Day 15. Eggspelling the stores

0400 – 0600 shift this morning, complete with a lovely, Cheshire cat smiling moon and the chance to take some star sights just before sun up.  Venus and Jupiter are rising in conjunction in the Eastern sky.  Then a big fat sleep until just before noon, to get my noon sight at 1234 ship time.

 

I left my cabin to be greeted by Speedos in the galley at eye height…. I went back to my cabin.

 

We have been sailing all day and making some progress toward Antigua, albeit slow, it is a steady average of 5 knots.  We have just over 1100 miles to run and by the Mathematician’s estimations, enough fuel (with no reserve) to motor 800 of those miles, looking at the forecast we’re going to need to motor most of it.  It is hard to believe we have sailed around 2000 miles and not seen more than 15 knots of breeze.  The exception being one spell for about 5 minutes under a squall where there was 22 knots across the deck, but that has been it.

 

It has been a slow day and a slow trip all in all.  I have spent the afternoon with my head in the books again, starting to make real sense of the astro nav stuff now, my track on the chart is acceptably close to GPS and today I’ve got my head round plotting our position from a star fix.  With practise it is all getting easier.

 

Food is featuring on my mind more and more now as I am aware of the ever decreasing stores.  Today I have eggsiled and eggspelled the stinky eggs.  The bread still looks edible, but it is 10 days out of date, I wonder what is in it to keep it so long and conclude it probably isn’t food!  I’m on the French Toast and wraps now instead.  We didn’t catch any fish today, so I made Cowboy Beans and fried potatoes for tea, a good bit of carbohydrate comfort food fix was just what was called for and it proves we can eat good meals from tins.

Midnight watch for me tonight, so couple more hours of making sense of my nav sights, then the beauty of the darkness and a moon rise to look forward to on my stint.  We are now motor sailing through the night since there is not a lot of breeze and we need to shorten the gap between us and Antigua as best as possible.  The wind has shifted to east by east south east, so the choices were sail 300 – 320 (away from Antigua) or gybe through at least the 120 degrees this shed needs to gybe through and sail due south – also not toward Antigua.  I think the plan is to motor sail during the nights where the wind is light and suffer the drifting pain during the days.  

I estimate that every night watch I must have seen an average of at least 10 shooting stars, they are becoming the norm rather than the nouvelle, incredible! In two weeks at sea that I’m sure is more than I would see in a lifetime on land.

Sleeping Beauty is still impossible to wake up, I decide that maybe I will open the biscuit tin and wave it around his cabin to see if I can awaken the inner mouse?

Day 14. You shall have a fishy on a little dishy…

Two weeks at sea now and finally I wake to a few white tops outside and the odd wave coming in the window – breeeeeeeeeeeze!!!! Thank goodness, my strategy of motoring to hit 40W by today looks to have paid off.  We have hopefully now escaped The Nothing and all being well this breeze will keep filling and get us to Antigua.  The couple of days spent motoring and the nights motor sailing at 7 – 8 knots overnight have shaved some good time and distance off the trip.  We still have just shy of ¾ full fuel tanks too.  The clock is down to below 1250 miles to go now and we’re shifting at an average of 5 -6 knots with an apparent wind angle of 90 – 120 in 12 knots of breeze.  The boat seems to like this.  We are slightly high of the track to Antigua, but we’re heading the right way.

With the crew sleeping I won the battle of the beach towels this morning and I  managed to get a couple of hours in the prime sun spot.  

Fish for tea again!!!  It is a Dorado, but it is more silvery and less colourful than the first one.  This time we caught it on a lure that looked like a squid (the birds were pretty interested in the lure too).  Once again I am the gutter girl, but this time our slightly squeamish skipper watched.  It still had some small fish in its belly, so I did a full dissection, pulled all the bits out and showed him saying “Oh, look what he’d had for his dinner!” haha!  

 

Celestial nav is coming together, I’m going back through all the sights I’ve taken so far and correcting everything.  Now I’ve worked out what I’m doing, my plot on the chart is impressively close to GPS 🙂  Stars next….

My Chromebook working slower now, it needs to hook up to the internet for a reboot I think…. I hope it lasts the trip?

