Thargoids in Hyperspace

We’ve been in that strange world called stealth mode since last night – where we are cut off from the outside world and nobody is supposed to know where we are. Just like hyperspace in a computer game I was addicted to, way back in the distant past.
In that game you went into hyperspace and 99 percent of the time you would pop out again safely, in a new galaxy far from your starting point. WHich is obviously what we all hope to do after invoking stealth mode. But sometimes, your ship would drop unexpectedly out of hyperspcae, and you’d find yourself under attack from space bandits called Thargoids. SO if, hypothetically, you were in stealth mode and you suddenly could see and be seen by another yacht, and if you end up gybing just 500 yards in front of that yacht, and then play a cat and mouse game with them for the next 18 hours, that would be pretty much like dropping out of hyerspace, wouldn’t it?
What’s even weirder is that we thought all through the hours of darkness that the ghostly vessel we could see, gliding along in the moonlight with an all-white kite up, was ONE particular co-competitor, and then at dawn we realized it was another. Very confusing! Probably by the time you read this we will all be out of stealth, ad things will be much clearer to you than they are to us, under THargoid attack in Hyperspace.
It was a gorgeous night for sailing – stars and moon, such a contrast to our miserable wet day. We also encountered a night-time whale, again we first heard him exhale explosively, then saw him swimming parallel in the moonlight on our starboard side, then our courses suddenly converged, and we had to do an upwind swerve to make sure we didn’t collide. Our kitemares have also continued – after the halyard failure, our next one went up and twisted into a wineglass shape. We managed, by lowering the halyard a bit and haouling on the sheets, to get it to unwrap, but just moments after, as we eased the sheets to fly it properly, the tack line failed (again), and we had to do another emergency douse, wool, and pack. Then at the next spinnaker change (we switch from one to the other as the wind gets stronger or weaker, or changes in direction), another twist, and this time Eric had to go forward to release the tack, by hand, as the release system was not set up, Luckily the wrap decided to come out on his own just before we dropped it, as Eric came back and said that he had not been able to release the tack. We were exceptionally lucky that time, as at first light inspection revealed that the shackle on the tack HAD opened, and the kite was only hanging on by a thread.
ANyway, we’re closing in towards the finish – the winds may of may not be favorable, and the THargoids are still with us. As Eric observed last night when the ‘enemy’ sprang on us, it’s going to be a long 350 miles with them in sight.

All change

Well obviously I was tempting the weather gods, looking forward to moonrise last night. The moon DID rise, but it was just an orange blur, muffed by rain clouds, and soon swallowed up altogether. And sunrise was just an moody orange glow, soon swallowed up by the wettest rain we’ve had since the doldrums. THere were a few waves coming over, but I at one point breathing felt a bit like drowning, and I’m sure it was the rain that set Josh’s lifejacket automatic inflation off. We were flying the A3 spinnaker on the edge of its capabilities by this morning. THis afternoon the wind gusted up towards 30 knots – I was standby helm at the low side wheel with George on the main helm, a grandstand view as we were pinned down on our side by the force of the wind. Henrietta staggered back up only to be pinned again, several times – bringing Eric running up in his shorts before we finally got things under control and were able to sail again. It can’t have been more than half an hour later that the spinnaker halyard parted at the top, and there I was with a grandstand view of the whole kite floating gently down and back, ending up streaming in the water beside us. Eric always says we are bound to have some bad luck sooner or later – I guess it was our turn. Mercifully, he was still on deck to take charge – we ended up towing it behind us from it’s sheet, the with all hands on deck we first used the coffee grinders to bring it up close, then with an almighty effort from everybody pulled it in through the A frame – no serious harm done to it, this time.
Some crew had been wishing for a bit more ‘Southern Ocean’ weather before the leg is over – I guess they got their wish over those of us who would have been happy with sunny plain sailing all the way to Albany. THe winnd has backed in the last hour or so – maybe we’ll soon be through this low. THe funny thing is all you people with yellowbrick and the race tracker probably know more about what is going on than I do!

