All or Nothing

Phil Pascoe
Fri 29 May 2009 03:19

38:41.9N 43:52.1W

Azores Lows going East.  28 May 2009

Skipper returns to blog;
24th May was a light wind, frustrating day, but not without interest and incident.  These are some of the comments in the Log:  Murky horizon (03.00h), A beautiful sunrise (05.00h), Send wind please (08.00h), Engine off, full M + G, Goosed (09.30), Spinnaker up – port gybe (12.45h), Spinnaker down – Engine on (15.55h), Soon be sailing??? (01.00h).  We also saw 3 groups of dolphins and two whales throughout the day.  We were making reasonable progress north, but having to use the engine and burn our precious, and expensive, diesel.  The following day was lacking in wind also but we did manage to sail for most of it, and Maggie (our Hydrovane) did some of the steering, although she doesn’t like downwind sailing.  We (Pete) saw a huge turtle, only 5m from the boat, and more dolphins.
At the end of the day we had achieved our interim waypoint at 38 degrees North and could start to head East.  The wind increased steadily and by midnight we had 2 reefs in the main and half the genoa rolled away.  Throughout the early hours of the 26th the wind rose to 30 knots SSW, the sea state became moderate to rough and our speed rose to between 7 and 8 knots.  Speedy progress at last and in the right direction, but the downside was the discomfort of a rolly boat.  Such is Life for us Ocean sailors.
After a small squall came through the wind veered around from SSW to NW in a matter of 5 minutes and we were still hurtling along at almost 8 knots on the other gybe.  This then continued for almost 48h, great speed, the current with us, the swells kept increasing towards new territory for me; the seas were bigger than I had sailed in before.  Just looking aft was fascinating and I have to admit slightly frightening – the difference between sitting in a trough and flipping over the crests of the swells was huge, I guess the height of the mast at least (15 to 20 metres).  Two or three big swells would build up astern and it was difficult to see how we were going to get away without a cockpit full of water.  But boats handle it much better than humans – leave it to George (the autohelm), a tweak this way and a shimmy the other and we would squirt out off the wave like a novice surfer having second thoughts.  Get the sail area and the angle to the wind and swell right and sit back and enjoy.  Cooking a meal, preparing and drinking a cup of tea, and trying to sleep didn’t come quite so easily.  We covered well over 300 miles in 48h (still to be calculated accurately) as we were averaging over 7 knots SOG.  Exhilarating, fascinating (how can 10 tons of boat be pushed along at this speed with a couple of small sails up?) and knackering, but we ate and slept pretty well throughout.  Still 750 miles to go, I don’t believe it – are the Azores floating away from us?
Between 05.00h and midday today (28th) the wind dropped from 20 knots to 4 and our SOG (speed over the ground) from 7.5 to 3.7 knots.  Bugger, it’s back to floppy sails and sticking the engine on –  as we must try to keep up a reasonable average.  But hey, the sun is shining, we have food and beer, we’re 700 miles from the nearest land – sit back and relax - think of England, or the Caribbean.  That reminds me – it was very cold last night, the crew asked for duvets, would you believe it.  I’ve been using mine for the last week, but I’m used to 30 degrees or more; get the winter duvet out and stick the heating on Paula, I should be home in a month.
Dolphins & Whales:  what can I, a marine biologist, say about dolphins and whales?  I’ve seen plenty now, I’ve felt them, I’ve smelt them, I’ve dissected  them, I've published papers on their stomach contents (are you still with me).  But, when they come alongside a sailing boat, hundreds of miles from anywhere, and you watch them effortlessly play in the bow wave at 6 knots, occasionally looking up at you, and probably winking – you can’t help but marvel at mammalian evolution, and be touched by the experience.  Or when you are woken from your daydreams in the cockpit, by a loud snorty whoosh (no, not the crew snoring again) as a Sperm whale exhales for the first time in perhaps an hour, after rising from 2000 metres below the boat where it was feeding on squid.  Then it blows again, five or six times, just to make sure we’ve seen him, before diving with a lazy flip of its fluke.  Mastery of the Oceans: which is the significant species, them or us?  
Is this part of my quest for the ‘meaning of life’ or just a few threads of the rich tapestry?

Pics:  Another Atlantic Sunset.  Dolphins at play on the bow.

Wind and Sea increasing - skipper still cool.  Pete dressed for action.

George steering in big swells (I'm not going out there, it's wet and windy).