The tropical autumn sky at sunset was worthy of a rendition of Autumn Sky, so I spent sunset sat on the foredeck playing tunes especially for all the folks at home, Autumn Sky for Dad, Ellan Vannin for Juan, Eddie O’Gara’s Waltz for Hannah and Alexa aaaaaaahhhh, heaven 🙂

Day 13. Half way drinks

This morning we are sailing, which means there must be some breeze, but there is no sign of any white caps outside the window, so probably not much.  We have made it to 22N 37W which was the aim by Sunday lunchtime, so there is a small victory.  I’m on deck for my 1200 watch and we are sailing at a painful 4 knots…. Another 15 days at sea at this rate.  We still have ¾ fuel in both tanks, 750 miles of motoring perhaps, so there is still, at worst, 750 to cover under sail at best 400.

 

F*******CK has been my word of the day.  Sailing this morning lost us some ground against The Nothing, we were down to 3 knots in 5 – 7 knots true, meaning The Nothing was catching us up again, we had out run it, but not enough.  By 1300 we were motoring again, thank goodness, we are now making 6 – 7 knots away from The Nothing.   Weeks of no wind is finally getting to me, 1500 miles to run at 3 – 4 knots gives us an ETA of maybe sometime next year!

 

At least I have plenty of time for learning celestial navigation (it is probably keeping me sane at the moment) I’ve been back to day 1, recalculating all the mistakes and doing new sums for planet and Moon sights that I had taken, but not had the mental capacity or will to deal with until this point.  On the chart I now have 2 days worth of sensible positions, so now my quest is to tidy up what I have already done, whilst keeping on top of the day to day sights.  Things are looking good on that front, I’m understanding the maths, seeing mistakes and getting my head round the more complex things like the moon. I will have nailed this by the end of the trip.  1730 and that is enough of the books.

 

“Beer o’clock skipper?” I ask, “Well, I’d been trying not to have a drink, but it is Sunday” “Do you need some peer pressure” says I, as I’m looking at the chart, “well, it is Sunday, it’s sunny, sunset soon and we are half way” “Half way drinks it is then” he says as he pours me a large vodka and tonic… And all the frustration evaporates.   Cabin fever 🙂

 

Roast for dinner, it is Sunday after all.  By the time we’d finished eating the breeze is starting to fill as I hoped it would and we are now trucking along motor sailing at 8 knots assisted.  We keep motoring this time, lets get ahead of this hole before we start sailing again.  

 

We change watch pattern again tomorrow, thank goodness, back to the 0400 cycle.  The result being I am on tonight from 2200 – 0200 and then a big fat massive lie in until 0900 tomorrow morning – yippee!!!

 

It is now 2030, I’m on deck at 2200, it might be fit to sail by then, but really it would be good to get to 40W as quick as possible, looking at the weather forecast that is where the breeze will be by tomorrow lunch time, hopefully (at 8 knots!) we will be there too.

 It is so dark out here, the milky way stretches like a rainbow from one horizon to the other, right over my head, hanging like a big cobweb covered in dew.  I can’t escape the shooting stars, they are everywhere.  I spend an hour on the trampoline on the foredeck watching phosphoresence being churned up bow our bow waves and then disappearing off under the hull.  Every now and then the two bow waves meet and make one big wave (which is the water bomb noise I experience in my cabin), exploding and creating a miniature underwater firework display, just for me.  Fabulous.  Now it is 2am and I can sleep for a whole seven hours in a row!!! Aaaahhhh zzzzzzzzzzzz

Day 12. The Nothing and the Dragonfly

I woke up for 0600 this morning to us motoring in no breeze.   It is a risky strategy, but we need to get to 22N 037W by Sunday evening if we have any hope of finding any breeze for the next week.  For those of you that have seen The Never Ending Story, “The Nothing” is chasing us, a big hole of no breeze growing over hundreds of miles behind us.  There is literally no wind, but a long big swell running from the NNE. 

 

We had a brief but big rain shower and shortly after it dodged what looked like the formation of a mini tornado down at sea level, similar to the dust devils you get flying off the beach at home in a big nor’westerly, except this was on the sea and very visible.  It looked threatening, so I opted for a large course alteration to pass upwind of it.  It must have been some kind of vortex spun down from the cloud in the shower, certainly strange.

