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Date: 10 Dec 2009 14:48:38
Title: News from Day 9 Atlantic Crossing; Life on board

 

14:49.702N 30:07.101W

 

10 December 2009

 

So what’s it like, this life on board?  Well here we are into day nine of our (for us at least) epic crossing.  Our personal Everest.  The goal, to take us and our brave little boat safely across the ocean.  To do what many others have done before, but to be able to say that we too are ocean voyagers, and to join that exclusive club of Transatlantic Sailors.  But which is more, to do it as a team, just the three of us.  Shane, Ali and Talulah.

 

The preparations started many months ago, with all that we have done since leaving the UK getting ready for the big push. Even when it seemed like we were taking forever bringing Talulah down the coast of Portugal and southern Spain to Gibraltar, and then Morocco, and finally to the setting off point in the Canary Islands we were learning and preparing.  Learning about each other, our strengths and weaknesses. Learning how to work as a team, and learning about Talulah.  How to sail on her and how to live in her, to learn about her strengths and weaknesses too.  What she likes and what she doesn’t like, how to get the best out of her without pushing her too hard, how to make her comfortable, and in so doing make ourselves comfortable and relaxed too.  The maintenance and upgrading schedule have been relentless too.  Every day there’s been something else to do, something else to sort out, figure out and generally mess about with.  The learning curve has been steep, and at times frustrating and bewildering, but never dull, and mostly very rewarding.

At last when we finally got her to the “start” line in San Sebastian, La Gomera, Canary Islands, we were ready, mentally, emotionally and physically.  Talulah was ready too, loaded up and weighed down with enough water, fuel, food and spares to last at least six weeks for the trip we expect to last for only three.  Like a fat duck groaning with indigestion she wallowed in the water, not all that keen to get going, but we like to think understanding of the need to carry so many provisions.

 

Wednesday 2nd December 2009 dawned like any other, except it was a bit special.  D-Day! Frantic last minute packing away of freshly bought vegetables, making sure the dingy (“Hula”) was high up on her davits and securely strapped down, topping up the water tanks, stowing everything not needed for the journey away and checking and rechecking the weather reports. Eventually at 13:00 we were ready to leave.  With heavy hearts we said our goodbyes to all of Europe and our new friends from France.  A little bit excited, a little bit scared, and a little bit in awe of what we were about to embark on we slipped the mooring lines and headed out into the wide blue world.  Well at least we would have done, if the wind that had been gusting around the marina all morning and was forecast to stay with us hadn’t died away to nothing, leaving us flopping about going nowhere and getting in the way of the huge super-fast inter-island ferry (I swear I could see the captain with his head in his hand drumming the fingers of the other one the table, waiting not so patiently for us to get out of the way).  On went the engines and for the first 13 ½ hours we motored along trying to get the islands behind us.  Now those of us who’re familiar with intercontinental jet travel might be used to the notion that once you take off, the place you’ve left behind disappears pretty quickly behind you. It doesn’t work like that with boats!  You set off all misty eyed dreaming of wide open ocean expecting to see nothing but blue horizon. But after making way for several hours, you’ll find you’re still right next to the Island!  Many, many hours later, it might be behind you, but you can still see people walking their dogs along the cliff tops, and generally having a good time.  Eventually the sun sets, and you can see all the lights on in the houses.  Oh well, you say to yourself, it’ll be gone by morning.  You’d be wrong!  Not only has the Island you left not disappeared, but the next one has now appeared on the horizon!  This is getting ridiculous!

 

What we usually do on the first day of any passage, is both sit up at the helm seat, and absorb our surroundings.  Just to get in touch with ourselves and what we are about to do. To look at the sea, reflect and get calm after the hustle and bustle of marina life.  “To get into the groove”.  This time was no exception and we saw the usual assortment of marine life, including pilot whales (again), flying fish, sometimes great schools of them leaping from the water (looking weirdly like a swarm of locusts), and of course a lot of birds demonstrating their breathtaking aeronautical skills with one wingtip skimming the surface of the water while going up and down in time with the rhythm of the waves. No matter how choppy it gets.

 

That night we settled into what we thought was to become our 3 hours on 3 hours off watch pattern.  We’ve always known that the first 24 – 48 hours are the hardest before your system gets used to the new routine.  This was no exception, but we made it through, and settled into a good rhythm.  We didn’t face anything too challenging weather wise, the sea was very lumpy though, and poor old Talulahs belly, laden down as she is, took a real bashing and she wasn’t embarrassed to let us know it either.  She moaned and creaked and groaned and slammed her way for mile after mile with us feeling ever more guilty. 

