Michael bleedin’ Fish ….
A bit about tactics
coming to the end of our journey. The chocolate rations are running low and the
finishing line is just a few hundred miles away. It’s therefore about time to
reveal a little bit about our tactics.
taking part in the ARC will go one of two traditional routes. The northern route
heads roughly west from Gran Canaria most of the way across the Atlantic then
gently arcs south towards St Lucia. The
southern route heads roughly south from Gran Canaria to the Cape Verde Islands then turns roughly north
west to pick up the Trade Winds straight to St
studied the weather charts and forecasts from ARC and from the
weather/navigation software that he’s bought, MaxSea. He spotted that the
northern route would be faster for the first part of the race, but that there
was a low pressure (ie low wind) system roughly in the middle of the Atlantic
that was heading north which would kill the wind on the northern route but would
favour boats on the southern route.
Take both routes! We would take the northern route to begin with, then start
heading south fairly early to join the southern route about half way across.
That would allow us to get to the half way point before the other boats going
the southern route and allow us to skate around the southern end of the low
pressure system as it headed north. We could then pick up the trade winds to
Of course, this
all depended on the weather forecasts being right …
A bit about sails
A boat will
normally sail using a main sail (a triangular sail attached to the mast) and a
genoa sail (a triangular sail attached to a forestay (basically a strong wire)
running between the top of the mast and the front of the boat). The main sail
and the genoa can be set to one side of the boat or the other depending on the
direction of the wind.
If the wind is
directly behind, the boat can instead be sailed using a spinnaker (basically a
big baggy sail attached to the front of the boat that acts a bit like a
parachute – when it fills with wind it literally drags the boat along behind
Seeing as the
wind would be behind the boat most of the way across, the obvious plan would be
to use the spinnaker. There are, however, two fundamental problems with
spinnaker works well with the wind behind you, but not so well when it is not.
That means either going where the wind takes you or taking it down. Taking it
down can be a real pain, especially if you have to do it a night, and the
chances are that the wind will change back again soon, so you will only have to
put it up again.
in the ARC are given a handicap according to, for example, whether or not they
intend to use a spinnaker. If you decide not to use one, you get a better
handicap (on the basis that you will have to work harder to get
Well, we have rigged up two genoas – one on each side of the boat! If we only
need one genoa, we simply flip the unused one over to the side that we want (so
both are on the same side as if we have a double thickness genoa). If the wind
is behind, we simply spread-eagle them – one on each side of the boat – so that
the act a bit like a spinnaker. Although not as efficient as a spinnaker, it
works pretty well and, importantly, is easy to control. Brilliant!
Tuesday 4th December
How a day can
change. We headed south to skirt around the edge of the low pressure zone. By
tea time, however, the wind dropped. Completely. We were bobbing around in
circles going absolutely nowhere. Oh well, at least we would have dinner whilst
we figured out what to do. Had we accidentally sailed straight into the low
pressure zone? Had the weather unexpectedly changed? What would we have for
MaxSea, we were not in the low pressure zone, but the wind had shifted
direction. Only one thing to do – change sails to head the other direction and
try and pick up the wind. Our belly’s full, we changed sails as night fell and
prayed for wind. Someone must have been listening, because the wind changed
direction again, but this time heading straight for St Lucia!
Unfortunately, our prayers for jelly and ice cream went unanswered.
As we slipped
into the nightwatch, we sailed straight through a series of wind and rain
storms. Syd took the worst of it, getting soaked. Mind you, it had been a few
days since he’d had a proper shower. Other than a broken rope holding a pulley
at the end of the spinnaker pole (which Syd and Nishi managed to repair at 2
o’clock in the morning … in the rain) Gaviota held firm. No signs of the
gremlins or mutinous equipment today.
Wednesday 5th December
Knowing that we were tired from the night before, the equipment decided to play
their trump card. The generator is on strike. Syd tried persuading it to get
back to work by bribing it with fresh oil and when that didn’t work he tried
brute force with a hammer, but it’s not budging. That means we have to rely on
the engine to recharge the batteries and will have to start rationing power.
