Busy morning

Lots to see when we woke up this morning – a set of volcanic islands, Fernando de Noronha, AND Derry Londonderry too.
We’d seen Derry’s lights at nightfall, and through the night, bit by bit we caught them up in relentless team Henri Lloyd manner. But the islands were amazing – a basalt spire that must have once plugged a now eroded volcano, a distinct cone, and several sharp outlying teeth. THe windward side looks green and craggy – I’ve now added the archipelago to my bucket list of remote places I’d like to visit. Great sailing, reaching along in sunshine and tradewind clouds at 9 and ten knots.
In other news, as we get into our fourth week at sea there are almost no fresh foods left – a few potatoes I think – no onions, no garlic. So mother duty has become a matter of opening jars and packets rather than chopping – but I’d give a lot for a packet of frozen peas right now…

Crossing the equator

We finally escaped the dreaded ‘d’s, and although we hardly dare to breathe their name, we are in the South East trades. So it’s back to life at an angle, as we Henrietta bashes purposefully along at 9 or 10 knots on a close reach. At least it’s cooler down below, and a lot less steamy. It’s cooler on deck too – it seems strange to me that at dawn this morning, just a few miles north of the equator, we were mostly wearing full lightweight foulies, against the cold. Cold at the equator just doesn’t seem right, does it?
It was a splendid starlit night – Eric promised to point out the SOuthern Cross, which we surely must be able to see part of by no – but in the end he was not on deck with our watch at all, so we’ll have to wait. We did manage to spot the constellation Scorpio, and Orion, now reclining on his side as we move south. (If any of you reading this is joining us in Rio, a book telling us how to recognise stars and constellations of the Southern Hemisphere would be a wonderful thing to donate to the boat!) And at 8:48am UT we actually crossed into the Southern Hemisphere – I’m afraid I did not pump the heads efore and after to see which way the water swirls, and in fact Eric assures us that the volume of water concerned is way too small for the Coriolis force to have any effect. I’ll take him at his word.
We had a little ceremony this afternoon, including a visit from Father Neptune (who looked remarkably like David COnnor), and ritual dunking in alt water. Sadly the effect of the rain water shower on our hair has now been undone, but we are now all shellbacks, and happy to be so. It looks like another night of perching on the rail coming up, willing every ounce of speed out of our black and gold bus, as we try to make up miles on all the boats ahead. Wish us luck!

Rainy day celebration

Well we’re still doldrumming along – in fact the doldrums are moving south with us, which seems a bit unnecessary, really. But today at least we’ve had lots of rain to cool us down. It is certainly unusual to be woken early from the morning off watch, and told to come up and drink some water, as every available container on the boat has been filled, and the only thing to do with the excess is to drink it!
We have found that our Henri Lloyd 50 Years of Pioneering Spirit mainsail cover makes an ideal rain catcher when hung upside down under the boom. So with every bottle, bucket, and empty dry-bag filed, we’ve even been able to shower and shampoo in the rain. I made a point of wearing my dirtiest shorts and tee, so they got a bit of a wash too.
The rain proved a bit much or my Olympus Tough camera, and it steamed up inside. So it’ll probably be ipad pictures from now on, unless hanging it to dry in the engine room results in a miraculous recovery. I don’t know why they call it Tough if it can’t stand up to a little rain – well, I suppose more of a torrential and sustained downpour, but still! There have been a few dolphins, both by night and by day – minding their own business and fishing, rather than playing with the boat. Although progress is still slow, it’s amazing how the cooling rain and showering has cheered everyone up, and the skipper has even given us permission to brew tea and coffee today, both usually forbidden under our rationing regime. I’ve come to the conclusions the doldrums are about enduring – they won’t let us go until we learn to accept, until we cease to even hope for escape. Maybe we really will be stuck here forever – but as long as I can have a cup of tea every few days, I can take it…

