Ships that Pass in the Night

Wed 9 Jun 2021 08:33

47:29.30N 12:45.10W


Ships that Pass in the Night

It is 05.20am on the 9th of June, our oldest grandson Henry’s twelfth birthday and it is a sulphuric daylight. For three days now we have been running before the generous SW Azorean High trade wind, in fact an uneasy confluence of fast moving air above the High and beneath powerful Low moving eastwards to our north. Naturally where the winds of a high and those of a low meet and run together there is a mixing of temperatures, resulting in…FOG.

In the fog the only evidence we have of the ships that are passing in both directions infront of and behind us day and night are the pale blue shapes creeping across the chart plotter screen revealing themselves by name through the AIS data. They are becoming more numerous as we move towards The Channel and last night we had one fast moving vessel travelling at 24-27 knots due to pass less than two miles ahead of us, by calculation or coincidence we were not sure. Classified as a pleasure craft, the name Argo MOD70 would suggest otherwise but what had me foxed were her dimensions, 79 ft length and 79 ft beam and no entry for her draught. Was she a catamaran? Or was the 79 ft a measurement of diameter and we were dealing with a UFO using close proximity to the water surface for her passage-making and not passing through it (!). Another for the Google when arrive in Falmouth list.

I have just been into the cockpit where everything is saturated and dripping; it is as if we are travelling along in a tunnel of 50 metres visibility both sides of Zoonie. I locked the winch handle into the top of the winch around which the mainsheet was coiled. After a while these essential lines stretch through the pull of the wind in the sail, and when they stretch they are free to move a little resulting in a pitiful creaking noise, resonant throughout Zoonie and unique so we soon realise who is the culprit. A couple of turns and all is quiet again. I also did the genoa sheet on the way back for good measure, ‘what’s good for the goose is good for the gander’.

The wind is a constant 15-22 knots so too much for the Diva who sits waiting in her yellow dressing room bag on the foredeck. The sea state is benign, carrying us along with only the occasional roll. No more jellyfish but we did see one whale spout in the distance yesterday when the fog lifted for a few hours. Also a Wilson’s Petrel came to say ‘hello’ and Rob identified a solitary Laughing Gull from our avian treasure book ‘Seabirds of the World’. Hopefully this wind will continue for Zoonie but there is a big Low passing above us and this will either bat us into the Channel on Saturday or bend left and side swipe the west coast of Ireland. We shall see.

We had a companion for a while on exactly the same course as us. The 49 foot Maaike-Saadet, an aluminium yacht that was anchored near us in the mooring field in Horta had crept slowly up behind us. She is also bound for Falmouth. For just a few delicious hours we crept past her because the Diva was giving us an extra two knots of speed, but since then of course, since returning to our white sails, they have overtaken us again.

For a number of nights now the lack of any visible stars because of the fog has been more than made up for with the fabulous luminescence such as we have not seen for a long time. Reaching as far from Zoonie as the limited visibility would allow ragged and random patches of sea appear to be lit to a brilliant white by underwater lighting, not just the sparkles in Zoonie’s wash but whole big areas well away from her hull and both exciting and beautiful in their effect on us.

Yesterday afternoon we decided to try a game of Scrabble, but how to stop the letters slipping off the board as Zoonie rolled? Easy, a non-slip mat laid on top of the board. We can still see the extra score squares through the holes in the mat. That’s got to be worth a tenner on the ‘sailors’ initiative’ page of Practical Boat Owner hasn’t it? ‘Tested on the Azores High Swell’.

The psychology of this passage is interesting. We are on count down to a land life again after 6 years and two days, if we arrive on Saturday. There is no long passage next to look forward to. Trans-ocean sailing for us is now down to three more days after the four hundred and sixteen we have had. I will miss it and the fabulous way of life it encapsulates but then we are not selling Zoonie and we have enjoyed tentatively forming future plans for cruising around the UK next summer. However, I can well understand the folk who go round again and the few who just keep going around, one British chap in St Helena in his green steel boat was on his 17th circumnavigation. Think I’d be a bit bored by then.

But worry not, if indeed you were at all worried, I would certainly do it again if I was much younger but now it’s time for home and grandchildren!