We don’t think
the engine is too happy about being a scab. Firstly, it is working to rule and
only giving us enough power to keep running for a few hours at a time. Secondly,
it is playing up (presumably because it knows that we’re not in a position to
argue). Whenever we turn it off, it mysteriously engages the prop shaft – in
reverse! It’s trying to make us go backwards!!
I blame the
water maker. Traitor.
1200 GMT/UTC) – 17.24n 42.53w
travelled (in 24 hrs to 1200 GMT/UTC) – 151 nautical miles
travelled - 1690 nautical miles
Annabel’s shepherd’s pie
growth – Geography teacher
Thursday 6th December
forecasting is an odd science. Essentially, forecasts are just guesses. They
should, however, be educated guesses based on centuries of research, up to the
minute data, satellite imagery etc. You would therefore hope that they are
accurate to within a certain degree of tolerance.
understandable that people get a bit peeved when the reports are completely
wrong. Remember Michael Fish when he said that there were NO hurricanes heading
for Britain? By “NO” hurricanes, what he
meant was “LOTS OF” hurricanes. Fool.
Well, it looks
like we’ve been getting our weather reports from Fish himself.
We had forgiven
MaxSea for the unexpected wind shifts yesterday that left us bobbing around like
a rubber duck in a bath tub and even for the squalls. So we were a bit annoyed
when the wind unexpectedly shifted during the early hours of the morning and was
pushing us further south – away from where we wanted to go! We had no choice, we
had to gybe (ie change the sails to change direction). So at 2 o’clock in the
morning (yet again) Syd and Nishi got out on deck and changed sails. At least it
wasn’t raining … yet.
1200 GMT/UTC) – 16.38n 45.38w
travelled (in 24 hrs to 1200 GMT/UTC) – 167 nautical miles
travelled - 1857 nautical miles
Dinner – Nishi’s
growth – Open University professor
Friday 7th December
After a fairly
steady Thursday night, we hoped that the bizarre weather of the last few days
was behind us.
evening, the pace had slowed down a bit, and there were clouds creeping towards
us from every direction. Some of them showed the unmistakable characteristics of
squalls. MaxSea hadn’t predicted that. We battened down the hatches and
By early evening
we were being swept along by a full on rain storm with winds of up to 25 knots
and the boat screaming along at speeds of up to 13 knots! 13 knots might not
sound like much, but our average so far had been about 7 knots. Add to that the
darkness, the cold, the wet and the poor visibility and we had a long and
difficult night keeping the boat safely under control. At least we were heading
in the right direction and knew that we could retreat to the safety of our warm,
dry beds at the end of our shifts.
Except for Syd.
As 2 o’clock in the morning, a wet, cold and tired Syd trudged towards his bunk
to find it … soaked. The hatch above his bed had leaked. He’s taken to curling
up on the sofa around the dining table. Coincidentally, the dining table is
where we keep the snacks. Annabel and Nishi think something fishy is going
which, we still haven’t caught any fish.
We passed a
major milestone today – we passed the 2000 nautical miles barrier! Nishi
suggested we celebrate with a wee drinkee. What we had was another cup of tea,
only this time we had cake!
1200 GMT/UTC) – 16.29n 48.34w
travelled (in 24 hrs to 1200 GMT/UTC) – 169 nautical miles
travelled - 2026 nautical miles
Annabel’s chicken stir fry
growth – Folk music festival
Saturday 8th December
that we would have reasonable winds in roughly the right direction to blow us
straight to St
We should have
known better by now.
storms had continued into Saturday. Visibility was poor, but we were aware of
other boats in the area, so both Syd and Nishi spent the morning on deck in the
rain keeping an eye on the weather (having finally decided to ignore MaxSea) and
for other boats. Annabel sensibly decided to stay dry (there’s no point all of
is getting wet and cold). We decided that we just had to go with it (better to
keep moving in the wrong direction than stop altogether). After a quick sail
change, we had her under control and were cruising along, albeit the wrong way
and in a storm.
surprise the wind stopped. Completely. Again. We were now bobbing around in the
water going nowhere (again) only this time it was pouring with rain and we
couldn’t see. After (another) quick sail change we got moving (again), but in
completely the wrong direction! We were headed south east when we needed to go
west, and there was not much we could do about it in the conditions.