On and on

It does seem that the doldrums are going on forever. We are becoming a superstitious lot We’ve had 2 days when we really thought we might be nearly out – just before we had to turn round and go back to meet DLL we thought it, in fact Eric took pictures of the dark squally clouds behind us and said that we might remember them as the last of the doldrums. And the next day too when the wind was light but steady from the south-ish, and the clouds were lining up in little fluffy ranks in a most trade-windy manner,we were very hopeful. But obviously, we were wrong. So now we think that nobody should even hint that we might be nearly at the end of the dreaded ds until we reach Rio – it seems safer not to tempt the cruel wind gods at all.
Uncannily, Eric also said that we needed sewing practice the very evening we damaged the spinnaker – so obviously he has to be very careful what he says from now on, and nobody aboard will ever again be allowed to suggest that we haven’t done enough sewing!
Otherwise the big excitement over the last few days was going back to meet DLL – we found them, and the 2 storks were flying along behind them. I suppose it’s not surprising that the Dutch sponsored boat would have storks as spies, is it?
The water transfer was quite exciting – I will just say that four large gerry cans of water together weigh over 100 kilos, and they are not an easy thing to haul up over the side while you motor along.
I’ve been on mother duty today – not at all easy in the heat we’re experiencing. And now the mothers have the additional duty of doling out the 2 litre water ration to each member of the crew. I’m pretty sure the image of 4 or 5 thirsty crew just off watch, lining up with their bottles held out to be refilled 500ml at a time is not one that will be emphasized in future Clipper PR.
Wildlife has been quite limited (apart from storks)- just a few of those ‘velella’ jellies with the sails on their backs yesterday, and today a rather handsome black seabird who circled around and eventually landed on deck, where he happily rested a while, letting the watch work around him, before making a few test flights and eventually flying away again. We don’t have a bird book on board, so we’ll have to identify him from the photographs once we reach land.

The beginning of the beginning of the end?

Today we crossed below the 6 degree line of latitude – a point at which we can start hoping to be out of the doldrums. Although we had gorgeous light wind sailing in the moonlight (with midnight dolphins) for the first and second night watches, the 4am watch was 4 hours of continuous and often torrential rain, and the morning watch was only a little better. Despite al the water pouring from the sky, it is a commodity we do not have enough of, as the watermaker is now beyond repair. So after the noon sched, showing us to be back in the lead, we got the word from Clipper HQ to start the engine and motor back (yes, into the doldrums again) to meet DLL, about 20 miles behind. They will transfer water containers, and help us fill our tanks using a hose as a syphon. Although we’ll still have to ration water, and collect whatever we can in the squalls, we should then have enough to make it to Rio.
Not to worry about the race too much – we will motor back to the point at which we turned the engine on, and resume sailing from there. ANd we will get credit for the time the operation has taken, as will DLL. Of course 5 or 6 hours in the doldrums could mean completely different weather – but there’s nothing we can do about that.
Last night we saw a green flash at sunset for the first time, and later we had what appeared to be 2 storks circling the boat in the darkness. It’s certainly strange what you see out here – but I suspect the denizens of DLL will appear stranger than anything else, once we find them…

Nooo! the doldrums

It feels like we’ve been here for ever, creeping south as best we can through light fickle winds, calm patches, and night-time squalls. Sails up, sails down, trying everything we can…
The squalls bring welcome coolness on deck, but as we have to close all the ports and hatches for the heavy rain, it gets even more sultry down below. The wind tends to build in front of the squall, then comes the hissing rain, and as it passes the winds blow any which way for a while, before it goes calm again. Two nights ago the any which way part pressed our biggest spinnaker, the A1, back against the shrouds, then as the port watch tried to lower it, whisked it away from them and into the sea. We were woken abruptly by cries of all hands on deck, and rushed up in our sauna-ready gear to find cold rain on deck. THe spinnaker was brought back in without too much trouble, but I did get my first genuine sail repair job patching it in a couple of places. One of the patches turns out to have taken a strange shape, such that some crew have suggested we name the sail ‘Dick’ from now on.
You might think we are crazy to be flying the A1 in squally weather – but that squall gave us 20 miles in two hours, in the right direction. Worth a little sewing, for sure.
Last night our watermaker broke, and broke badly. Eric and engineer James are currently engaged in super-human attempts to fix it – fingers crossed because we don’t have enough water in the tanks to get to Rio, or anywhere near it Our nearest land is still the Cape Verdes, probably 500 miles behind…
This afternoon starboard watch heroically spent four hours hand sewing an old sail into the form of a sun awning, as the sunny afternoon watches on deck are exhausting. We’ve left port watch to raise it – it will make a nice change from sitting on deck chatting for them…
But the doldrums bring beautiful sunrises and sunsets, amazing bright stars when the moon is down, and our evening dolphin hour seems to have become whale-spotting time, with a pair of orcas passing 2 evenings ago, and a small pod of some other unidentifiable whales spouting away yesterday evening. There was even a little fin slapping action we could make out (double fin, Ellen).  Editors note September 2014 – the fin slapping probably identifies them as humpbacks
So life goes on in our black and gold bubble – fingers crossed for the watermaker, please, we need all the good luck we can get…

