Dirk's Blog - The Last Few Days

Forget Me Knot Atlantic Row
Johnnie, Stef and Dirk
Wed 6 Apr 2022 10:41

The last few days.

It's been a few days now that we have been anticipating our arrival in Cayenne. The exact date was uncertain a few days ago as the ocean, the wind and the currents can be fickle.  However, when terns and noddies started flying about the boat and flocking over patches of ocean near us, it’s clear we are close to land.  And then our weather guru Chris sends through the turn of tide times for the Fleuve Mahury, the river which we must row up, to get to the marina.  We know this is it, the end is in sight and we can calculate our arrival date.  We can even predict which rising tide we would most likely be on.

But back to the noddies.  We had not seen them before.  And when we did encounter them, I heard them before seeing them.  About 240 miles off the coast of Cayenne, 4 days to go, it was dark as I rowed the first of the 4 night shifts. I heard a new noise, a squawky-croaky sound from somewhere behind me. Then it was above me, behind me again, then above.  Strange, but out here, after all these days at sea, we start to imagine all sorts of things. I turned on my head torch and looked up. And indeed, just over my right shoulder there was a big black bird, long pointy beak and a splash of white across the top of it’s head. The flight was also jerky, not at all like the element swoop of the petrels and boobies.  This fellow stayed just there, keeping pace with the boat, occasionally dropping away to the bow, when the squawking would start again.  Remember, we sit with our backs to the bow, hence I couldn't see what was going on.  My shift soon ended and Stef crept from his cabin to take over.  I gave him the usual update of the sea, wind and rowing and I told him that he would have company as the bird was still around, so he wouldn't have any surprises.  I sat myself down on the rowing position behind Stef, against the bow cabin door, to get ready for "bed".  Suddenly I hear Stef exclaiming loudly, using words that will "stay on the boat" while waving his hands over his head. "The birds just sat down on my head!!!" And so it was. The bird, an Atlantic Black Noddie, was trying to land on his head! But Stef protested too much, so it flew back to the bow and the squawking started again. I got up, and look over the cabin roof and saw the reason for the noise.  Another noddie was already perched there, hitching a ride and protested loudly ever time the other bird tried to land beside it.  So, what option did our first noddie friend have but to seek out Stef's head?  

Noddies don't fly too far from the breeding grounds so we could now be sure that the GPS was correct and we were within a few days of land.  Each day we got more hints of this.

The day after we met the noddies, we saw many of them flying and diving near the boat. Increasingly, we also spot various different terns.  So good to know the end is finally in sight.  What made me very happy is that the noddies and terns actually make noises. Un-musical shrieks and squawking, but noises one can associate with birds and birds who live close to land.  Lovely.

However, sadly, had we been in this route in 1492 we would now have been seeing hundreds of turtles. Cristobal Colon, is reported to have written in his diary that there were so many turtles, that one could have walked to land across their backs. And similarly, over the last 60 days we have seen only one whale.  Whether this is normal for this part of the ocean, I'll need to consult the experts, but it does seem unlikely that there wouldn’t be more sightings.  Maybe our recordings will reveal that they are around but just didn't surface near us.

During a spell of very good weather, great wind and perfect tides in the middle of March, I reminded myself and the others, "this isn't over until we step off the boat in Cayenne", which is how it turned out to be.  For just over a week, we have had too little consistent sufficient sun to charge our batteries and use the water maker.  We had to make a decision, make water by machine and you'd need to hand steer or, keep the autohelm going, and hand pump for fresh water. We all hate handsteering so...  consequently we have been hand pumping water for just over a week. 20 minutes of pumping for 1.5 litres of desalinated water.  4 litres of drinking water per person + some 2 litres for cooking per day.  My brain is too tired to do the math. 

With the moon now rising as a thin sickle and only in the early hours of the morning, we have dark nights again. No stars mostly due to the cloud cover.  But, in return we get to enjoy the brilliant bioluminesence again.  I'm not sure if we have mentioned this before but it’s one of Mother Nature's wonderful spectacles of light. Plankton that when stirred or agitated starts to glow and fluoresce. We often see this around our oars or the glow of fluorescence coming from our bow wave.

Last night, 28 March the ocean gave a special display of this phenomenon.  Everywhere around us, just under the surface of the ocean, we saw pale, fluorescent patches of light appear and vanish again. The Ocean surface seemed lit up like the disco floor underneath John Travolta's feet in Saturday Night Fever. For many meters around us, again and again, a light show would flare up and then ebb away again. There must have been shoals of fish swimming past coming close enough to the surface to cause the bioluminesence.   It was spectacular. 

Finally, this morning, when dawn broke and it was light enough to make out colours, the ocean had turned green.  A pale emerald green, clearly different from the beautiful, warm, translucent blue we have had since we crossed south of 10 degrees latitude and the water became really warm.

We were told that this would happen once we got "closer to land".  And so it is.  We marked "60miles to go" on the GPS at 11am UTC.  Just 60 miles.  That equals roughly 22-24 hours of rowing.  Then all that's left are a few miles of the Fleuve Mahury and we can step off this boat.  We have sun - enough to run the autohelm until tomorrow and we have enough bottled water.  Hence I can write this and need not hand pump to keep us watered.

All that's left to do is keep the boat afloat and hit the port markers just east of the river mouth. But as I've said before, this is not over until we step off...

For now - a bien tot until Cayenne.