Night and day and night again

It’s been more glorious sailing since I last wrote – we’ve switched from the smallest (and reachiest) spinnaker to the
middle one, and back again, but we just continue inexorably on our course towards Albany, There’s some tricky stuff coming
up with the weather – a ridge of high pressure between all the boats and the finish, that may or may not move east in front
of us, or might bring the front group to a standstill. But Eric seems confident in his strategy – and if it stops us it will stop everyone, anyway.
Last night was pretty magical – I was lucky enough to be on the helm for the second dog watch, in complete darkness due to
our shifted time. First we had all the stars spread out above, and were headed just to the south of Orion, with Venus
bright enough to make a path on the water behind us. Then a huge orange moon (egg-shaped rather than round) rose ahead,
dissppeared briefly into a narrow band of cloud, then rose all over again. Henrietta was just dancing along on the top of
the slight, smooth swells, at the speed of the wind and sometimes a little faster. Our next watch stated at midnight, and
by 1am the dawn was already breaking. It starts of pale acidy yellow, then deepens gradually to orange, all the clouds
behind us in the west a lovely pale shade of pink, with the sea still the deepest slatey grey. Then eventually the huge
orange sun bursts into the sky, and we all need our sunglasses at 2:30 in the morning!
THis morning we have sailed gradually towards a band of grey cloud, and out of the clear sunshine. THe western sky is
brushed with white mares tails and whispy clouds, as though someone’s been at work with a paint brush. The albatrosses
have mostly left us, though 2 did show up when we emptied the slops bucket, and we have far fewer of the petrels and
prions that we usually have in train. We saw a (probable) humpback whale this morning – spouting lazily on the surface just
off the port bow for a while, then lifting his tail – black and shiney and as wide as the boat – and diving out of our way.
Today we are fixing the time shift for once and for all – we will skip both dog watches, and 4pm will become 8pm, so that
we are on the same time as Albany. Dinner will be at midnight – tough on the mothers! THe best thing is that our watch
(port) should get both moonrise and sunrise watches again – definitely something to look forward to.

Smooth sailing days

We’ve had lovely sailing weather this last couple of days – the nights have been mostly moonlit, the days have been mostly sunny and even warm. And we’ve been able to fly our kites the whole time. As Henrietta slides eagerly along, we seem to be eating up them miles between us and the finish.
Last night we had a moonlit whale – first we heard her explosive breathing, then we saw her, an inky pool with a little fin on it contrasting with the silvery wavelets all around, not 50 feet away on port and moving parallel with us fo a little while.
THere was a period last night watch no moon, no stars – it gave us all an opportunity to practice ‘zen’ helming – ignoring all visual cues and even the instruments, and steering by the feel and angle of heel alone. I’d say our watch had far fewer spinnaker flogs doing that than we had sailing ‘normally’.
It’s French Onion soup coming up for lunch – prepared by James our engineer, to be enjoyed in the sun on deck. Can’t wait!

We’re sprinting again

… sprinting quite sedately, as it happens. We’ve been having glorious smooth sailing since the gybe – was that the day before yesterday? Today was almost balmy, with bright sunshine and everyone enjoying the conditions on deck. Lovely spinnaker sailing just rolling along on the smooth swell. What contrasts this southern ocean has given us!
At about 4am this morning we had a false fire alarm – there was no fire, but we all mustered on deck with the safety equipment as we are supposed to. A 4am alarm sounds horrible, doesn’t it, but our time system is strangely shifted now anyway, with sunrise about 2am, so by 4 it already seemed like full morning. And it was the watch changeover, so everybody was up anyway, except the poor mothers. We don’t like to mess with the clocks during the ocean sprint, so we are going to stick with our weird timing, and hope that we don’t get dawn earlier than midnight before this is over.

Phew!

Well it;s a beautiful night here on the Great Southern Ocean. A full moon rippling over the swells, and we are swishing along nicely with the kite THe skipper just spent a couple of hours at the helm – I suspect he was enjoying the magical cnditions as much as any of us.
So the weather system was never as fierce as the last one – it was certainly cold, wet and miserable, but I don’t think the wind got much over 40 knots at any point. (The instrument repeaters at the helm are not working, so everything has been a bit vague. At one point last night we were steering by the compass alone – how very retro!). The boat seemed very small, bobbing around with just the storm jib and triple reefed main, especially when the rain cut down the visibility to just a small grey bubble around us. It was so cold and wet that we took turns spending half and hour on deck, then half an hour below to warm up.
But we survived, and then this afternoon the wind dropped right away, before the sun came out as the front passed over, and eventually the new wind settled in, and we jibed onto a much more comfortable course relative to the waves. Of course, there was a ton of sail changing to do, and I spent a couple of hours on the foredeck hauling things up and down – exhausting! THere are so many out sick that the watches are small, and there just aren’t too many people to share the load. We were all feeling particularly worn out, perhaps from the cold or perhaps because we were lacking protein lately – it’s been a very vegetarian few days. But when we came off watch Kevin finally opened the big tin of French pate we’ve had since Brest, and we made quick work of it with some crackers. I don’t know how long this good weather will continue – even though it’s cold pit, it’s so nice to be dry, and working on the coffee grinders for the kite is a good way to warm up. But first, 3.5 hours sleep – I’m ready for it.

