Half Way (ish) on day 11

Darrell Jackson and Sarah Barnes
Fri 6 Dec 2013 13:28
17:49.88N 36:55.65W    
Well, we passed the approximate half way mark during a very dark, calm night. After a spirited 7-8 knot passage for an hour the wind fell away and we went 0.01nm round in circles for 3/4 hr. This is not what Trade Wind sailing is meant to be like! As I write we are making 3.5 knots over the ground in a F1 North easterly, but with high hopes for some more speed soon.
Imagine the scene. The crew is reclining in the cockpit around the table after an evening meal of Aubergine Parmiggiano and freshly baked garlic flat bread, washed down by one of the fine wines from Stream's cellar, specially selected to compliment the meal by our apprentice mariner and part time somalier - a Rioja if I remember correctly. Two crew go below to start the washing up as the sun begins to set in the pink and grey sky, the clouds changing colour every moment as the sun sinks towards the tropical horizon. The calm is broken by a loud bang and the crew in the cockpit look up to see the fine asymmetric spinnaker, Purple Peril, drifting slowly to the blue waters of the Atlantic. "Oh bother", came the cry, "can we have some help here?". Somalier, now in helmsman role, brings the vessel to wind and the remaining crew manfully gather the huge area of canvass and its attendant sheets and snuffer alongside and then gradually onto the deck. Forward progress is then resumed under main and genoa whilst the sodden spinnaker is sorted and returned to its rightful home in the snuffer, before being stowed in its bag. We won't being using that again tonight.
The cause of its untimely plummet to earth (sea?) was soon seen as a broken halyard, new last year and fine when hoisted 9 hrs before. The constant rolling had caused chafe at the top and the rope finally parted next to the shackle. Those of you who know about these things will already be anticipating the next part of this update.
In order to be able to use the asymmetric again the halyard has to be re-led over the sheave at the mast head, through the mast and out at the base to be led back to the cockpit. This either requires the service of a very well trained ocean bird or someone to "go aloft". The skipper was overwhelmed by volunteers for this task, but on the basis of weight and stupidity, the task was taken on by our skipper with his usual fortitude. With apprentice mariner on the helm, manfully keeping Stream running downwind in a large swell, PQM in his usual position for such a task, controlling the winch with his usual dexterity and finesse and PL acting as the vital lookout and co-ordinator of the exercise. Some good "Go-Pro" footage from head cam has resulted and, although re-leading of the halyard was not attempted, we now have a jury block above the forestay fitting on the mast to enable its use again. A real team effort!
We have had no more avian stowaways since the Cattle Egret hitched a lift, but we are now getting nocturnal landings from a different species, flying fish. We see them much of the time during the day, and are now getting the occasional casualty during the night when they are not expecting meeting anything in the middle of "their patch" in the Atlantic and their bodies lie on the deck to be discovered in the morning when we do our "walkaround" to check the boat. We have seen then "flying" for well over 100 m and can only marvel at this ability and it is only when you have the chance to look at the design of their bodies that you can appreciate a little better how they do this. The wings are "wings" that they flap very quickly, you can even hear them close to, and their head on profile was likened to a B52 bomber by one crew - the wings "droop down" and their ventral surface (belly to non biologists) is completely flat and it seems to be this feature that enables them to "skim" over the wave tops along with an extended ventral section of the tail fin to provide extra power when it dips in the water. Coupled with great diversity in scale size on different parts of their body they do seem to be well adapted at escaping from predators, we presume, by flying out of the water. You can tell we have lots of time on our hands to build up these theories and I'm not even going to attempt to start on one crew members theories on how this ability could have evolved!
Hope this eventually reaches you. We're all fine, but frustrated at our slow progress.