Are we there yet?

Today we woke up to a gorgeous sailing day – bright sunshine, white caps every where, and a splendid dolphin show as we came on watch at 8am. There must have been dozens of small grey dolphins, leaping, and frisking in the bow wave.
It must have been a reward for quite a difficult night – no moon, no stars, the wind was gusty and the waves wanted to twist Henrietta in all sorts of directions. It was not easy helming, but it was rewarding as we raced along at 10, 11, 12 and 13 knots – pretty good for reaching conditions. We’re still seeing many albatrosses – several black browed ones, and this morning a (probable) real wandering albatross – although an immature one, not snowy white all over – impressive nonetheless. We even saw one of the mollymawks take off from the water yesterday – paddling its feet like a duck, something I’d definitely wanted to see. Our wildlife count in the last day or 2 has also included Giant Petrels, a whale (unidentifiable, and 2 squid on deck. We still cannot understand how the squid suddenly appear on the high side – unfortunately 2 is not enough to make calamari for the entire crew.
This should be our last night at sea, and tomorrow I’m on mother duty, so it’ll be hard for me to report all the details of our approach. I’m just hoping it’ll be dinner in Cape Town. Wish us luck for the finish! We’re determined to stay ahead of DLL, and to do all we can to overtake Invest Africa, so Maaike is baking cakes to encourage us to trim attentively and keep our feet our over the rail. ANd yes, U’ve been promised a real hot cup of English tea for the start of the next watch at 8pm.

Dolphins – and chickens

The dolphins are back! Early this morning we had a big pod of dolphins – first porpoising purposefully along behind us, and then when they caught up,leaping right out of the water, just to show us what fun they were having. I think these are the first we’ve seen since we were near Fernando de Noronha on leg 1, so it’s great to have them back. These were quite large one, with large light tan patches on their sides and bellies – not ones we’ve seen before.
There’s been a lot of chicken counting going on about our arrival in Cape Town. Saturday is what we hope for – but we’ve been sailing close-hauled under thick low cloud for 24 hours. Cape Town will cone when it’s good and ready. In the meantime it’s back to sitting perched on the rail, and re- learning how to live life at crazy angles down below. To make matter worse, at this angle of heel he intake for the aft head does not work, leaving just one to be shared between 20. It takes a long time to get the watch on deck under these circumstances. I really hope we get better wind angles soon!

A great cup of tea

Woohoo, we won the ocean sprint! Twice in a row has to be better than luck? We certainly worked hard at it – as Eric said, there was so much trimming and grinding he’s surprised anybody got any sleep that night. We even used both coffee grinders, so we could trim even faster when needed. But best of all, thanks to you Cindy, I got a lovely hot cup of tea (with a teabag all to my self) at dinner-time today. It was lovely to get all the messages of support from the shore-bound portion of Team HL50YOPS as we ate our Yaki Soba with the backdrop of another dramatic South Atlantic sunset, with a long slow swell helping to push us towards Cape Town.
To be honest, the tea supply has improved dramatically since the water rationing stopped. And since we donated those proper teabags to the boat, Cindy, I feel perfectly justified in using one per cup. I’ve generally been getting one cup a day, but with all the layers we are now wearing, I am working on timing them to avoid mid-watch head visits. Though with some if the chilly nights we’ve had, a mid-watch head visit can actually be worth the effort, as you get a few minutes to warm up before you are back on deck.
We are counting down the miles now, less than 650 to Cape Town. ANd we can’t help speculating about when we’ll arrive, who’ll be mother on arrival day, who won’t have to mother again this leg. Of course, we know that kind of tempting fate is dangerous, and now that Eric mentioned a particular arrival day OUT LOUD at the meeting, it is almost certain we are doomed to encounter the African equivalent of Cabo Frio, delaying our arrival until we are properly subdued.

Ocean Sprint?

Well our ocean sprint started in fine style – for the first 12 hours or so we had good wind and surfable waves. The Eric Holden Helming Masterclass convened gain during our night watch, with Eric working one on one with each of us helmspeople during the 8 to midnight watch. It was almost a ladies’ night, with Tony on mother watch the helm was shared between me, Meg an Jules – except we let John have a go now and then. The coaching obviously worked – Meg and I both became members of the 20 knot plus club later on the 4am watch – I reached 20.8, Meg 20.3, and Jules was almost there at 19.7. It is most annoying that John reached 21 knots yesterday, so is still ahead of us all.
The amazing thing is how the boat and the steering go all light, and it is actually very easy to steer when you are surfing. This time, when the bowsprit dipped I knew what to expect, but it was still surprising how the numbers went on ticking up to my new personal best. WHile the top speeds are fun to track, it’s even better really when you get things just right, and can sustain speeds over 15 knots for several waves, just fizzing along without ever falling into a trough.
By 8am the wind had started to lighten and back, turning the ocean sprint into an ocean amble, so we have finally jibed over to starboard tack, and we expect to stay on it until Cape Town. Our
track has not been optimal for the sprint distance, but Cape Town is the ultimate goal, after all.
Starboard tack means we all have to switch bunks, to be on the new high side. It’ll add more confusion to our new system of equitable hot bunking – which involves a clockwise rotation every three days, with simultaneous but negotiable top to bottom switching – with the complication that the mothers sleep on the low side, and then move into the bunks vacated by the new mothers the next day. It’s more complicated than any of the sailing. We had whales today – there was much dispute at first sighting whether they were really dolphins, because of their relative small size and their dorsal fin. But when one breached just yards away, even the biggest doubters had to admit they were whales. Our French language whale book tells us the are Rorqual Musee Pointe (Nain) – though what that would be in English we have no idea. Suddenly we lost interest in our albatross, (Great Southern?) which seems to have accompanied us through the night, too.
I’m off now to find my new bunk, for a power nap before the 5:30 meeting. Wish me luck!

