Good Times Bad Times
Sunday 26th and Monday 27th Dec
Generally Sunday proved to be a good day’s sailing and the steady wind allowed us to follow the rumb line (which is the shortest distance between two distant points around the earth. A line plotted across the Atlantic over a distance of 2000 miles shows as a curve on the chart to allow for the curvature of the earth) at speeds between 4 and 6 knots whilst the sea smoothed out a bit to make the ride a lot easier. To minimise our rolling (we are sailing just under the main at the moment on a very broad reach) we have set the staysail but sheeted it hard in with the sheet lead inside the shrouds so it offers resistance.
In the evening however the sky began to become rather more threatening and Sarah summoned me from my off watch sleep to help reef the main as we were speeding along at 8.5 knots in 20 knots of wind and the cloud behind us clearly was about to deliver considerably more in the way of gusts. This proved very timely and we were well placed when the squalls arrived, indeed we left this sail configuration in place all night as we endured a whole succession of these big black clouds that mostly brought very strong blasts of wind under them. Sleep was rather patchy as these stronger winds had the effect of whipping up a large waves which as ever ran at an angle to the main swell, creating a very big and confused sea. In many ways the absence of moonlight was a bit of a blessing as we could not always see the big waves as they marched up behind us, seeming all to tower completely over our stern and must surely cascade their tons of water into the cockpit. But each and every time the wave would pass harmlessly under our stern, lifting us bodily into the air and then as it passed under us it would lift our bows, point the transom down into the trough behind us and the whole process was repeated. The time to worry is when the wind is a good deal stronger and the crest of these waves begin to break.
At 8.00am I came on watch and within just one minute I was joined on the seat by a flying fish! It was still dark and the little chap was frantically flitting around causing chaos and a lot of mess. The thing is that he and I both had the same intention, which was to return him/her to the sea ASAP, but this needed him to keep still whilst I tried to pick him up and relocate him. Naturally this was not something the fish understood too well and so every time I tried to pick him up, his frantic wriggling, his incredibly slimy body and what appear now to be sacrificial scales meant that he simply shot out of my grasp time and time again. I resorted to a sailing glove and finally picked him up and lobbed him gently over the side. Now I am sure that lots of fishermen will protest that this treatment and method of repatriating it with the sea was too violent and will have done for the poor fellow, but they might not think this if they had ever seen one of these critters fly. They launch themselves out of the sea and with their wafer thin wings, they glide at speed for up to 60 metres across the wave tops. But it is the manner of their landing which is important here. There is no finesse to this. No graceful swooping or soaring or gliding. They do not touch down gently, surfing to a standstill. They are less like Tom Daley and more like a brick. They hit the water at speed and at almost any angle and I am guessing that if they can constantly withstand these impacts, they should be OK with being dropped in off the side of Serafina!
Dawn was greeted with the arrival of a particularly thunderous cloud which had winds gusting to just short of gale force 8 and it is beginning to look like Neptune has decided that our honeymoon period is over and it is time to show us a little of the malevolence that an ocean can produce. We spent the entire day being tossed around like a small toy, rolling, pitching and plunging our way through big rolling seas and sets of waves running across each other. The wind strength was only alternating between 15 and 20 knots, but the direction shifted dramatically and constantly all day requiring us to endlessly adjust our course to avoid an accidental gybe or to return to our favoured course. Fortunately in the main we were able to maintain a reasonable heading and as we bucked our way through the seas, we had the satisfaction of knowing that we were at least heading roughly in the right direction! Though Sarah’s take on it is probably a little different as she bounces around below trying to prepare meals....
Things generally quietened down in the evening and Sarah’s first watch saw us making 6 knots straight down the line as I slept soundly. Then as we changed watch a series of clouds full of rain and 35 knot squalls swept up behind us hour after hour giving me plenty to do and denying Sarah a decent sleep again. By morning we had 20 knots steadily from around the east and when we checked in with S-F we had to switch to the SSB radio and a scheduled net as we were unable to reach each other using VHF. It transpired that they had rigged their downwind sails and poles last night and to their surprise had enjoyed a big and favourable wind shift which meant that they had had a sleigh ride through the night and were now a remarkable 19 miles ahead of us. Once the last of the current crop of squalls had passed through we too set our downwind rig and found ourselves heading well south of the line but enjoying possibly a smoother ride. The forecast is for the wind to veer a little, later in the day and this should be perfect... watch this space.