 

Then another strange thing happened… a dragonfly landed on the boat.  We are around 800 miles from the nearest land (Cape Verde Islands), so where this poor thing had come from or was going to I have no idea.  It flew away and then reappeared about half an hour later, this time I tried to give it some honey, it sat on my hand for a while and then the bloomin’ thing bit me!  Yep, just charged it’s teeth straight into my hand, it hurt more than horsefly and drew blood!! Maybe that is what is was after and not the sweet nectar honey.  I put him down after that.  He’s gone now.

 

I spent the early part of my shift doing a stock take of stores, we still have long way to go, and it doesn’t look like we are going to get there quickly.  We have plenty of dried goods, pasta, rice etc, some spuds left, loads of onions, eggs, and probably just about enough tinned stuff to survive.  I don’t fancy our chances if we are another 3 weeks out here though (which at present looks like it could happen), there is of course still the tinned Ravioli if things get desperate.  Having a fully functioning water maker is a blessing, we can wash, shower and drink, so ship stores of bottled and emergency water are still high.  

 

We definitely have a large mouse on the boat.  Most of the biscuits are gone, along with most of the chocolate.  If our progress slows any further it will be time for emergency measures (yep, stashing some tins of useful food in my cabin).  A couple of our crew will both last an Arctic winter on their own body stores, I won’t!

Must dash in a moment for the only thing that has to happen on time in the day…. Noon sight o’clock, which today is around 1405 and 20s on my GMT clock, 1205 ship time.

 

Back now into the cool of my cabin and with apparent wind on the bow I have a lovely cool draught running through here – aaahhh.

 

An updated forecast shows there should be breeze from 40W on Sunday on through into next week, and it looks steady enough to get us to the Caribbean, so we are not quite burning the black smoke, but have put the hammers down a bit more to hopefully out run The Nothing and find that breeze.  It is a big ask, 300 miles in the next 48 hours, but this gamble should hopefully pay off.  

Thus far our mathematician crewman has been in charge of the fuel consumption calculations.  Unfortunately this brand new boat did not come with a fuel consumption graph.   Yesterday he reckoned we had 8.75 days of motoring.  8.75 days at 6 knots (assuming flattish seas) is 1152 miles, by my reckoning.  He quoted we use 3.5 litres per hour at 1600rpm, so that makes my estimation (probably too generous) but even more optimistic 228 hours, 1371 miles at 6 knots.  

Presently we are 1500 miles away from Antigua, so things are looking up!  I am more relaxed about burning fuel we have used to escape The Nothing that threatens to encompass us here in the middle of ocean.  Cat sailing does have its benefits, two engines, two fuel tanks, 1000 litre tank capacity and of course the washing machine 🙂

 

It is a beautiful evening, all the stars are out, the milky way is so clear from NE horizon to SW horizon.  Night sailing is definitely my favourite part, there is so much more to look at.  Tonight the ocean is still, we are motoring quietly through phosphoresence, the sea has merged with the sky it is so calm.  Orion is lying on his side lighting up the eastern sky, everything is so clear it is just amazing.  I sit on the comfy cushions on the top deck totally undisturbed by the other person on watch.   So far on this trip I reckon I have seen over 50 shooting stars, including two huge ones.

I’ve hardly sat in the helm seat at all, the autopilot has it well under control and even with the dimmers on the instruments are too bright and too in my face.  Everyone sails by computer and instruments these days it would seem, I’m still sailing by feel, I like to feel the wind on my face and to see the sky.

Just after 0200 a beautiful moon rises like a big cheshire cat orange smile in the eastern sky.  At around 0530 I had another attempt at taking star sights to obtain a position fix.  In theory I should be able to sleep until noon now, then take a sun sight for latitude.  We are still motoring, there is still no wind, Sleeping Beauty is still impossible to wake up!  As I left the deck Venus has just risen in conjunction with another planet in the eastern sky, the sun will surely follow.  Clouds on the NE horizon, hopefully they will bring the breeze we’re looking for by the time I wake up?? 0604 am I’m going to sleep…zzzzzz

Day 11. Dragon in the Doldrums

This morning I woke up just before 11 and had a hot shower!  Then I arrived on deck to the latest weather update, basically no wind in the Atlantic and a huge hole chasing us round.  So we had been sailing in what looked like the Trade Winds off Africa, but since we made the turn right we have left that band of breeze and have been suffering with an average of 8 – 10 knots true wind.