Brewing up again

The winds been steadily building for the last 24 hours as our next weather system approaches. We’ve worked our way down through the headsail wardrobe, and now have only the storm jib and trip;e reefed main. It’s not that we are expecting more wind than we had in the last system, according to our resident meteorologist, only that the wind angle is further forward, with the wind and waves on the beam rather than nicely behind us for surfing. Let’s hope the wind gods agree with him!
So there have been a series of epic battle on the foredeck through last night and today – I guess that’s what we paid the big bucks for. I’m happy to say my foulies and boots are standing up well to the sluicing. We’ve just spent about 2 hours changing from Yankee 3 to storm jib – it was very dramatic looking back in the grey evening light, to see DLL astern, apparently in relentless pursuit. WIth Mordecai on the helm in deep concentration, and the Skipper grim-faced at his side (alright, not really grim, jut his usual expression), it was completely reminiscent of Master and COmmander, the part where the dutch ship is hunting them deep into the southern ocean…
Technically they passed us while we did the evolution – they have their staysail up still. But never mind, we’ll catch them again. we always do! We’ve been having yellow=chartreuse dawns and pale pink sunsets, some sunshine during the day, but mostly cloudy, and the sea very dark grey. Petrels and albatrosses continue to follow us – we’ve had abut 4 albatrosses with elegant dove-grey heads and wings outlined in black for the last couple of days.
It was great at last night’s meeting when Ryan read the messages of support you emailed via Emma – thank you! And a note to Graham’s family – I’m sorry I don’t receive your comments here until we get back to port, and I can’t wit to read them when I do. Graham has been mother all day to day, working valiantly in the kitchen, producing ‘Asian Day’ food with only about half the necessary ingredients. He says to say ‘Graypa is still sailing’. At least he gets to sleep 12 hours tonight – we will all be very jealous as both watches have been losing a lot of sleep this past day or so. SO it’s goodinight from Team Henri Lloyd 50YOPS – keeping on trucking in the Southern Ocean.

Better times

The crew computer seems happier after a couple of hours next to the generator last night, and I’m feeling better after nearly 12 post-mother hours in my bunk. The boat is level and the sailing is easy, AND the scheds show that we’re one more in front of DLL, so everything is looking better on board.
As well as fighting the Southern Ocean, we’ve been fighting at least 2 bugs on board – there’s a cold/cough/sore throat doing the rounds, and many have also suffered a 24 hour stomach bug. I don’t know if you can imagine how much that saps our strength, especially when it is so cold and wet outside. I’ve had the cold/sore throat, and was in a pretty zombie state 2 days ago – my top wish was that the other watch would forget to wake me for duty, and the only thing that got me out of my wonderful warm Ocean Sleepwear sleeping bag was the thought that in 4 and a half hours I would be back in it – so when the skipper calls for a sail change at watch changeover, meaning it will be at least an extra hour before I reach my bunk, I feel absolute despair!
I can’t tell you how happy I was 2 nights ago when Eric ‘ordered’ me to take a watch off and stay in bed – Tash says I looked completely brain dead at the evening meeting before that, it must have been obvious that I was at the end of my tether.
SO I entered mother watch with the unexpected bounty of 8 hours sleep behind me – amazing! SInce there is no dehydrated chicken left (YAY!!!) Will and I had to use our creativity, and we created a ‘Panang’ Curry using a tomato based sauce with tinned pineapple, and even the last of the green beans for freshness and crunch. I just told everybody to imagine that the dehydrated minced beef was actually roast duck. I don’t know if it worked, but they seemed happy that at least one of our ‘Indonesian’ day meals was not yellow. SInce I’d had all the extra sleep and it was calm, I was also able to bake 2 batches of bread, something we’ve sorely missed during the rough weather. Tash has decided my new roller derby name is ‘Muvver Superior’ (I’ll have to explain the roller derby names in another post) – not entirely deserved, but I like it better than the last one. Basically I’ve been away from the sailing for two nights and a day – I know one of the kites has been up and down, and the windseeker has been up and down several times. Now it’s the Ynakee 1 up (which unfortunately means it will have to come DOWN at some point in the future) and Henrietta is trucking along just fine. Now I get to change ALL my clothes and have a proper wash – a shower if I want one, but I think it’s too cold. I can only hope I’ll be able to withstand the next lot of weather a little better – we must be about half way to Albany now, so it’s all downhill from here.

