2017 Atlantic Crossing

Day 18. Mainsail, masthead, microwave meals

All the stars are out and then some!  There is a light haze in the sky which makes the stars look even bigger and closer than they are.  I counted 12 shooting stars in half and hour tonight!  On average if I’ve seen 10 per watch I’ve seen over 300 now, that is more shooting stars than I’ve had cups of tea!


As I write this it is 0200, the Mathematician has just got up to take over the watch from me, I still have 2 hours left to stay on deck, so I think I’ll grab my duvet, get out of the “wheelhouse” and move to the comfort of the top deck to enjoy the heavens.  Sleeping Beauty actually wakes me up at 0400!!!! I had been fast asleep in deck in duvet, which mean that the Mathematician had had the pain of getting him out of bed, that sure was an unexpected turn of events!


I was up for my 9am watch, after another sleep of bizarre and crazy, but somehow pertinent dreams.  Shaking myself into reality, I go on deck to find it a perfect day for scalloping, absolutely flatto!  “Don’t worry, you haven’t woken up on the Thames” the skipper says.  There is 8 knots of breeze, but for a change it is on the beam, so we are sailing at around 5 knots in the right direction still and it is a beautiful day.  The sea is ridiculously blue.  

I start the watch taking my morning sun sight, then assume my spot at he helm’s seat in the “wheelhouse” at least here you get a nice draught funnelling through and it is in the shade.  Another three hours of intensive reading as there is not a whole lot to watch for.  We had a couple more flying fish deposit themselves on the deck in the night, so they are rigged up to the fishing lines, it is wonderful that they so willingly jump aboard for us to tow them on a line behind us.


A couple of minutes before midday I hear the unmistakable sound of the mainsail falling down into the lazy jacks “Bugger!” I say out loud.  Sure enough the halyard is at the top and the sail at the bottom.  The halyard has a double purchase on it and the sail connects to a block with a swivel to a shackle, turns out that the swivel part had sheared, so the shackle had come down with the sail, luckily the block and double purchase system meant we hadn’t lost the halyard down the mast and it was just a case of climbing up to retrieve it.  

Within a matter of minutes I’m in the bosuns chair attached to the spinnaker halyard.  I had thought the process through a little a tied a long line to the bosuns chair in case I needed to be pulled down.  (Last time I’d only climbed up as far as the first spreaders and there is so much friction in the systems that I was nearly climbing down again, I’d worried that the weight of rope in the mast coupled with the friction would be enough to hold me up there and that I might not be heavy enough to get back down).  

I start climbing, about two thirds of the way up I have to stop looking up.  Most people will say it is looking down that scares them, for me looking up is more scary, looking up you can see how much the masthead is swinging around – even on this perfect scalloping day, looking down the whole platform looks a bit more stable.  Deep breath and keep climbing.  The kite halyard runs through a block just above the forestay, which is a 7/8ths rig, so it won’t get me all the way to the top.  My options are free climb up with not much to grab on to, or have the boat hook sent up to me on the additional “down” line.  Of course I choose option 2.  

I am now as close to the top as I can get, hanging on with one hand on the shroud, the other foot wrapped around the other shroud, so with me free hand and my teeth I pull the line and boat hook up to me.  Letting go with the other hand was not really an option , just too much swinging going on up there.  The boat hook is exactly the perfect length for me to reach the block at a stretch, it couldn’t have been any shorter!  Block and halyard pulled down to me there is one car in the mast track for the head of the sail, so I tie a small thin line between this and the bosun’s chair and send the boat hook and the “down” line back to the deck, basically I just dropped it all.  Ok, job done, time for a couple of photos and a cheeky masthead selfie and I am ready to get back down.  

Down is fine while there is slack in the main halyard, as soon as I overtake that slack my weight transfers off the kite halyard and on to the thin line connecting me to the main halyard.  This makes the whole experience rather more scary as for a few moments each time this happens I feel like I am just free hanging there, once the main slack is pulled through and my weight is back on the kite halyard again everything is more comfortable.  These total fear moments happen a few times on the way down, but I am back on the deck again, over heating, slightly traumatised and a little bit battered and bruised – again!  My work here is done and within 30 minutes of the sail coming down we have it back up again.


I sit in the shade on the transom step with my feet in the sea trying to get my body temperature back down when a huge fish (probably Mahi Mahi?) leaps out of the water – there must have been something big chasing it!  Which makes me think of Jaws, I take my feet out of the sea.