 

We need some longer term weather info and it is impossible to shape a long course on a two day forecast, so our skipper sets about patiently keeping the Iridium and Ipad connection going to download 9 days worth of weather files.  The situation looks worse not better!  Between Bermuda and 15N there is a pressure gradient of a whopping 9mb, so not much wind anywhere and this whole seems to be building around our latitude with another vacuum forming over the Caribbean.  The Trade Winds don’t seem to have developed anywhere yet.

 

I spend the first hour of my watch trying to see if we can set up to sail dead downwind – nope is the short answer!  I try goosewinging, but at the point the jib sets the main just backwinds at the top, the absence of a whisker pole makes it impossible to keep the jib out.  I’m steering as low as I can and struggling to keep the sails filling, the autopilot wouldn’t be able to sail her on the edge like this for long.   If only we had a spinnaker instead of a washing machine.  The crew got their first real introduction to my inner genetic Dragon, which only unleashes it self in a handful of situations, one of them is being on a slow boat in no breeze.  Luckily there are four corners on this boat that they could scatter do – and they did!  Effing boat.

 

We have estimated enough fuel for 8 days constant running, so assumed worst case at 5 knots we can motor just shy of 900 miles.  We have 1700 miles to Antigua.  A plan is needed and it is falling to me to come up with one…

 

I tame the Dragon a little and channel my energy into assessing our options based on the weather forecast.   It is hard to gauge position, scale and distance using the GRIB file for the whole Atlantic, I have come prepared with hurricane plotting sheets from NOAA for this exact reason and they are really handy. It is easy to project our course options on the sheet and compare with the GRIB file as the scales are similar.  

 

I assess our options, we are 700 mile from Cape Verde which is upwind, up current and the exact opposite way that we are trying to go, but if the wind does vanish for weeks we can get there under motor, but it wouldn’t be pleasant.

 

Looking at the weather files and my tracking plots we have two options, a huge dive south down to 15 or 16N where there seems to be a constant, but still light breeze all the way across.  Our nearest landfall if we did have to motor would be Barbados.  This option would also involve us motoring SW for 24 hours potentially early on, looking at the weather files we are going to need to save all the fuel for the other end.

 

To the north there seems to be a band of breeze starting from 37W and running along the 22N parallel.  The breeze is going to die completely at some point on this route too, but in terms of distance to run, available breeze and time to get to Antigua this will probably be the favoured route.  Strange things are forecast at the other end in around 7 days time, zero wind, or wind possibly even coming out of the SW, which is really unusual, plus more weather systems moving in the north Atlantic which will hopefully suck in some circulation from this latitude.  There is more chance of a change in pressure gradient, and therefore wind, to the north and the more I weigh it up to more this option seems favourable.  

 

So the mission now is to get ourselves to 22N 37W by Sunday lunchtime, we have 48 hours to cover the 300 miles and now we are set on a heading of 290 our apparent wind angle has come closer to 120, the sails are filling and the boat is moving, so we’re only doing around 4 to 5 knots, but we are moving under sail and not burning fuel.  However, if we do run out of wind we will have to motor or we risk being stuck in a doldrum like area for weeks….  From there we should have enough breeze to get us to within motoring distance of Antigua some time by the end of next week at the latest I hope.  Teabags might run out before the end of the trip.

 

So far it is the end of day 11 and we haven’t reached half way yet, but that is ok.  I like the view from my cabin window, all I can see is sea for miles and miles and miles, everywhere sea, sky, clouds, flying fish.  I like the noise in my cabin, the ocean gliding gently past the window (occasionally sneaking a small splash into my cabin), the bricks being thrown at the wheelie bin have stopped somewhat, we just get the occasional water bomb now.

 

I was treated to another stunning starry night, with the Moon rising later giving more darkness and more stars, tonight I’m on  2200 – 0200 and then 0600 – 0900

Day 10. Teach a man to fish and you’ll still have to gut it for him

We changed the ship’s clock at 0600 this morning, which gave me an extra hour in bed, although I still got up just to make sure, since my watch started at 0600.  I was treated to another long tailed tern in the sunrise. 

By 0930 my day’s work was done, watch over, breakfast eaten, washing out.  There is only me on deck, so I take the opportunity to be the first to get my beach towel in the prime sun spot.

