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.  

Day 21. Venus and Jupiter change places, the icing is on the cake

Today started at 0530, I plotted a quick EP to work out my LHA and GHA of Aries (me on the ocean compared to the Sheep on the dish) so I can go on deck and take a dawn star sight.  
I get sights on Arcturus, Spica, Sirius, Betelgeuse, Capella and I just miss Deneb before she vanished into the daylight (partly due to dropping a cup of tea all over the deck, I had to race for the kitchen roll before the boat rolled back to starboard sending tea down the steps and onto the deck below – I was too late!). 

It is too cloudy to see Polaris in the north, but I do see three satellites racing by. They sure shine bright in the early morning light, each one looked almost as big and bright as the ISS.  There was also an enormous falling star (possibly the 3rd biggest I’ve ever seen). 

In the east it is clear are two planets rising in the hazy of the breaking dawn.  The first one up I assume is Venus and the second Jupiter.  I take sights on them both since they are there, although the second one is probably too low in the sky to be useful.  

I have the 0600 to 0900 watch this morning, which is fabulous.  There is not a breath of wind out here this morning and the ocean smells kind of fishy or “ozone” as Dad calls it, that low tide smell at the breakwater, superb!  The sea is like glass, it is a beautiful morning and everyone else is in bed, so there is only me sat here to enjoy it.  Lovely! Thank goodness again for the catamaran and her large fuel tanks.  Luckily the forecast is suggesting 25 knots of breeze for us for the next few days, so hopefully we can sail the rest, if we can get this hotel up to 7 knots we’ll be there in 2 or 3 days….

  As the sun rises I’m sat on the top deck doing my calculations on the sights I’ve just taken.  It turns out that this is the most accurate and beautiful star sight I have taken yet, all the lines cross almost at the same point, giving me a fix that I am totally confident of our position to within 5 miles (the thickness of the pencil cross on the ocean chart).  I love this, star navigation is my new favourite thing.

  For good measure I elect to add the sight reduction from what I had assumed to be Venus, so I go through the calculations and get an answer that doesn’t make sense.  I know my LHA is correct, the star fix has proved that already, I check the GHA for Venus and declination – also correct.  After a few minutes of musing I put the same figures in but this time I use Jupiter instead of Venus and sure enough, the numbers add up.  In the week I have been off watch for dawn Jupiter and Venus have changed places in the sky.  This really is the icing on the cake for this morning’s fix, I really am starting to understand all this.

  Shortly after 0900 a swallow lands on the rail on the port side.  The little guy was ready for a little rest, he must have been flying for some distance to be out here! He stayed with us for almost an hour, it was great watching him having a little clean of his feathers and keep his balance perched on a wire on this rocking boat.  I wanted to make a little bird bath for him, but figured I’d probably scare him off in the process.  Then he was gone, he is definitely winning the race to the Caribbean!

With not a zephyr of wind anywhere it sure was hot out on deck.  I’d not long retreated to the cool of my cabin when I heard loud voices, unusually loud.  I couldn’t work out what was going on, had they spotted or whale? It all sounded rather exciting, I headed for the deck.  The engine was off, the boat moving at less than half a knot.  The sounds I heard were coming from a couple of the crew swimming under the boat between the hulls.  It was the perfect day for it!

  The sea is SOOOOOO blue today and very very very deep (5000m according to the chart).  400 miles away from land, here I am enjoying a cooling swim around the boat, certainly not your average November day!  Pleasant as it was I quickly began to feel like shark bait and was soon back on the boat. 

Out of the sea and straight into a hot shower – ha! This is living 🙂

    The cool of my cabin was the best spot this afternoon.  I definitely have the best cabin, it is almost sound proof, there are no pumps or pipes running through it and being at the bow I get the breeze through three hatches, so it is the coolest place on the boat. 

 I force myself to wake up when I realise I am dreaming about Henry’s whisky!  Damn that bottle of Oban.  Just a wee dram would be such a treat, but I know one wee dram would rapidly lead to another….. And another…. And most likely another.

So I get up and set about working out my EP for this evening’s stars. Twilight and dinner seem to coincide exactly – again, so under pressure I shoot Vega, Fomalhaut, Deneb, and what I believe to be Nunki, but the numbers don’t add up, so I suspect I’ve got this one wrong.  Shooting stars in the evening is much trickier at least at dawn there is time to identify each star from its constellation before the dawn horizon comes in to view, as dusk I am still guessing somewhat.  Vega, Deneb and Fomalhaut I seem to have found, but the others are still a guess, so I don’t hold out much hope for a pretty fix like this morning’s one.  The Moon is also present in the western sky, just showing a sliver of a Cheshire cat smile, I take a sight on the Moon too for good measure, since I am only confident on three of my stars, a position line from the Moon might tidy things up a bit for me.

Now it is 2100, I have one more hour on watch, then up again at 0200 to 0600 and the chance to shoot the dawn twilight stars again. It is so still that Vega is actually putting a reflection on the sea.  

I’ve just seen lightning on our northern horizon, but since there isn’t a breath of wind it should stay away.  I don’t like thunder and lightning and I’m pretty confident that we are the tallest thing here for many many miles…..    

Day 20. Swallows, swells and still no wind

The clouds have cleared and the sun is shining, so today I am back navigating by the Sun and I have a fix which puts me back within 5 miles of GPS. Phew!

There is a whopping 5 knots of breeze, so we have been motor sailing most of the night and all day (and we are still on a beat).  It is another perfect day for scalloping, not for sailing. 

Two swallows flew by this morning, so we must be getting closer.  I suspect they will definitely be there before us!  

There are two opposing swells running which is strange, the larger and longer swell is coming from the north with a smaller, shorter swell from the south.  I suspect the northerly swell is being driven by a big low pressure system somewhere up toward the eastern side of the USA, and there must be another system somewhere south of us driving the other swell. We seem to be sat in the middle of the two, in a massive (1,000 mile) calm patch.  We don’t really want the weather to develop in the south or south west since we are north of the track, but any wind would be better than no wind.  

It is pretty warm out so I’ve spent most of the afternoon in the relative cool of my cabin.  

It being Monday tomorrow the watch pattern rotates again, so I get to sleep from 0000 to 0600 tonight!  Although I will need to be up by 0530 to get a star sight when the horizon becomes visible just before dawn.  This is my least favourite watch pattern, but I do get the sunrises for the final few days of the trip.   At least the distance is dropping more quickly now.  As I write this at 1730 we are almost at the 500 mile point. 

My mind starts to turn toward making landfall and I starting flicking through the charts and cruising guide for the islands.   Antigua should be the first land we see, Guadeloupe is a lot taller than Antigua, but is 45 miles further south.  Monserrat is also pretty tall,  but it is a fairly small island and we shouldn’t be able to see it until on the south side of Antigua.  I have a vague mental picture of what it all looks like, but it is stored somewhere way back in a distant memory.   Another 4 or 5 days to go all being well, then burger and chips, phone calls and wifi 🙂

Dinner is baked beans and corned beef, with the last of the potatoes used in a reasonably successful microwave attempt at chips.  Mighty!  It is my watch now until 2200, it is drizzly again, so I chance another movie night.  Tonight’s choice (and choices on board are pretty limited) was the Seige of Jadotville, which turned out to be another superb film, again based on a true story.