Blog Entry 12 - Not Always Plain Sailing

Ian Redwood & Laura Brown
Sun 20 Mar 2022 16:46
06° 36.0 S 096° 48.1 W  17th March 2022 Not Always Plain Sailing            

Is this year an El Niño year or a La Niña year?  I’m not sure, but I reckon the normal weather has been given the El Bow.  We have rain, and plenty of it, we have wind from an unexpected direction, and, we have cold.  Yes, cold in the tropics.  I even had to put a hat on and additional layers for night sailing.  At times, this feels like a typical night on the North Sea.  Note, I’m not asking for sympathy.  I can hear the cries of schadenfreude from the end of a British winter – “Ooh you poor luvs, how simply awful for you bunnies, did you get chill-y?”. 

Our progress has been marred by the intermittent failure of the autohelm.  Peculiar random movements can occur, and we have found ourselves facing 180 degrees the wrong way or swinging in wild unplanned arcs.  There’s a gremlin in the works but we cannot seem to tempt it out.  Perhaps that’s hardly surprising, an autohelm manual with its plethora of detail is a frighteningly thick tome for my frighteningly thick dome.  The controlling computer box is fixed under our bed alongside the steering cables it controls.  Getting to it requires huge upheaval to even see it, as it squats in a dark tight corner like some brooding malevolent robot.  This is not made any easier by a rolling sea.  The wires spill out of it like some incomprehensible psychedelic spider’s web.  Any hope of me fixing it lies between Bob Hope and envel-ope.  Hand-steering was last night’s exercise.  It was exhausting.  Normally, we will socialise during waking hours but not today.  Today, all each of us wanted was sleep during our off-watch.

Days and nights are divided into watches.  Ceaseless operation of our craft is a necessity because we can hardly stop moving.  An anchor chain would need to be several kilometres long to secure us to the sea-bed.  The only other option would be to rig the sails so that we just drifted.  This is possible, in extremis, and is a well-known tactic e.g. to ride out a storm.  But this course of action would have us consuming rations without making progress, and we need to make this passage at pace in order to stave off hunger.  The need to keep moving is both incessant and highlights our vulnerability.  We are each reliant upon the well-being and functioning of the other.  There is no hint at a day’s rest, or even an hour outside our routine.  Each hour spent idling would be to the detriment of the other part of the team. 

To cope with night times and the requirement to keep a constant watch Laura and I alternate helming duties.  Up to this point, we’ve switched every 4 hours.  In describing this rotation let’s assume the day’s watches start at 0001 hours – (Ed: like every day starts at 0001 hours – get on with it).  Rotating watches every four hours divides a day nice and evenly, into six watches.  However, the reality of this continuous cycle without variety, is that one person, who we will nominally call ‘Grumpy from Grumpalot’, would end up doing 2x four-hour night shifts - every night, and only one four-hour day shift.  Continuing this model, In contrast, his rested partner ‘Rip Van Winkle’ would get 8 hours sleep every night.  So to break the perpetuity of a system that wouldn’t work, and to make things tolerable and fair, in the middle of the day we insert two short watches of 2 hours, these are known as ‘dog watches’.  The result of the dog watches, is that an unfair watch cycle is broken, so that Grumpy stlll gets 8 hours on watch the first night, but now he only gets 4 hours the second night etc etc (contd on page 94).

The last 36 hours have been difficult, the seas have been moderate to rough at times making RaLa pitch and dive at odd angles.  Sometimes its like living on a roller-coaster.  Moving around on deck and below has been challenging – with the odd random disco move as a limb shoots out to brace a lurch.  The RaLa Shuffle.  Completing even small tasks requires always having a hand for oneself and one hand for the boat.  Legs braced and knees bent to avoid being tossed around in an unpredictable motion.  We’ve been permanently wet, occasionally cold, and had little uninterrupted rest.  It’s proved hard work and cooking has been a ninja test of supreme skill.  The above have combined to lower morale at times.  But folks, dinnae fret, things are looking oop - the autopilot seems to have got its act together for the last 6 hours, dawn has broken, and the wind has finally turned so that RaLa is now cruising along in the Trades at a good and constant speed cutting through the waves like a blade.  She’s showing us her ocean-going vessel form.

We have now been at sea for 16 days, and have travelled just over 1250Nm – slow going.   In contrast this is the same amount of time it took us to sail across the Atlantic from Cape Verde to St Lucia in the Caribbean – about 2100Nm.  On our present voyage we still have about 2500Nm to go.

So the days fall, and it's not always plain sailing.