The Sun and Moon are both visible together on opposite sides of the sky, so I take sights on them both in the hope of coming up with a fix from them.  After taking a noon sight I retire to the cool of my cabin for some sums and snoozing.

While I was sleeping the boys caught and landed a fish!! I wish I’d seen the kill, it  sounds like a proper funny episode.  Our skipper had reeled it in and the pair of them had wrestled it aboard and held it down to get the hook out.  They had then opted to kill it by cutting across the back of its neck, which had of course sent blood spurting all over the place.  With the fish dead and in a bucket, they had started cleaning up to mess.  One of them had picked up the rod and in doing so swung the fish hook through his own cheek somehow!  At this point I’m in tears laughing as they recount the story to me.  “It was like Texas Chainsaw Massacre all over the decks and all over the cabin” explained the guy with a hole in his cheek. 

So I come out on deck just after 1530 to take my afternoon sun sight, to find a decent sized Dorado sitting dead in a bucket waiting for me. Within a few minutes I have gutted it, chopped off the head and tail and now put it in a baking tray to cook for dinner – result!  I reckon I’d get a job on a French fishing boat, that fish was clean 🙂  And it sure was tasty, baked with some butter, lemons and Herb de Provence in tin foil, it smelled and tasted as good as Dad’s cooking.  Even once cooked the boys still didn’t know how to tackle the whole fish out of the tray, so I take it off the bone and serve it for them too.

Day 9. Muc Maun through the Doldrums

Having solved my quest for longitude and sun run sun yesterday I have given myself a day off celestial navigation and treated myself to a whole five hours unbroken sleep between 0630 and 1130 this morning, this is the longest sleep I’ve had in the last eight days, to get two hours sleep at a time seems to be the norm.  

Sleeping can best be described as being inside a wheelie bin which is being rolled down a hill while people throw bricks and water bombs at it.  Needless to say the sleep I have had has been dominated by crazy and really vivid dreams.

Back on shift a 1200 to 1500, little to report, progress is still slow, we have a steady 10 – 12 knots of breeze which pushes us along at an average of 5 knots, 15 knots of breeze however puts our average up to 7 or 8 knots (so far on this whole trip this has happened for maybe half a day).  It would be quicker taking the Sara Lena across the Atlantic and probably quicker to walk it!  Days and days of this slow progress is painful, we are still 1800 miles from Antigua.  My current estimate another 18 days at sea.

 

Looking at the reefed main in daylight it almost looks like a sail should do, the reef has closed the top somewhat and the telltales on the leech and at the head are actually doing something now, the bottom third was doing not much useful anyway, probably just rounding us up all the time and giving the autopilot more work to do.

 

The only thing of note was that we had a fish on the line, damn thing had escaped the line.  Clearly more practice needed, but these bad boy lures  seem to be the perfect thing.  We just need to land a fish now (or stop the boys from “putting the poor thing back” FFS!)

 

I enjoyed some relaxing time on the foredeck, since we are in the bikini latitudes.  The bananas are definitely at their last so I’ve just put all the rest of the bananas (maybe about 7!) in one final banana bread.  Then dealt with some other domestics which the boys would have continued to overlook, yes, I cleaned out the vegetable store, chucked all the rotten stuff over the side, saving the rest of the spuds and onions from a similar fate.  Shepherds pie again tomorrow 🙂

 

Yawn….. Come on wind!

 

1800 is generator o’clock and my clothes are in the washing machine ready and waiting, what a treat at 20 25’N 29 30’W.

 

Dinner was a meal of leftovers and another vodka tonic treat.  Tunes at tea time is becoming a regular thing, by request of the skipper and crew, I went for the nautical theme tonight, Out on the Ocean, Captain Pugwash  and a few others.

 

Batteries….  I am still worrying that we are still losing power quickly and need to charge them more often.  I reckon we now have enough fuel to motor for 12 hours per day if necessary and just make it to Antigua on the fumes.   At the same time our skipper discovers the seawater pump to the galley has been running constantly.  It is a good job he found it, it was getting hot.  Needless to say it is off now and finally our batteries are not dropping charge so rapidly.

