Thursday 10/10 11:50 local time; 50 miles west of Casablanca
Day 2 of the first leg of my epic voyage, Day 1 was spent mostly feeling queasy and avoiding going below!
So we set off from Gibraltar yesterday afternoon. Xplorer of Hamble arrived in on Sunday after being delivered down the Spanish coast by her owner, skipper Peter and his wife Val who has now flown back to the UK.
I first sailed with Peter back at the beginning of August when I came on a trial sail to see if he was happy for me to crew for him on a voyage across the Atlantic. He clearly agreed as here we are at the beginning of that voyage, a 700 miler from Gibraltar to Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Also on board is Richard, Our 4th crew member, Dan sadly had to drop out at the last minute due to personal circumstances however we are hopeful that he will join us on the main leg of the voyage from Las Palmas to Rodney Bay in St Lucia when we set off on the 24th November along with some 200+ other small sailing boats on the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. It’ll be like Dunkirk, on an ocean, over 3000 miles not 30, in sailing boats, without evacuating the troops, in shorts and t-shirts, without the threat of attack. It’ll be nothing like Dunkirk! The ARC is well known amongst the sailing community as a recognised way to cross the Atlantic in the knowledge that if you do get into trouble, help may only be “close at hand” – I’ll explain close at hand when we get out there.
Xplorer is an XC45. A 45 feet long cruiser built by X Yachts of Denmark. She is fast for her size and well equipped in both rigging and domestic departments. In my limited experiences, a nice balance between a yacht to sail and a yacht to live aboard. Peter has owned the boat from new when he picked it up in Copenhagen in the spring of 2016. The same year in which Xplorer and Peter first did the ARC. Incidentally, I have never been a fan of giving vessels the female gender – it’s probably the contrarian in me, however there is something about nautical terminology that sticks and once you know it, it becomes compelling to use it, so I shall.
It’s now a little after midnight and I’m into the second hour of my watch. We have organised into 2-hour watches at night and 3-hours during the day, so I shall be relieved by Peter in the next half hour and can make a welcome return to my bunk in the aft starboard cabin.
It’s a dark, cloudy dank night with little to recommend it. The clouds are totally obscuring the light of the almost full moon and the grey of the sky merges into the grey of the sea making the horizon (the focus of much of a sailors attention) nearly impossible to discern. it’s difficult to know if it’s cloud or fog and if your visibility is 6 miles or 60 metres. Periodically I scan the hidden horizon for a light, one of my 2 main jobs as a night watchman. Through the wonders of modern technology, my electronic chart plotter tells me that some 12 miles distant Cap San Rafael, a vessel some 222 m in length is steaming towards us and although at first it looks to be on a collision course further interrogation of the electronics tells me that it will in fact pass us by some 2.5 miles to port, I can relax a little. Hang on though, is that a green flashing light in the distance or are my eyes deceiving me? Are they playing tricks on my tired mind? I see it again, check the chart and there is nothing there, now I can see a line of little green lights. I’m s relatively inexperienced sailor (I seem to say that a lot – probably to cover for my inadequacies) and I’m always learning, however I do have some idea what I should expect to see at night, and this isn’t it.
These little boats are incredibly sturdy and are made to withstand significant forces that are put upon them. There are many hazards in the world’s seas and oceans, both natural and man made. We modern sailors are very fortunate to stand on the shoulders of the many who have mapped the ocean floor to minimise at least one significant risk, allowing us to steer our small crafts around hazards and not over them or worse still, onto them. Hazards are marked on charts but also in the inshore waters more regularly frequented by pleasure sailors they are marked by buoys, often lit which confirm to a recognised identification system, globally. Occasionally, however you can be confronted by the unexpected and despite the fact we are 50 miles from land in a kilometre of water, I can see an unexpected light which is not on the chart and does not conform to the conventions of how a vessel or a buoy should be lit. In fact I can see there is a line of green flashing lights not far off which do not conform, are not marked on the charts and which could be anything. Only one thing for it, well 2 actually....avoid the lights and call the skipper. This happened several times during the next few days and eventually we had to conclude that it was something to do with fishing.
D on the C