 

As Ali puts it:  “Talulah creaks, it’s the Cat’ Creak.  Through her mast, the bridgedeck and down into the hulls, the noise runs incessantly.  The sounds are like that of an old barn door left open and swinging in the wind.  And then she slams;  as you feel the breeze tickle the back of your neck bringing on the next surge, she heaves, she lifts, briefly settling, and then down she surfs, pounds, bows lost in the ocean froth, whilst the slamming reverberates throughout her hulls, her belly bruised by every landing.  Her wings permanently outstretched, 9 days now, sometimes pinched out with gybe preventors, she has had no respite, no rest, no let-down.  We can feel and hear her tension, and admire her immense strength, an so often we wonder, is she enjoying this?  How we hope so!

 

We started of with alternating 3 hour watches close to land where you have to be alert and ready to react to things like fishing boats, lobster pots and weird weather patterns coming off the land, but now that we’re much further out, we’ve changed it to 4 hour watches.  Out here there is almost no chance of colliding with anything, and so the most important thing is to be aware of what’s happening with the wind and the weather which is also a lot less erratic without influences from the land.  It means that with periodic checking and a quick scan of the horizon every now and then, it’s possible to sit inside and read (or write) catch up on navigating and check the next days weather forecast, and in fact we’ve even given ourselves permission to doze, as long as it’s done with both ears open, and the egg timer ticking!

 

It’s a strange thing being so far from land.  Many people have said to us that they wouldn’t like it, and it’s an understandable attitude.  The trick is not to think beyond the horizon.  Treat the horizon as if it is the limit of the world, the garden fence even, and what happens on the other side is not your concern.  Somehow your mind fools you into thinking that land, help, is just over there, not very far away.  After all, the last thing you saw disappearing over the horizon was land.

I threw an orange peel over the side the other day and watched it disappear from view and gave myself the absolute creeps thinking how once we had gone it would be there all alone drifting helplessly in the vast emptiness.  I actually felt a bit sorry for the poor thing. For an ORANGE PEEL!!! – hmmm, maybe I’m sleepier than I realise.

 

We have a SSB (long range) radio on board; the idea is to be able to talk to other yachts that are also out there doing the crossing (we’re talking hippy independent crossers here, no organised rally like “The ARC” for the likes of us) even if they are hundreds of miles away.  I can’t describe the countless hours of “fun” we’ve had with the evil beast, trying everything we can think of to make it work.  We’ve twiddled knobs and pushed buttons, bellowed into the mouthpiece to be heard, and yet with an obstinate attitude, malice even, it’s hissed and spat at us like a cornered alley cat. Sometimes, just sometimes a fragment of a conversation could be heard, and sometimes, just sometimes we could be heard too.  Usually just long enough for us to register on the “net” before transmission fades, and then listening helplessly while the others out there worry about what’s happened to us.  Last night we stumbled onto the solution.  The secret is to turn all the navigation equipment off, including GPS and autopilot, so one or the other of us has to sit outside and hand steer in the pitch dark with no lights to guide us, so the other can sit inside and listen to the Americans (it’s always Americans) gabble on about their day.  Perfect!!

Thank goodness for the good old reliable (expensive but worth it) satellite phone for email communications.  Or so you’d think!  Yesterday for some inexplicable reason, after receiving a weather forecast in the morning, it simply would not connect for email in the afternoon.

“Maybe we’re out of satellite range” suggested Ali.

“Doesn’t seem likely” pooh pooed Shane

A quick glance at the satellite position map shows a satellite 15 deg South of here (Equator) and almost directly overhead.

Still no connection!

A more detailed study of the satellite position map suggested that maybe Ali had a point. It seems that directly where we were there was a gaping hole in the “spot beam coverage” (?!) (Yeah, I know!)

“Let’s try connect to the satellite all the way on the other side of America” said Shane eating humble pie.

Success!!

Work that one out.

 

Yesterday, we had our first wash day. Not ourselves (we do that often enough), our clothes.  A bit surreal really.  In the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, there we were generator on and our tiny washing machine churning away as if it was the most natural thing in the world and then Ali hanging the clothes out to dry.  A scene of domestic bliss played out in households everywhere.  The only difference is there aren’t any neighbours to offend with tatty underwear on the line.