 

I’m on the 1000 – 0200 night watch and we have just crossed 30W so were are into a new time zone, now two hours behind UT.  Oh my days, this effing boat is pissing me off.  It is not designed to sail dead downwind and with no spinnaker it is a nightmare.

There is no kicking strap, so it is impossible to get any control on the mainsail, the leech of main is constantly open and fanning around in the swell, we need to be sailing west or slightly south of west, but at moment I’m doing nearly 290 to try and get the sails to fill, there is 13 knots true breeze out here, but I can’t get this boat to harness it.  The main is fully battened but with the spreaders and shrouds swept so far back it is impossible to get any shape in it, the front third sits on the spreaders and the rest twists around them and off.   I won’t mention the gybing angles.

 I guess having this floating hotel under us doesn’t help, our sail area displacement ratio must be a complete joke.  She sails best with the apparent wind at 90 to 120, but that would be taking us north.  We have no means of poling the jib out the windward side, so sail too low (150 apparent!) and she backs, flog flog fucking flog. 

 When I’m off watch I can ignore the pain to an extent, but sat here at the helm looking at the numbers and listening to the sails flogging around is just desperate.  Come on wind, thank goodness there is a knot of tide under us.  As a charter boat she’s perfect, ocean cruiser – I’m not so sure.

 

In other news the moon is rising now behind me in a big orange ball, and the stars will be starting to disappear.  A few hours later the breeze is starting to fill in, we’re still doing 280+ but we are at least now moving at around 6 knots instead of the 4 I was enduring earlier ahhhhh.

 

 

The boat and everything on it is all we have, it is finite.

When you set off to cross an ocean, that moment where you cast the lines off and point the bow out to sea is the moment where the boat becomes your world and every resource on board is finite.  Food, water, fuel, sails, power, toilet roll, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, teabags, batteries, clothes pegs, fish hooks, lures, fishing line, everything is finite.

Yes, we have provisioned for the expected duration of the trip and then some and in doing this we have also cast our fate to the wind.  A change in weather pattern can easily add days to a voyage, unexpected gear failure, loss of mast, sails or engine could add weeks to a trip.  Everything is finite.

The sails are up and the last sight of land is a speck on the horizon, we are on our own now, there is no nipping back to the shop for the forgotten loaf or pint of milk.  We have what we have, so we will look after what we have, we will waste as little as possible.

This reality brings a change of mindset.  Every time I brush my teeth I use less toothpaste than I would ordinarily.  I turn the tap on only twice to rinse my brush.   I use one teabag to make at least two if not three brews.  I have half a spoon of honey in my tea instead of a generous Winnie the Pooh ration.  I use a spot of washing up liquid on a sponge and do the dishes with a minimal amount of water in the sink.  I eat a handful of the small packet of Maltesers and put them away.  I do the same the next day. 

Meals are cooked according to what fruit and veg is ripening the most quickly.   The weather decides our navigation strategy, that strategy dictates how much diesel we can use for either power or propulsion.  And thus, in turn, our meal plans, food and drink rations all hinge on the weather.  Everything is finite.

I realise how simple it is, to use less, to have less, to conserve.  It is a change in mindset, it begins with a nagging knowledge that everything around you is finite.

Polaris and the variation revelation

After 8 days of frantically scribbling numbers into my notebook varying amounts of light I now had a lot to catch up.  Having finally understood sun sight reduction it was time to get to grips with the Moon, planets and the stars.  My quest now, whilst maintaining my sun-run-sun routine, is to work through all the sights taken so far and get them plotted on the chart.  We are at least solar navigating now.   I will have nailed this by the end of the trip.  1730 and that is enough of the books, this would be my routine for a while.

 

It transpires that on our first night at sea I had taken what would prove to be a lovely fix using the Moon and Polaris (North Star).  The calculations for the Moon are only moderately more complex that those for sun sight reduction, thus equipped with Favourite Books 1 and 2 and following Mr Cunliffe’s step by step instructions we soon have a position line from the Moon.

 

Polaris hangs in the low northern sky and is the central point above which the heavens rotate above our heads.  This wonderful lady is the tail of Ursa Minor, or the Little Dipper and easily identified when Ursa Major (The Plough or the Big Dipper) rises, the bright stars in the “handle” of the plough point unmistakably at Polaris and continue to point at her all through the night, the centuries, the eons.