Heating up

Progress is frustratingly slow today, but we’re managing to keep moving. We hear that the boats further west have had plenty of wind, which makes our slow progress even more frustrating.
The deck is too hot for bare feet when the sun is out – and we’re making a lot of sail changes – from yankee one to windseeker to A3 to A1 and round again, as the fickle winds dictate.
Still, there was a gorgeous sunrise with the almost full moon still in the sky, and quiet lazy dolphins swimming alongside in the dark water. And the watermaker is working away, producing enough freshwater for us to wash clothes and shower if we want to. The deep blue sea does look rather inviting though – if only we weren’t racing we could just jump in and swim…

Back in reality

Well since we are out of stealth mode, I can safely tell you that our island was not imaginary at all, but was San Antao in the Cape Verdes. It looked very beautiful in the sunrise, once we finally realized it was an island, not the strangely shaped and strangely unmoving cloud formation our navigator wanted us to believe it was, as he told us the Cape Verde’s were too far away for us to see. It turns out, with a tall volcanic island, 28 miles is definitely not too far! We played a little Cesaria Evoria music in salute – can we now saw we’ve been to the Cape Verdes?
We’ve been having some slow times here on HL50YOPS – not officially the doldrums yet, but the trades are weak and fickle as they have been disrupted by easterly waves. Yesterday the sun shone and things really heated up on board – our fans are going full time but even so it’s a sauna below, both day and night. To think people pay all that money for those hot yoga classes – they could get much better results just woolling a spinnaker here on HL.
We’ve had a few squalls – this morning we got a hissing rainstorm from one that made the ocean surface steam – our watch was on with Eric,(starboard watch) and we called down to the galley for shampoo and shower gel and washed our hair right on deck. Ryan even managed to do so while trimming the spinnaker, we are a multi-talented bunch. It felt great to be cool and soaked with fresh water.
Strangely we had 2 dragonflies buzzing around after the rain – where could they have come from? Otherwise more dolphins at sunset and dawn (small fast black ones this time), and still the birds we can’t identify, both small fluttery ones and larger graceful ones, soaring just above the surface. An interesting quote from Eric the other day, as we observed that Mission Impossible had netting or webbing to stop the spinnaker collapsing backwards behind the shrouds – he said it was like training wheels, and he’d rather teach us to drive and trim properly so that we don’t need such devices.
So far It’s a proper Atlantic crossing like I always dreamed of, with a bit of ocean racing excitement thrown in. Even when it’s sullen overcast and not windy enough, it feels like the real thing. Then it is the real thing, isn’t it?

Night Watches

Things were plenty strange last night. First there were two largish birds, squawky and quarrelsome, circling in the dark, fighting over the chance to break our Windex (the instrument at the top of the mast that indicates wind direction) by sitting on it. They eventually succeeded. We can’t figure out whether they were sent by Derry, or Mission Impossible.
Then there was the writing in the sky – small clouds that formed into words and then reformed. The message seemed to be :elephant:stopover:food:rancid: – which surely doesn’t bode well for a vessel about to cross the doldrums? THen the most beautiful sunrise behind an almost imaginary island, and a swallow perched on the forestay. Is it because we’re in stealth mode that everything is so strange?

Through the scoring gate

I think it’s day 10 of the race – it’s already difficult to keep track of the days. So I’m trying to remember, working backwards, the last few days: Today, after a squally night and early morning, the wind veered and we’re sailing close-hauled in gorgeous sunshine. The first time we’ve been upwind since rounding the first mark leaving Brest. On deck barefoot and in shorts, except when it was tipping it down. Solar showers on deck, flying fish in flocks, and our first whale, very close by and apparently as surprised as us! It was grey and not super huge, maybe a youngster? Yesterday, the day we overtook Mission Impossible – it was all very Master and Commander as we relentlessly hunted them down, amazing to be so close after a thousand and a half miles of ocean. I was on mother watch so mostly missed the on deck excitement.
Before that – it seems like days of downwind in glorious sunshine, moonlit and starlit nights with Henri flying along under the kite. I find I love helming in the moonlight, and Eric is making sure we all learn to drive and to trim fast and well, so even while hunting Matt down, our watch rotates through everyone who wants to helm.
There was also the day we slept in the forepeak – it was smooth enough to have the hatch open and to raise the wind scoop – I was actually cold sleeping in there, which I can tell you is an unusual sensation! And when the dolphins come by you can just pop your head up and watch them. In the meantime, midnight baking continues, and we have started our voyages of discovery evening presentations about Brazil. And of course, we are hoping to catch Derry the same way we did Mission Impossible…