  We have nice rolling swell, two reefs in the main and I feel very much at home, finally the sailing is good!  Ok, so we’re not quite pointing at Antigua, our best (lowest) heading was around 225 – 230 true, but we are averaging around 7 knots, touching 8 or 9 on the occasional waves.  A bit of south in our course is doing no harm, since we are at 19 degrees 30N and we need to get down to 16N for Antigua.  To everyone’s relief we are finally over coming our likely fuel deficit and if we keep this up for another 15 hours (which seems unlikely) we will have some reserve in the tanks.  

The other massive bonus of this cloudy rainy day is that it just isn’t the weather for Speedos.  My shipmates are wearing clothes, aaah.

It wasn’t much of day to be out on deck with there being no sun around to keep me occupied in the routine I’ve become used to.  It became a bit of a duvet day with a couple of good books. 

 The extent of today’s navigation effort has been to tot up the log and heading and plot a couple of DRs on the chart.  I hope for a star fix in the morning.  We are now probably 2 days off arriving in Antigua, so not the ideal time to be relying on dead reckoning alone.  (Of course the rest of the crew are using GPS so they don’t share my tension).  We are a boat of extremes really, The Mathematician has set the chartplotter and autopilot so that it could drive us to Antigua without any human input, while I am sitting with sextant and a whole library worth of books.  

Tuna, pasta, pesto for tea and we have on the third attempt nailed cooking pasta a la microwave.

Midnight, we are looking at 225 miles to run and still trucking along at 6 – 8 knots.  Over the course of my evening watch I have managed to get the track down to 240 true and now the miles are dropping more quickly.  

“Something is wrong with the radar” someone said.  I had a quick look at the all green screen and turned the gain down.  A few more tweaks and  now we’re tracking the low squally rain clouds moving around us too.  If the clouds are low enough and holding enough moisture (look really dark) I can pick them up at a range of about 2 miles, so tonight we’ve been watching an episode of The Blob.  

I’m hoping for a decent view of the sky at dawn as I will have been 24 hours on dead reckoning by then and we are getting closer to danger (land) all the time.  I have the sunrise shift in the morning, there will only be hopefully two more sunrises left, but this depends on our average speed. Keep up 6 – 8 knots and that is a Thursday lunch time / afternoon arrival, go any slower and we’ll have to slow down even more and spend one more night at sea so that we arrive in the daylight.