Watch Commander On Line & Ready for Duty

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Thu 5 Nov 2009 15:42
Position: 10 15.5 S 034 58.5 W
Course: Southwest; Speed: 5.5 knots
Wind: Southeast; F4 - moderate breeze
Weather: Sunny, warm
Day's Run: 142 miles

Nothing like a good day's run to cheer one up.

Last evening the sky was clear so I decided to do a set of stars (the faithful GPS remains dormant as we continue to navigate by the heavenly bodies). One of the tricks to getting a good set of stars is to work out before hand where they should be then set the expected altitude on the sextant, look along the bearing and if all goes well and you are anywhere near where you think you are the star you want should appear in the sextant's telescope. The other thing you need is a clear horizon, so the timing is critical, because obviously as it gets darker the horizon becomes more and more difficult to discern until it disappears in the blackness. Vega, a beautiful bright star appeared nice and early close to where I expected, so I got a couple of sights of her while waiting for it to get a little darker and for other stars to start to appear. Then I went to the next star I was looking for, Achernar down to the southeast, but not sighted, the sky looked clear, oh well, on to the next one. Antares, southwest, altitude 20 degrees - obscured by the mainsail; next star, Alpheratz, nope, can't see it; next star, Altair, nope .. Now I am getting cranky. Stars are starting to come out all over the night sky, it is getting darker and I have only a couple of sights. I start to feel a complete amateur, so I take a few stars from scratch, including Jupiter sitting high overhead, which is time consuming and tricky, sighting the star and slowly bringing it down to the horizon. Anyway I managed to get five stars, enough to get an satisfactory observed position but was I cranky by the end of it. I think the problem was that the compass variation was more than I expected and I was looking along the wrong bearing, even so I normally make plenty of allowance for this so it is a bit of a mystery. I think the solution is a night in port and a couple of cold beers.

Overnight the wind freshened which had me up at four putting a reef in the mainsail. We were bowling along at a great speed, I would guess about seven knots but the full main was causing some weather helm which the wind vane wasn't able to cope with, reducing the mainsail helped balance the rig and eased the pressure on the venerable 'Hydrovane'. As I had finished trimming sails and adjusting the windvane (we are now broad reaching) I had a good look around, and lo, there low on the southern horizon - the Southern Cross. It was faint with some haze and cloud at the low altitude, I had a closer look through the binoculars but no mistake, it was the home constellation alright. I had not seen it from Sylph's decks since 2004, we know we are in the Southern Hemisphere now. I shall have to start practicing my Ozzie lingo.

And I had a win this morning. The old glorified egg timer, the "Watch Commander" has been sitting broken in the companionway since my passage from North America to Ireland for the want of a new potentiometer. A few weeks back the digital multimeter decided to give up the ghost. While pulling it apart to see if I could repair it I noticed it had on its circuit board a very similar looking potentiometer. Now that we are getting closer to the Brazilian coast the 'Watch Commander" becomes important (I think this needs to be said with a pause and in a deep, reverent tone - ridiculous pompous name for such a simple device). I have a couple of kitchen timers but when overtired they do not have the decibels to rouse one out of a deep slumber. So I pulled both the . "Watch Commander" . and the multimeter apart, unsoldered the potentiometer from the multimeter, soldered it into the . "Watch Commander" . and . drum roll, loud cheers, streamers, ticker tape parade etc. etc. . it worked. Now the times aren't quite right, presumably the range of resistances in the replacement potentiometer are slightly different but no matter, it is working and I won't have to spend US $150 or so to replace it.

I am now getting well into Magellan Strait planning, reading in more detail various books I have on board. I finished an interesting background book a few days ago. "The Blind Horn's Hate" (Christmas present from Mary - thank you). Great read, now I have a pretty good picture of the Straits and surrounding area, and the weather ... I think maybe I should turn around and find another way. Now reading the account of the intrepid Bill Tilman's sojourn into the region, "Mischief in Patagonia". He is always informative, interesting, witty and amusing - and generally can be counted on to get himself into more trouble than Ned Kelly (Oz lingo) somewhere along the line, which after all is what makes these accounts interesting to read. I am hoping I shall have no book writing material resulting from our passage. Also we have on board the ultimate cruising guide for the region by Mariolina Rolfo and Giorgio Ardrizzi, which I have just started dipping into again. Lots of preparations to do yet before we get down that way. This will without doubt be Sylph's most challenging adventure to date.

All is well.

Bob Cat:

Did I hear "challenging adventure"? Now wait a minute, do I look like an adventurous soul? Where is my contract? Isn't there something in it about maximum wind strengths and minimum temperatures and quantity of sunshine in it somewhere? Get my lawyer on the line. Hrrmph! Meantime you know where to find me . Zzzzzzz. (one eye opens), any fish down that way? Zzzzzzz.