Recuperating – and preparing for the next one

It’s been hard to keep up with the writing, and I’ve definitely lost track of the days. Our second weather system, and the
first proper one from the south, was huge. I don’t even know how long it went on – we had wind gusts up to 67 knots, and
the troughs between the waves looked like chasms. THere was also horizontal hail, being thrown at us in 50-60 knot squalls.
Generally things seemed manageable, working in the cockpit – then I’d get up to helm, and truly see the seascape ahead, and
I’d think ‘Oh ****’ (choose your own expletive). It’s awesome and awful at the same time.
THe worst thing is the cold I think – I don’t know if any of us have adequate gloves, and many have wet feet and leaky
boots. It’s hard to be warm even in your sleeping bag. A couple of nights ago the sea temperature was less than 8 degrees, down from 23 last week. And with the wind chill, even colder.
It’sbeen a quiet day today – gentle sailing and time to check things and recover. The crew computer however, still seems unhappy – so don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me again :(
We are almost as far south as we are allowed to be – we saw DLL this morning astern, and now we see their nav lights ahead,
which is obviously not acceptable. Fourtunately I’ve been mother, so I have a long sleep ahead – and I really need it.

From the Southern Ocean

To scientists, the Southern Ocean doesn’t really exist – or perhaps it starts below latitude 55 South – but sailors are pretty unanimous that it exists, and it begins at latitude 40S. And that’s where we are now. It continues to be beautiful, and certainly windy, but boy it is WET down here. Sometimes we are drenched from the sky, in squalls with rain so hard it flattens the sea surface and seams to make it steam. Other times, it is the spray, or solid green water from waves crashing across the deck. And then there are the sheets of spray Henrietta throws over us as she leaps down the waves in her surfing endeavours. And that’s just outside! Inside, we have dripping condensation now that the temperatures are so cold, as well as leaks here and there, and the inevitable water brought in on everybody’s gear at every watch change, as well as in between. Luckily we do have a drying rack in ‘Widow Twanky’s Laundry’ (James’ engine room), where we can dry hats and gloves and smaller items. The foulies, however, just have to drip, and are getting nearly as wet on the inside as the out. My mission is to keep my socks dry – as soon as I take my boots off I tuck the socks in my pocket, so only my bare feet get wet walking round the damp interior of the boat.
The sailing continues to be amazing – 2 nights ago we had a bit of a spinnaker festival – up with the A1, the big kite, then a wind shift, so back to yankee, then up the A3, the small one – except that the tackline blew in mid hoist (again!), so we had to hastily douse it, re-wool it, and get it up again. THere was a lot of dripping sailcloth in the saloon and the sleeping quarters that night, and a lot of wooling. Brian, the media guy, who sleeps all night between the sail locker and the saloon (he can’t film in the dark) said it was a constant kitemare for him – waking up again and again to find us wooling yet another one.
Last night we went to poled out yankee – it’s a wonderful sailplan, we call it our magic carpet ride. We had hours of surfing, sometimes with moonlight, sometime with stars, and sometimes in complete darkness, with our wake looking like a broad highway behind us. Speeds in the mere low twenties seem insignificant to us now – though sustained surs of around 20 for 30 seconds or so are wonderful. My personal best is now 27.0 – not that fast on a vessel that’s hit 33.9, but plenty fast enough for me. Still many birds – there are islands a couple of hundred miles south, which probably explains all the tiny ones – they just don’t look like birds who should be able to survive out here. Life is damp, but still good, for Team Henri Lloyd 50YOPS on the SOuthern Ocean.