Johns Log

Tue 20 Oct 2009 13:18

Tuesday 20 Oct 2009 am.
It's day 5 and we are rolling gently along at 5 knots with about 120 miles to go to Las Galletas at the south end of Tenerife. We were spoilt by the light breezes and gentle seas of the first 2 1/2 days, but since then the wind and sea have increased a little to remind us of what could be. Nevertheless, it's been downwind sailing all the way from Gibraltar and easy going in warm and sunny weather. As usual we are both short on sleep but long on food.
We did not see a ship for at least 2 days which makes 4 hour night watches seem long and tedious.The ship steers herself, and if the wind is steady, as it has been, not much adjustment to the course is needed. so, you have to be inventive. Watching the fluorescence in the water, and counting the stars are good, as is calculating the statistical chances that the sun will not rise tomorrow. My own preference is to sit and think, but mostly I just sits! It was during such a period that I began to ponder the differences between sailing today and 35 years ago when I last did some serious passage making.
Then we made position once or twice a day using a sextant, chronometer, almanac, and sets of tables, working the sights using pencil and paper. On a good day a position within 2 1/2 miles might be achieved. Now,even the most basic GPS will give a fix once a second to within a few feet.
Then, sail handling was hard work on a heaving foredeck often in rain and spray. Now sails can be reefed and adjusted from the shelter of the cockpit, sometimes with electric winches. Even the anchor can be raised and lowered without laborious foredeck effort.
Then we had vhf, hf, and shortwave radios, the latter for picking up time signals to correct the chronometer. Once you were a couple of days out from land you were pretty much on your own unless you managed to speak to a passing ship and asked to be reported. AIS had not been thought of and radar was rare on a small boat. Now with a computer and Iridium phone you can get a reply to an email within minutes, and although the Mark 1 eyeball is still the best tool the watchkeeper possesses, AIS and radar can predict positional conflicts far ahead and are comforting in poor visibility. The magnetic compass is still essential although it may take the form of an electronic flux-gate unit.
Then we had hand pumped heads which often blocked, tepid (sea-temperature) 'cold' water, again hand pumped. Then, fresh food was kept in an insulated box which was half filled with ice, leaving little room for bulky items such as bread. So 7 days out we ate tinned food and drank long-life milk. Bread could be baked in the gas oven if one had the patience. Now heads are vacuum pumped and hot and cold water are on tap. Now with a fridge and freezer we can have fresh bread, butter, and milk to the end of the trip, as well as steak, chicken, or ready meals which we can microwave; I didn't mention the generator giving ac power if needed. Now we can enjoy a cold beer (occasionally), chilled white wine, or a glass of lemon squash with ice cubes tinkling, and if it's unbearably hot, an ice-cream cone is possible. (that's a pokey hat to our reader from Glasgow)
All this pondering led me to compose the ditty below which I include on Ray's insistence, and with apologies to John Masefield.
Finally, what hasn't changed is the sea which readers will be pleased to hear is clean and free from pollution and rubbish as far as we can tell.
The sea is still the same elemental force demanding respect and ready to punish complacency or over-confidence.
We thank the sea for allowing us to progress thus far, and ask it's permission to achieve our objective.
All Best to all at home.
John F
I must down to the sea again,
to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a luxury yacht
and a track-plotter to steer her by;
and roller reefing and hauls led aft,
and power winches galore;
and a lap-top and sat-comms,
so I can call ashore.
I must down to the sea again,
for the second time this year,
I'll sit in the pub and look at the sea,
and I'll maybe drink a beer.
And all I ask is booze-cruise
To Calais and back to Dover,
and a club with a bar and hot showers
when the short trip's over