In the calmer sea state we can now see Sargassum seaweed, this is a good sign that we are approaching the western side of the pond and the Sargasso Sea.  I forget what creature lays its eggs in the Sargassum – eels maybe?    There is also another long tailed tern flying about, a good indication that we are still not close to land.


I catch a few zeds in the afternoon and having missed my noon sight due to being up the rig there is little point in an afternoon sight, so astro nav duties are put on hold in hope of a star fix at dusk instead. 


Then we reach a low point on the trip.  While I was sleeping we had apparently caught a huge fish on my little hand trolling line, Skipper has wrestled it as close to the boat as he could, but the line snapped and it got away.  The same thing happened on the other line just after sunset, another fail to land, we got him right up to the boat, but this guy had obviously seen Finding Nemo and knew to “swim down”, he escaped too.  Both these fish have taken the last of our hooks and lures, so if we start starving I’ll have to come up with a recipe for flying fish, since these guys are kind enough to volunteer themselves on to the deck with no fishing tackle required.


“It doesn’t rain it pours”, the next downer was the realisation that we have run out of gas for cooking.  I find Skipper in the galley trying to get the hob lit “what is wrong with this thing” he is saying, “have we used all the gas?” I ask…. He checks…. Erm…. yes we have.  So even if we were to catch more fish (which we now can’t) we’d only have been able to freeze or microwave them anyway.


Luckily we do have a microwave, so the next challenge is a microwave menu plan.  We have another 5 or 6 days to run to Antigua (all being well).  The tinned ravioli is getting closer… 

There is very little wind, we are motorsailing again.  730 odd miles to go and the fuel tanks are just above half full – it is going to be a very close call.  The Mathematician reckons we have 150 hours of fuel remaining at 1600 rpm, on one engine at a time.  150 hours is 5 days, with no wind this damn shed will make just over 4 knots under one motor alone.  At 4 knots were are 7 days away, at 5  knots we are 6 to 7 days away, at 7 knots we’ll be there in 4 days.  This tight and slightly unknown educated / calculated guess is a cause for some concern.  The weather  files suggest that we have nothing but doldrums between here and Antigua for the next five days.  I don’t want to eat the ravioli and the bottle of Oban I have bought for Henry in the BVI (if I make it to there) is starting to look very tempting….  Morale has dropped, I am tired after today as well which doesn’t help.


Just before sunset we are approaching a huge cloud bank on the western horizon.   It doesn’t look too threatening from the tops of the clouds, mostly all stratos, no mountains or anvils reaching high aloft.  But at the southern end there is a really defined sharp edged cloud touching the horizon, it is so well defined it looks like land under the clouds.  I don’t like the look of it, however it should pass to the north of us, to be sure we alter course and put a little bit more south in the route to try and dodge it.  I keep watching it, slowly I can start to see the red post sunset horizon appear below it and it seems to be dissipating, phew!  I had just got my star plan ready for taking my sights at 1810, but alas, by 1800 we are under the thick clouds and there are no stars to be had.  It looks like we’ll have to go for a dawn star sight and then sun tomorrow.  Today’s estimated position on my chart is just a pure dead reckoning.


Our skipper has cooked up a successful meal a la microwave and for pudding he’d made Angel Delight!! Yep, chocolate Angel Delight, made with orange juice, so it is like Terry’s Chocolate Orange mousse, mmmmmmmmm. It is like a trip back to childhood in the 80s. Morale has instantly improved.


Now I’m on my 2000 – 0000 watch, we are still covered in the thick clouds, it is warm and muggy, and really really really dark!!  So dark you can hardly see the front of the boat!  The only light offered anywhere is that from the phosphorescence.  Things are looking up a little, the electric coffee machine also makes tea and as I write this sentence I have just been handed a cuppa – aaahhh.  

And of course we are now getting closer and closer to Antigua.  Today I am ready for it, yesterday I could have stayed out here for a few more years, but today land, burger, chips, a phone call home, wifi and a bar are all very very appealing.  It is now 2200 and this is now officially the longest I have been at sea for – ever.  Muc Maun and the Doldrums – a recipe for a painful few days, a few minutes ago we were motor sailing at 6 knots, now we’re back down to 4, head sail furled because the wind is on the nose.  Thank goodness we have a catamaran, all the gadgets and a large fuel capacity, I hope we’ve got the fuel sums right.  Had we had fewer gadgets and a spinnaker instead we would probably have been just about arriving there now still cooking on gas??  C’est la vie as my Breton skipper friend would say.


0000, well 0008 actually I am supposed to be off watch, but Sleeping Beauty has not surfaced, I am furious. This time the usual rude yelling routine is unrepeatable here… My mother would probably disown me.



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