Update from the High Seas.

Mike and Liz Downing
Wed 3 Dec 2008 03:50
Sailing in shorts and T shirts for the last 24 hours day and night so we can officially declare that it's hot out here! The passage so far can be summed up by the excitement every time we reach 5kts. It really has been slow going and we have to tweak the sails constantly to keep the speed above 4kts. Those accessing the ARC website will have a better idea than we have of exactly where everybody is. We are monitoring the positions of a few boats not too far away and keeping in contact every few days by email. It's amazing how things have changed on the comms front since last time. The Azores high has been split by a low pressure system and a lot of boats including us headed for the traditional route across which is to head roughly in a south west direction from the Canary Islands until the butter melts and then turn right! That normally means coming down to 20N 30W or even 20N 25W to pick up the tradewinds before setting a course for St Lucia. When we started this route looked promising for us as we had good winds to take us in a south west direction using our rig of 2 poled out genoas. However, when we got down here, the weather had changed and the winds were very very light. Even coming as far south as we now are we still do not have the trades. Yesterday we had a light wind from the south east and used the cruising chute all day. The winds have picked up today and we exceeded 6 kts for the first time for many days. However,it looks like we still have a windless zone of some 500 miles or so ahead of us. We hope (along with the other boats down here) that this will move in the next 2 days to let the trades establish. Everybody expects to be in by Christmas, we're just not sure which year!.

Can't complain as it's sunny, hot and the seas are slight - so much so that Liz has cooked all meals so far in the microwave. We never expected to be able to use it at sea as it's not gimbaled, but it's not been a problem. The gas went on for the first time yesterday to make our first 2 loaves of bread. We have been at sea 10 days now, so getting into a routine and the days are going very quickly. We have a night watch system of 4 hours on, 4 hours off, followed by 3 hours on and 3 off, so we both get approximately 7 hours sleep in a 14 hour period. During the day we have a more flexible system and it depends what jobs need to be done and what we want to do (e.g. reading, making bread, trying to get good weather pictures out of the weather fax, putting the cruising chute up, taking it down again, etc.). There's an SSB (short wave) radio net at 13.00 UTC when we hear how others are getting on (and how they are coping with the light winds).

We have used the cruising chute much more than we expected - it's quite a big sail at over 1000 sq ft and needs constant tending to get the best out of it. We're back to our 2 poled out genoas today which tend to look after themselves and we can get on with other things.

We caught up with a sail training ship, the Astrid, and despite all its sail area we are slowly leaving it behind. We called them up and there are 28 trainees plus crew aboard and they're on their way to Bequia (south of St Lucia). We have contacted a number of ships - a cruise ship going the other way came close, as did a cargo ship which would have passed less that half a mile away had we not called him up and both agreed to change course. All this ocean and we had to change course. We spotted it late and I was in the shower at the time (it's nice to have a watermaker!).

We have had a number of encounters with wildlife. We had small bird (a petrel) join us for 24 hours. It flew into my lap in the pitch black of the middle of the night. We tried to give it food and water, but it just wanted to hide in the bottom of the cockpit and we had to be careful not to tread on it. After a days rest it went on its way (it initially misjudged the sprayhood and flew into the cabin to start with). We had 2 special encounters with dolphins earlier in the passage - a school of Atlantic Spotted dolphins stayed with us for 90 minutes, bow-riding, but also queuing up at the stern to nudge the hydrovane rudder - quite strange to see. They also jumped out of the water in pairs, swivelling round one another in mid air before falling back into the water (looked like it was straight out of a Sea World display). When they were with us we had to take the Cruising chute down and the boat almost came to a standstill and the dolphins also just stopped in the water waiting for us to get genoas out and get some speed on. Normally they disappear as soon as the boat goes slow. Again it was quite strange. Over the last 3 days we have started to see more and more flying fish. We seem to get at least one on the deck or in the cockpit during the night. The bigger ones make quite a noise when they land and we have been able to get them back into the water. The smaller ones we just find dead on the deck the next day. Not seen many birds so far - a few Shearwaters and the odd petrel.

That's all for now, with still 1700 miles or so to go.

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