Chocolate cake and candles

Back Across the Pond - Summer 2017
John Andrews
Mon 30 Jun 2014 17:38

60:18.7N 050:00.7W

Yesterday was the skipper’s birthday. This occasion demanded the usual presents, treats and celebratory food. Trying to bake a surprise birthday cake for somebody within the confines of a small boat presents not inconsiderable problems, particularly if that somebody won’t go to bed. The whole process turned into something approaching a French farce. When his cabin door finally did shut, I sprang into action, assembling the necessary ingredients, only to have to adopt nonchalant blocking tactics when the door opened again a few minutes later. Then there was the problem of where to secrete the cake where it wouldn’t be found by the skipper on his next watch. The solution was in Max’s cabin. Poor Max had to put up with the overwhelming aroma of warm chocolate cake as it sat cooling on a shelf only six inches from his head. My concession to baking on board was to use a packet cake mix rather than make the whole thing from scratch. This was fine until I started reading the list of ingredients I needed to add. One packet of cake mix, check; three eggs, check; 250 ml water, check; 125 ml vegetable oil, check; one packet of ready mix chocolate fudge icing, available as a separate purchase!!??? As we were now about 100 miles off the southern tip of Greenland, this was going to prove a bit of a problem. It turns out, however, that Max knows a thing or two about chocolate icing, so we managed to produce a very passable substitute from the ingredients to hand. I don’t know whether the skipper picked up on any of these goings on, but he did seem to affect genuine surprise and pleasure when the whole iced and be-candled assembly was produced to a rousing rendition of ‘Happy Birthday to You’.

But enough of chocolate cake I hear you say, what about the sailing? Oh alright then. As all this was going on, we did at last manage to reach the waypoint at the tip of Greenland that we had been zig-zagging laboriously towards for the previous two days and three hours later we crossed the longitude of Cape Farewell itself. The wind was still against us, but had dropped right down to a force 3, hence giving the possibility of thinking about baking at all. The wind has alas followed us round and a day later finds us once again hard on the wind going up the West side of Greenland. Last night, when the winds were still light, the skipper did suggest that we could tack gently northwards overnight, apparently his preferred option, or alternatively we could motor upwind, thereby making considerable progress towards Nuuk, our final destination. He was told very firmly that it might be his birthday, but only for a couple more hours, and we would  definitely like to make as much progress in the right direction as possible. The engine went on.

We have been sailing in Greenland waters for a couple of days now, and this means that we have to contact the authorities every 6 hours, giving our position, course, speed, next waypoint etc. This should be fairly simple to do by email, but our emailing system, having worked perfectly well on the way up to Iceland, has decided to play up. We have to make three or four attempts to send every message, the whole process taking up to 45 minutes each time and using up an eye-watering amount of expensive satellite phone minutes. If you are more than 30 minutes late, they try to contact you by phone, and if they don’t get you, they apparently start Search and Rescue operations. I’ve been hauled from my bunk three times now to try and get a message sent on time. It’s all been very stressful! We were relieved therefore when we came within VHF range and were able to radio our position this morning. There’s always a downside of course. It transpired that when we transmit the self steering loses its GPS fix, and the boat starts doing its own thing while setting off a screeching alarm on the chart plotter.  So now we have to make sure we have someone below to turn of the alarm and someone at the helm position to hand steer the boat whenever we want to use the VHF radio to transmit.

We are now nearing ice territory. Festina Lente, who is ahead of us and with whom we are in daily radio contact has reported seeing ice north of 60 degrees latitude, albeit much closer to the shore. A contact in Toronto who has been emailing commentary on ice reports to us wrote that the latest report had a gap in the information between Cape Farewell and Nuuk. ‘Expect anything. Cheers!’ he writes. So, we are currently heading west, away from the shore trying to stay clear of the worst of the predicted strong northerlies but also away from the ice. The wind is strong at the moment, 30 knots, but the sea still relatively flat, the sky is blue and the sun is shining and although we would like to arrive, we are all in good shape and in good spirits.