We did have a strange incident with a near neighbour the other day though.  After not seeing another boat for a few days, and not chatting to anyone else either, Ali suddenly said “Hey look, a boat!” Lo and behold she was right, there was a boat, not more than 5 miles away. What’s more it was a sailing boat.  In great excitement we looked up his position on the radar and radioed through on the VHF (which we know works very well)

“Who iz zis calling boat in (x,y) position?” came back a heavily accented German reply.

“It’s us” we cried, “over here, on Talulah, can’t you see us?”

“Vot you vant?!(and then some muttering in German)” , and with a loud click, turned off his radio.

Charming! Sorry to have bothered you mate! It is the middle of the day after all. At least we overtook him and left him wallowing in our wake.

 

The marine life is very special, every day something new appears.  The latest dolphins we’ve seen have been the Spotted variety.  Much bigger than the little Common variety that we’re used to. Slower moving, but more acrobatic with one leaping out the water and doing a spin right next to Ali as she lay on the bow.  They stayed with us for quite a while, and we like to think they’re playing with us, relieving us and them of the tedium of the endless ocean.

The little flying fish are constant companions, but sadly every morning we have to clear a few of their little corpses off the deck where they’ve crash landed on Talulah during the night. With each clearance the most appetising looking of the little fellows gets strung up by his wings (crucifix style) and left to dry on our washing line to be used as bait.  Oh yes my friends, the fishing continues, a broken fishing rod is not going to deter the likes of us.  Not to be outdone, the reel has now been lashed to the guardrail and the line still dragged.  But can you imagine my dismay when I forgot to reel it in when we were doing a manoeuvre and watched it getting dragged under the boat into the rudder.  There was nothing for it but to finish the manoeuvre, and then attend to the line.  Disgusted, I pulled it in to find only the broken end of the line (how hard do I have to try), and so with a mammoth sulk I packed up my fishing kit and vowed to give it up.  After a while I said to Ali, “This is just cruel, I can actually see a fish, playing in the water about 100 meters behind us”.  She had a look and said, “Oh yes, I can see it too”.  Needless to say after a while it was still there, and it soon became apparent that it was being dragged behind the boat.  Somehow, don’t ask me how, but somehow, the other part of the line was still attached to the bottom of the boat and the fish had taken the bait.  Unbelievable!!  So with boathook in hand I poked around and retrieved the line.  Ali slowed the boat down, and hand over hand, I pulled the exhausted fish in.  What a beauty!  A Mahi Mahi (or Dorado or Dolphin fish depending on where in the world you come from). Bright absolutely golden in colour with iridescent purple spots along his fan like dorsal fin. He was so exhausted from pulling against the boat for all that time that he probably wouldn’t have survived if we’d set him free.  So a swift whack on the back of the head with a winch handle and he was gone. Good size, but no monster, enough for two very satisfying meals each.  I swear this story is 100% true.

Oh yes, and we caught another much smaller fish the day before, but not such an interesting story.  Small rod and line out, small fish took bait, reel him in, whack.  Yummy!  You get the picture.

 

We set off from the Canaries and set ourselves a waypoint (position to steer to) of 15deg North and 30deg West from where we would then turn West (or right) into the heart of the setting sun (or Barbados, whichever we hit first).  Now, as mentioned earlier we understand Talulah and when she’s comfortable and we know that one of her least favourite points of sail is when the wind is from directly behind (on a run) but she’s quite happy if the wind comes from the rear quarter (broad reach).  So with this in mind we set the sails and steered her according to the wind, only to have the wind shift around time and again, and force us more South than South West.  Now South, you might think, is not too bad (we have to go that way anyway) and we could always go West later.  The only problem is the Cape Verde islands are in the way.  Oooh, more Islands you might think, but oh no!  we’ve been warned away by tales of petty crime, outrageous bureaucracy,  and worse still, rampant Denghi Fever (Google it).  So in order to keep away we had to do many silly course changes, and still try to maintain an average overall heading of South West, and so despite covering many more miles than this, our as the crow flies daily runs have been as follows: Day 1 - 133miles; day 2 - 142; day 3 -170; day 4 - 152; day 5 - 120; day 6 - 157; day 7 -144 and day 8 – 155.  We’ve now reached the 15/30 waypoint and are about to turn West. As the sailors ditty goes “South until the butter melts, then West into the sunset.”

 

Only another 1750 miles to go!!

 


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