Day 2: Peeping Tom Traumatises Crew

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sun 6 Dec 2009 00:16

Noon Position: 11:14N 024:52W

Noon to Noon Run: 178 miles

Date: 4 December 2009


This is classic trade wind sailing with rock steady winds of moderate strength pushing us along at a good lick. Over the last 24 hours we have averaged 7.4 knots which is more than respectable. In terms of position within the fleet, those of you with access to the rally website will be in a better position to judge than I am, but the latest data suggests we are at or near the head of our group and catching up with the next group.


Although we are now getting a bit more of a long Atlantic swell, the waves are moderate. So everything is at a comfortable angle and the boat is quite steady. When crossing the Atlantic one envisages sailing west, so it does seem odd to be sailing, if anything, east of south. But this is a tactical move in order to get a slightly faster and more comfortable angle on the wind once we have passed through the Doldrums.


It’s surprising how many landlubber friends ask me “What do you do at night? Do you anchor and go to sleep?” The answer is no, not least because the sea bed is more than 2 ½ miles beneath us and if we had that much anchor chain on board we would sink. Commercial shipping continues to ply the seas 24/7 (have you been on a ferry or cruise ship that stopped at night, turned off the lights and started again in the morning?) so a watch has to be kept anyway.


So we plug on night and day. But night sailing is one of the privileged joys of offshore passages. Words can’t describe the awe one feels gazing up into a starlit sky so brilliantly lit that one can almost read by it; to see the Milky Way so densely packed that it looks almost, well – milky. And to gaze into it with binoculars is mind-blowing. You are literally seeing the edge of the universe and it’s very humbling. You can’t see this anywhere in the UK as there’s always ambient light that dims this stellar spectacle. Add to that the thought that using only these heavenly bodies as a guide you can fix your position anywhere on the earth’s surface with nothing more than a sextant, a watch and some tables – it’s like magic. But this was the only means available until very recently with the introduction of GPS. When the moon is up you have an altogether different spectacle. A full moon on a clear cloudless night lights up the sky, the sea, the horizon almost like daylight. Tom Mallaburn who was on the boat recently, coined the word lunescence for that magic silvery sparkling avenue of light which is reflected off the waves. And without wanting to alienate all of you at home surrounded by freezing cold gale force winds and torrential rain, the weather is sublime. The temperature of both the water beneath us and the air around us is a warm and comfortable 30 degrees C. Even at night one can sit in the cockpit with no shirt on, luxuriating in the balmy breeze.


So how do we organise our lives when we are at sea for a long time and the boat has to be manned and a watch kept every minute of the day? It varies from boat to boat.. On Mina2 I normally do passages with three people including me. Each of the three crew do three hours on watch and the next six hours off watch. In practice what happens is that during the day most people are up and about (particularly for Happy Hour followed by dinner) and at night you are generally left on your own to keep a watch for shipping, adjust the sails or course but mainly to think and reflect. It’s a special time.


On this Transatlantic passage we, unusually, have four people – myself, Venetia Kenney-Herbert, Neil Thackray and Peter, my son. I have wanted to get to grips with astronavigation and this long passage was a perfect opportunity – but it takes time and I knew that if I was standing watches as well as doing all the skipperly things, then it would never get done. So for this passage we are maintaining the three man system, but I am not standing any watches myself. So far this system is working very well.


But it’s not just the routine of watch-keeping which keeps us busy. There is always something to do. Peter, for instance, is making a documentary of the passage (making documentaries is what he does, so it’s a bit of a busman’s holiday for him). I bought myself a fancy new combo HD video and stills camera for the adventure, and you can’t do anything without finding a lens peering at you with Peter behind it. Neil is contributing to the project as well as he has an excellent camera with a very wide angle lens, and a completely waterproof HD video camera.


Yesterday we were visited by a very large pod of dolphins that stayed with us for a long time, frolicking alongside and riding our bow wave as we swept along at eight knots. Neil tried to hang over the side of the boat with his waterproof video camera, and film the dolphins under water but his arms weren’t quite long enough. So he grabbed our (last) boathook and some gaffer tape, bound the camera to the end and lowered it into the water. We now have some spectacular underwater footage of the dolphins. David Attenborough, eat your heart out. Granted, we can’t use the boathook for its intended purpose but we will have a lovely video clip of the mooring buoy we want to pick up as we drift pass it.


Having invented this new gadget, Neil spent the rest of the day experimenting with other uses for it like swooping it around the saloon like the jib cameras at rock concerts. He found many other uses as well. Peter was quietly sitting on the loo minding his own business when he heard a tap on the porthole behind him. He turned and saw Neil’s camera swooping in for a close-up. Venetia hardly dares have a shower now for fear that she will appear in a YouTube video clip in all her loveliness.


Talking of Venetia, I have received a very long email from some solicitors representing the Kenney-Herbert family. I have studied this document carefully and particularly the section headed “Claim for Damages for Libel”. In a previous blog I referred to Venetia as being “formidable”, synonyms for which are alarming, terrifying, frightening, dreadful, fearsome, and difficult. I unreservedly retract this completely inadvertent slur on Venetia’s almost perfect character. As anyone who knows Venetia will know, she is a pussy cat and far from being formidable she is universally regarded as something of a shrinking violet. I apologise for any hurt I may have caused.