One night in the roaring 40s

Last night we finally dipped down below the fortieth parallel, so we officially sailed in the Southern Ocean. As the sun set I was at the helm – it was a beautiful evening, the peaks of Gough Island were clear to the south, and a huge moon rose in the East. Eric said at the evening meeting that there would be one more night of good sailing under the moonlight – and a little later John foolishly said out loud that the roaring forties were more like the purring forties. When will we learn not to tempt fortune like that? WIthin minutes a thick damp fog closed in – no moon, no stars, and the wind became a gusty fog-blow, challenging our helms to keep the kite full. And it was cold, too.
The fog was still there when we came back on watch at midnight – we were beginning to hit some good speeds, and on one wave Nick B reached 16.7 knots. Then there was a strange thud sound, and we all said ‘what was THAT?’, ‘that didn’t sound good’, and words to that effect. It soon became very clear that the spinnaker tack line had failed, so the sail, no longer pinned by the front corner to the bowsprit, was floating alongside like a flag, just visible in the darkness. We yelled for all hands on deck, and luckily we managed to get the sail down without damage. We got the smaller A3 spinnaker up quickly, but the halyards had done a complicated maypole dance, and it took nearly an hour to get them all untwisted and the new sail set/ We really have to be careful what we say around here! By the time everything was done, it was already light, and we’d lost an hour of the offwatch. But at least the fog cleared with the sun, and by midday we were safely back out of the Southern Ocean.
This afternoon we finally picked up some REAL albatrosses – great big elegant birds who have been swooping and soaring around us all afternoon and evening. We entered the ocean sprint this afternoon, and helming this evening I reached a new personal best speed of 18.5 on a wave (you’ll have to sign up for another leg to get ahead again, CIndy!)- it was big enough that the bowsprit dipped into the water before we picked up speed and flew down the face – quite scary at first! It was amazing to be at the helm for the moody grey and yellow sunset, as 2 big albatrosses continued to circle around. And with the swell, the South Atlantic is beginning to feel like a proper ocean after all.

Birdwatching off Gough Island

We are currently at 39.45 South – not quite in the ‘roaring forties’, although we may dip into the later today. We are sailing between Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island – we can see Gough about 30 miles away to the South – Land Ho!
It’s beautiful clear weather, cool as you’d expect for early spring, with about 16 knots of breeze and almost smooth seas – interrupted by occasional big swells from the south, just to let us know the Southern Ocean is down there. As we’ve got closer to the islands, bird life has really increased. We’ve seen our first albatrosses. (Thank you Jo L, for the bird book recommendation – it’s really helped!) – of the smaller black backed variety, which makes them mollymawks as far as I can tell. The ones we have seen have a distinct black beak – they could be Atlantic Yellow Chinned (or is it nosed) or the Indian kind. We definitely have a White Chinned petrel or two soaring in our wake, and possibly a Sooty ALbatross too, keeping a respectful distance. This morning, as dawn broke with gorgeous colours, hinting at Africa ahead, a Sooty Petrel made several attempts to land on the top of the spinnaker – all doomed to failure as he has no grip with his webbed feet. In the end he flew away and plopped down in the water about 20 yards behind us, no doubt with a disgruntled sigh, if we could have heard it.
There are also numerous smaller birds around now – flocks of little petrels or shearwaters and many black and white ones in ones and twos – too many to attempt to identify!
Aside from bird watching we’ve had gorgeous spinnaker sailing – clear sunny days and bright moonlit nights. Bread production is up for midnight snacks, and with the water maker now fully operational, the tea ration has increased to at least one cup a day. We are wearing a lot of layers, especially at night. We look like Telly Tubbies moving around the deck – it’d be interesting to compare a video of us performing an evolution with one of a Volvo Ocean Race team doing a similar thing. Do they look like children’s TV characters too?
So life is good on HL50YOPS. Today during our afternoon watch we discovered that John/Barry has most of the Rocky Horror Show memorized, and also a recording on his iPod, so we’re thinking of making a team outing to the sing-a-long version when we’re in San Francisco. So get practising if you’re joining us later.