on 8 December
We are gaining notoriety. A hairdresser in Essex has created a new hairstyle in our honour, called 'The Flying Fish'. It involves organising the hair in such that it is going everywhere but in the right direction. Victoria Beckham is considering giving it a go.
We have had many emails asking us to describe just what it is like to man a watch in this race. Last night was a particularly wonderful experience, and I'll try my best to explain why we yachties do what we do.
Pete Norey, was teamed with Pete Lanoe for the 04.00 - 08.00 watch. We were awoken by the off-going watch of Pete Howe and MIk Underdown at 03.55 with a cup of coffee. Ron Wilkes-Green was on standby, and would remain in his bunk, unless required for 8 hours. Suitably 'booted and suited' we go up on deck, wearing shorts and deck shoes, oilskin tops (rain), lifejackets, harnesses and tethers, and our 'mickey mouse' man-overboard wrist watches. There is a ceremonial handing over of these watches, which trigger the alarm automatically when more than 30 metres from the yacht, or can be set off manually by rough handling. Thank you very much Ron for our practise yesterday. The alarm also plots a position on the electronic chart plotter, with headings required to return for the pick-up.
Pete Lanoe and I always sit side by side on the stern seat of Majic when we are on watch together. Just like the pilots of an aircraft, but at the other end, clipped on to the harness anchor points, where we can survey all of the instruments, the sails and all of the rigging, and of course, steer. Majic has illuminated instruments on the wheel, the companionway and at the mast, showing boat speed, wind speed and direction, track of the boat and bearing to our next waypoint, just to name a few.
Let the show begin.
I should start off by saying that none of us have ever sailed for so long in such strong wind conditions in all our lives. The spectacle of this coming together of natures forces has been illuminated by an almost constant moon for the duration. One has this feeling of being a privileged onlooker to natures light show.
First, there are the trade winds, blowing us towards the caribbean at 20 - 30 knots. Like someone has put a giant wind machine behind the boat. Switched it on maximum and left it on for 2 weeks. Sometimes, for fun, they switch it on overdrive for a few seconds just for a giggle. When this happens, Majic stops wallowing, narrows her eyes at the waves ahead and accelerates like a bat out of hell. The crew, in unison, though not rehearsed, start reciting '14-2, 14-7, 15, 15-3' , and then a pause, This signifies that maximum speed has been attained, and then a confirmatory '15-3' from both. This is to dispel any doubt when handing over to the next watch. The implication being, 'beat that'. Apart from that, very little conversation takes place in the 4 hour stint, apart from thr regular questions 'coffee?, what flavour cup of soup?' etc.
Then there are the waves. Up to 20 ft high for almost the whole of the race. They obscure the horizon apart from the moments when Majic is balanced on a another pinnacle, when both crew scan for lights. We saw a large ship last night heading from South America to Africa ; our first in 4 days. They race up to the edge of the cockpit coaming, only to disappear under the hull; most of the times. Those that are more determined have a distinctive growl, eliciting a laconic 'incoming' from one of the crew. Whereupon there is a desperate dive for cover, usually in the wrong direction. The wake of the boat has generated a constant roar for 2 weeks. It's impossible to hold a conversation whilst sitting on the stern without shouting. A cauldron of white foam, hissing in direct proportion to the wind speed.
Then there are the army of line squalls marching across the illuminated horizon like so many regiments in battle. Leaving measured gaps between each squall as if to dare us to try to dart through the dry area between. As if. We have neither the speed nor the manoeuvrability to try. In these squalls the wind backs and gusts to 40 knots. We furl the headsail and wait for what nature has brought. Usually a thorough soaking.
In the last half-hour we start to fidget, checking our watches every 10 minutes so that we can awaken the next watch and start the process all over again 24/7. As we climb down to the subdued lighting of the cabin and a well-earned rest, it has been known for a certain individual to exclaim 'You can't buy this for love or money'.