 

While the Sun only lunches once per day at noon, Polaris is at lunch all night, so we can ascertain our latitude from her at any time our horizon is visible, which with a bright full Moon could be all night.  The calculation for accurate latitude from Polaris turns out to be an incredibly simple.  We go through the routine outlined in the book, apply the numbers correctly and bingo we have our latitude.  The calculation itself is basically add a degree and a bit, add a bit, add a bit more and then subtract one degree, which effectively means that even without applying any corrections to the sextant sight Polaris should give your latitude to within half a degree (or 30 miles).  And with that I have two lines on a plotting sheet which cross at our position – YES!!  Lovely.

 

And now I see how Columbus discovered compass variation as he crossed the Atlantic.   It has baffled me for years how sailors could have known about magnetic variation, whose rate of change would be tiny on a daily basis on board a ship.  But of course, with Polaris hanging in the sky like the true North Pole’s lighthouse beaming out a light saying “north is here” sailors would quickly notice that their compasses didn’t point north.  

 

When “crossing the pond” changes in variation become more apparent.  On the eastern side our variation was around 8 degrees west, now more than half way across our variation is up to 13 degrees west and will keep rising as we travel toward the Caribbean.  There must have been some clever minds back then to notice this phenomenon, to work out what it is and to calculate it.  Once again my brain explodes at it all.  

Day 8. Finding the Plot!!

My day restarts on the 0600 – 0900 shift this is the first 6am one for me after the watch pattern change.  I hate 0600, 0400 is fine, 0800 is fine, but 0600, not fine!   I’ve probably had 3 and half hours sleep all night, so I don’t really want to get up.  But I am treated to the sunrise and there is my first sighting of a long tailed tern flying around too, juvenile one by the look of it, fabulous.  

 

Before dawn Venus is rising in the east and there is another planet there too, I get the sextant out and have a go at taking sights on the planets to see if I can get a fix from them.  As I write this I haven’t attempted the maths yet.  I am tired tired tired.

 

Today will be all about the sun, I am determined to solve my quest for a noon fix with lat and long, so at 0900 I’m on the bow sextant in hand taking a sun sight, some maths and lots of tables later I have a position line which we are on somewhere.  Now we wait until noon to work out where on that line we were.  It is pretty rough today and I’m trying to shoot the sun before I lose it behind a cloud, so today my latitude is a few miles out, but we’ll work with that figure anyway.  

Next the elusive plot, which has been driving me nearly insane over the last few days.  Today it all clicks, it actually clicks and finally I have a cocked hat triangle on a plotting sheet which puts us within 5 miles of GPS in latitude and longitude at noon (it is now around 1700).  My days of despair and torment are over I finally have cracked this – YES!!!!  And now I see it, I see how simple it actually is, once you cut through all the jargon and endless books of numbers the process is straightforward.

 

In other news we caught a fish! Once again I was off watch and asleep so all I knew of the fish was my shipmates confessing to catching a fish, but they “felt sorry for it and put it back”.  “You did whaaaat?” I struggled to comprehend.  Still once again it proves the lures are good at least.

At sunset we opt to put a reef in the main, the breeze has finally picked up to around 14 knots true, 16 ish apparent, with the showers and squalls looking likely again through the night it seemed wise to reef now while it is still light enough.  With one reef in and a full headsail I think we’ve finally found a good setup for the boat, she’s no longer straining on the rudders all the time to keep herself on course, headsail and main combination have given a nice balance at the helm and we are shifting along at 6 – 8 knots in 14 – 16 knots true, and we are broad reaching the way we want to go finally!! Yesterday my money was on another 18 days to go, today it looks more like 13 days if we can keep this up.

 

Tonight I have the 1800 – 2200 watch, I have dinner and then I am out on deck and in The Life of Pi!!! There is no moon until 2200, so it is pitch black and sooo starry, the Milky Way sits over us like a big cobweb in the rain, all the stars are so clear and so close, it is impossible to describe, I want to bring you all out here to show you, it is just amazing and mind blowing.  I counted at least ten shooting stars in an hour on that watch alone, including double shooting stars, yep, two sychronised together!  As above so below, the sea is alive with phosphoresence and having a little party of its own under the stars.  Just before I go off watch we are covered by a rain cloud which dumps all its contents on us in one go.