Half Way to Fiji

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Tue 29 Mar 2016 00:09
Noon position: 00 17.6 N 169 20.4 W
Course: SW Speed: 7 knots
Wind: ENE, F4 – moderate breeze
Sea: slight Swell: E 1 meters
Weather: overcast, warm
Day’s run: 134 nm

We approach the equator, only some 20 miles to go now, a little over half way to Fiji. Conditions grow more unsettled. My thoughts turn to the first explorers who approached these regions. I naturally think of the early European voyagers – it would have been the ships and crews of Henry the Navigator who first pushed south along the African coast – but these days we should be more inclusive, in particular seeing as we are in their part of the world, thinking of the Polynesian navigators who set out into the vast expanses of the mighty Pacific Ocean. They must have either been very desperate or completely mad. I think it unlikely that they would have been desperate for such voyages would need to been well resourced with seaworthy craft and stores, requiring a sophisticated level of organisation and cooperation. So that leads me to conclude that they were mad. Given that they were members of my species, homo sapiens, the conclusion would not seem entirely unjustified.

Actually, Herodotus gives an account of a very early Greek voyage setting out from the Red Sea, going around the bottom of Africa and turning up in the Mediterranean years later. He discounts it as myth because the tale describes the sun passing to the north, and the weather getting colder, facts which seemed unbelievable to the first historian (aka the ‘father of lies’), but now these details tend to lend credibility to the story.

Having paid some small homage to those bravest of souls, those who have ventured beyond horizons with no knowledge of what lies beyond, let me return to my own small adventures. In the previous twenty four hours we had enjoyed clear skies and relatively settled conditions. Then, yesterday afternoon we had a band of clouds pass overhead which led me to drop the drifter and pole out the genoa in its place. The cloud brought some rain but the wind remained light so we continued on, running square, wing-on-wing, under full sail. Early evening some more rain came, this time with a bit of wind, and seeing as it was dark and feeling the need for caution when it is difficult to see, I put a reef in the main and put some wraps in the head-sail. An hour later the skies had cleared again, the stars were shining, the breeze was fair, so, confident that it would not be foolhardy to set full sail again, I so did. Sylph continued gamely on, quietly and steadily into the night, only the hiss of water slipping past her hull indicating her movement through the universe – at five full knots. I slept soundly. (OK, building up the tension – you know something is going to happen, hope you aren’t disappointed.)

At 3.30 this morning I awoke to a dramatic change in Sylph’s motion. The sounds were no longer the sleep inducing gentle hiss of the marine world slipping by, but more the cacophonous sounds of Piccadilly Circus. Sylph was jumping about like a Mexican bean, and the sails were banging and crashing overhead. I lay in my bunk for a moment assessing the situation. Clearly a rain squall was nearby. I went on deck to find Sylph surrounded by low dark clouds, hanging heavy, black, full of ill will; the air was still, warm and humid; the sea a confused mess of waves coming from several directions at once, no doubt generated by the several rain squalls that surrounded us. It was only a matter of time before we were overtaken by one of these squalls and goodness knows what direction the wind would come from when we were. I furled the headsail, put two reefs in the main, stowed the whisker pole, and started the engine. I figured I may as well motor to make the motion a bit easier and to be better able to respond when the squall hit us. I was not to be disappointed, half an hour later the wind arrived, from the south east. I sheeted in the mainsail a tad, set the wind vane and shut down the engine. Sylph was off, doing six to seven knots under double reefed main alone. I stood in the heavy rain, feeling happy. Sometimes I curse old Sylph and the world I live in, but, then and there, at that moment, I felt I belonged.

An hour later the squall had passed: the rain had eased; the wind had returned into the north east, a gentler breeze; and the seas had settled into their usual orderly serried ranks. I bore away back on course, poled the headsail to port, and shook out a reef from the main. We run on (“… at the mouth” … Who said that?)

Another good day’s run.

All is well.