World ARC - Day 64 - 12th March - Stars

Steve and Lynda Cooke
Mon 14 Mar 2016 08:18
09:02S 112:50W

World ARC - Day 64 - 12th March - Stars

Another day arrives and we observe that one of the ARC fleet is nearby - Do Over is about 9 miles off our starboard quarter. Do Over is a Catamaran with an American couple as crew accompanied by their two young children. Steve and Lynda know them quite well from previous passages and ARC social events. Despite the fact that the fleet numbers some 30 boats of various sizes it is still a rare event to actually see another vessel. This time we see an intermittent AIS signal which we can confirm by visual observation within a short while. Just as we are considering whether to try and reach them on the VHF the call goes out Nina, Nina this is Do Over do you copy? We certainly do and chat ensues over the VHF catching up on our various
Some of the readers of this blog will be aware that VHF radio whilst very useful is limited to line of sight transmission so unless you can see your contact the chances are you will not be able to reach them.

As a security and social measure we have two daily broadcasts with the rest of the fleet by SSB. This operates on a different frequencies to VHF and takes advantage of the fact that you can bounce radio signals off the ionosphere and so extend radio range considerably. Depending on the frequency this can be many thousands of miles. We have been downloading GRIB files over the SSB using a specialised modem on this trip. Twice a day we use the SSB; one for a roll call of our position, wind speed and direction and one for a more social description of the day. It's not always possible to hear all the reports but some boats with more powerful radios act as relay for those with weaker signals. Today we can hear the SSB co-ordinator but Do Over can't so we take up the relay roll for them on this occasion.

During the day we follow Do Over's progress on the AIS and visually and as expected we see them gradually catch us up. In theory they are faster than Nina and this proves to be the case in practice particularly with their high tech parasail. But using weather information to plot a course and make adjustments can be as important as outright speed. In our case we are amongst the slower boats in the fleet (by size) but we try and maximise our performance by careful passage planning. We also keep close eye on sea states to find the easiest seas - bashing into heavy
seas is both unpleasant and relatively slow.

As night falls Lynda remarks - that has to be one of the biggest skies I have ever seen. We all stop and take a look and it is indeed a sky full of stars. We can see a huge 'double star' behind us low down to the East. The light looks to be a different colour from the other stars, more blue and brighter. This must be man made. There is much speculation about the space station. Out here in the middle of the ocean, with no light pollution, we are struck by the enormity of what is above us. The full majesty of the milky way is laid out above us, with its milky swirls of stars, looking like clouds, but indeed being clouds of stars, too many for our mind to even grasp, and our boat, Nina, floating on its own blue cloud of phosphorescence, whooshing through the Pacific ocean, driven by the wind under it all.

It has been very calm at this southerly latitude. Everyone who has sailed extended passages with skipper Steve knows that he reefs down the boat at night, especially when crew are alone in the small wee hours to keep the rest of the boat safe. The previous night we were struggling to maintain any headway with sometimes 5 to 8 knots of wind and reefed sails. The cruising chute had been flown all day, and so the decision to leave it up for the night to continue our chase of the rest of the fleet seemed a great idea. All the other boats were reporting huge daily passages, flying their Parasailor spinnakers day and night. Nina does not have a spinnaker. We have been sailing with full main and cruising chute during the day, but last night the wind got up to a rising 20+ knots in a squall, and Steve was raised from his slumbers by Peter and Karen to bring it down at 02.30 hrs. Fun was ensued with Peter and Steve doing the deck dance, fighting to bring down and put away a huge red white and blue 'spanker' on a deck which was rolling and pitching, deck lights and head torches illuminating the scene. It was an interesting experiment, which will now be relegated to 'a good idea at the time'.....