And that’s when
we met two other boats in exactly the same predicament. We had been questioning
our tactics, and whether we’d read the weather forecasts wrong, but these guys
had done exactly the same thing and ended up in the same messy situation. That
made us feel a bit better about being wet and cold and facing the wrong way.
What made us feel even better, though, was when we found out that these boats
were bigger and faster than us, and were in a higher racing division. Either
these guys weren’t very good, or we had done bleedin’ brilliantly to stay up
with them. Having talked to them on the radio, we realised that these guys
weren’t fools – our tactics had been spot on and it was just pure bad luck that
we had been caught by dodgy weather forecasts.
another) quick sail change we were under way and heading out of the storm and in
the direction of St
Lucia. The sail change had worked perfectly
(we’re starting to work like a well oiled machine, unlike the engine) and we
were away and out of trouble before the other boats.
Had our luck
Well … no. As
soon as we got out of the storm … the wind stopped. Completely. Yet Again!
Tired and a bit
fed up, we now had a difficult decision to make. MaxSea was predicting that we
would eventually get wind in the right direction, but could we trust the
forecasts and could we afford to wait around and give other boats an unknown
number of hours to catch up/pull away? We’d worked so hard for 2 weeks not to
use the engines and make the best use of whatever wind we had, and we were all
so determined to sail all the way (in our minds, motoring would be cheating).
But we had to decide whether to turn on the engines and get moving or just sit
and wait for the wind. We knew that we would get a time penalty for using the
engines, but we had little choice – we turned on the engines.
1200 GMT/UTC) – 16.23n 51.27w
travelled (in 24 hrs to 1200 GMT/UTC) – 172 nautical miles
travelled - 2198 nautical miles
McAnnabel’s home/boat made beef burgers
growth – “Hello! I’m Brian Blessed!”
Sunday 9th December
Although the day
started sunny and bright, we all felt a bit deflated at having to have used the
engines. We picked up messages from other boats in the area, and they had had to
do the same thing. We’ll have to see whether it was the right thing to do once
the results are in – as it stands we will incur a time penalty so any boats
finishing after us could still be ranked higher than us.
that the worst was behind us, and we would have decent winds blowing us to
Lucia. I’ve heard that before!
As it happened,
the wind stayed reassuringly consistent all day. The only incident of note was
that one of the snatch blocks (basically a pulley that opens at the side so that
you can attach it anywhere on a rope without having to thread it through) broke.
That’s 2 snatch blocks gone now. The gremlins are back! We managed to bodge
together a repair that should last until we arrive in St
The wind changed
direction slightly during the night, requiring a slight sail change. We had been
sailing all day under a conventional set up (main sail and genoa on one side).
We decided to swap to our spread-eagled twin genoa set up and take the main sail
down. We set up the genoas and were about to take the main sail down when we
noticed that the boat was moving beautifully as it was – with the spread-eagled
genoas and mainsail. Theoretically, it simply shouldn’t work (because one of the
genoas should stall), but it did! Not only are we breaking personal records,
we’re breaking the laws of physics!
1200 GMT/UTC) – 15.51n 53.36w
travelled (in 24 hrs to 1200 GMT/UTC) – 137 nautical miles
travelled - 2335 nautical miles
Annabel’s Thai chicken curry
growth – Papa Smurf
December 2007 (mid afternoon)
Nearly there! We
cruised along nicely all morning under our unconventional sail set up. Thanks to
Lucia tourist board for the welcome – we’ve had
dolphins dancing around the boat all afternoon!
1200 GMT/UTC) – 15.15n 56.24w
travelled (in 24 hrs to 1200 GMT/UTC) – 172 nautical miles
travelled – 2507 nautical miles
(planned) Nishi’s lamb and spinach curry
growth – “Santa Claus is coming to town ….”