Staryy, starry nights

Well, the bashing has finally ended, at lest for now. Yesterday morning dawned bright and beautiful, and the wind angles were sufficiently favorable for us to raise first the smallest kite, and later the big light wind one. There must have been at least an hour and a half when we were moving at almost 10 knots in the right direction! But all good things come to an end, and the afternoon was spent under one enormous rain cloud – it is astonishing just how much water can come out of the sky down here. Sadly the squall produced plenty of water but very little wind, so progress was painfully slow once more. THe wind was so light that we were able to get the A1 down on deck, into its bag, and up again with no woolling. Eventually it had to come down again as nightfall brought even less wind, and the windseeker went up instead. FOr once it failed in its seeking, and we have had frustratingly light winds all night long.
For a little bit of excitement, when the weather cleared yesterday evening we spotted a Palau-an fishing boat that might have been coming towards us, so we all mustered on deck looking suitably terrifying in our matching anti-pirate shirts. Either they worked magnificently, or more likely, the fisherman were never really interested in piratiing us at all – I doubt that they even got close enough to see our defensive attire. A pity, as we would have liked the chance to seize the putative beer and tropical fruits that all pirates carry.
In wind instrument news, there has been a rather unfortunate development – Eric has found that in this heat the longer hair irritates the back of his neck, so he has been forced to borrow a hair elastic (no I don’t know what happened to the ones he was given)and tie it back. ALong with the blue warpaint (zinc sunscreen) that he wears on his face most days on deck, the look is very suitable for pirate discouragement. But I don’t think that pony tail is going to give us the wind information we need – not until it is a lot longer.
We’ve had a couple of beautiful sunrises and starlit nights to enjoy, especially with the calm winds. We’ve all had our apps out, identifying indvidual stars, the southern hemisphere nebulas, the visible planets and barely visible distant galaxies. ANd we have ascertained beyond doubt that you can have Polaris and the SOuthern Cross in the sky at the same time. Actually, the North Star seems to stand out better when it is low on the Northern horizon than it does when it is overhead in more familiar latitudes.
It looks like a long slow journey to Singapore – we are bracing ourselves for up to 2 more weeks out here. THe changing weather has casued a bit of a reshuffling in the fleet, with the rewards so far going to the brave – the boats that chose a far northerly route. But since every mile we each gain can be taken away at any minute by frustrating calms, it’s still anyone’s guess what is going to happen. Spirits remain high on board, and a lot more curry is creeping in to our menu, using all the interesting spices we have carried with us since London, as we run out of all our more conventional flavorings. It’s 8:30 am now and time for me to go to bed. From Team Henri Lloyd 50YOPS, somewhere south of Palau, good morning.

Ice and dolphins

No, not icebergs, no matter how much we might dream of them. This afternoon Nick G. had to partially defrost the freezer in order to extract the package of minced beef that had become hard frozen to the side of the box. You probably can’t imagine how happy we were when he brought us each a small chunk of ice to play with during our afternoon watch. It didn’t last long, and we don’t think it’s exactly drinking quality, but the melting ice felt marvellous on heat inflamed skin.
It was actually a rather lovely sailing day on deck – the starboard watch dealt with squalls this morning, but we had sunshine and clouds, only moderate waves, and were flying along at good speeds in the right direction for quite a while. ANd then there were dolphins – a large pod of tiny leapy ones, bouncing in and out of the waves as if they were born to jump. THey did not come over to play – obviously intent on their own business, but it was lovely to see signs of sea life again after so long.
THings were not so good below decks – the generator started giving us trouble at around 7am this morning – James, Eric and Herb, among others, have spent may hours in the heat – no generator means no fans) trying to fix it. TO no avail so far – I understand there is a hole in the heat exchanger – not an easy fix at all, even for our resident wizard, James. So now we are running the engine to charge batteries, but at least we have fans again, although no electric kettle.
Everybody has been much more cheerful since we decided not to just play follow te leader with the rest of the fleet. Perhaps it’s because conditions have moderated, or perhaps because we’re not good followers? We’re definitely learning to sail the boat better with our limited instruments, and I think it’s giving everybody a new found confidence. Meat loaf for dinner, prepared by Anita and Nick, now the mince has been chipped out of the freezer.. I got lucky and swapped miother days with Nick yesterday because we were short on the watch. It meant I got to mother with Kevin, the master chef, AND I got to be good mother again. A good hearty meatloaf with mashed potatoes is just what you need in these equatorial conditions, isn’t it? But it will sustain us through the long night watches. It’s all very well saying we are now sailing Henrietta like a dinghy, but you don’t usually dnghy sail day and night for weeks and weeks without a break.

…and so it goes on

.. and on, and on. Still battling our way up wind – it seems to have gone on forever. The wind and sea go down a bit, then build again – we reef, unreef. Today things definitely lightened up, and both watches had an exhausting time – first port watch changed from the Y3 to the Y2 – exhausting in this equatorial heat. But that proved not enough, so both watches then worked to get the big one, the Y1, up instead. Not really fun at all. But it was a beautiful sailing day, with blue sky and sparkling sea. ANd it was Dave C’s birthday – the big 50. Cake was enjoyed by all in the first dog watch as part of our celebration,
We have been learning new/old skills figuring out how to get the best out of Henrietta upwind, with no wind instruments at all. It takes me right back to learning to sail an Enterprise dinghy when I was about nine. We have the telltales, and the heel of the boat, and the boatspeed (yes we still have that, so far) to work with. Helmng by feel and getting our heads out of the compass is what Eric has been trying to teach us for 20,000 miles or so, but now we have no choice but to learn it. I an sure we will all be much better sailors after this race, as a result. We never did quite cross back to the Southern Hemisphere – last night we got really close to the equator – and in the sky we had the SOuthern Cross and the Great Bear, at the same time, with Orion lying on his side somewhere in between, It was lovely to see stars and the nilky way properly again as we came into clearer weather. We’ve also had two gorgeous sunsets these last days – something we cannot remember seeing at all recently, not since the first night out of Brisbane.
THis continues to be a very empty patch of sea we are in – with little shipping and less wildlife. Tow nights ago we encountered the strangest thng. It started as a loom of white light over the horizon, that did not show on AIS or Radar as anything at all. We sailed on in the darkness and it got brghter and closer, exerting the awful magnetism of things you want to avoid (potholes when cycling, trees when snowboarding). We thought it might be another drilling rig, except we couldn’t be absolutely convinced it wasn’t moving. It got brighter and closer still, but not clearer, until eventually another little set of lights appeared not far from it. The second set of lights turned out to be a tug, and the first its tow – a bona fide battleship, guns and all, lit up bright white like some ghostly apparition, rocking gently on the waves. We’ll ever know whose it was or where it was going – but strange battleships and boardings by naval forces have been featuring in the dreams of many crew, as we attempt to sleep in the crashing sticky heat down below.

Be careful what you wish for

Well we wished for different weather, and instead of all that light and fickle stuff, we got strong and superstrong winds – naturally coming from exactly where we need to go. So we are bashing and smashing our way through the Bismarck Sea – teeth and everything else rattled at regular intervals as Henrietta throws herself down the waves. These boats are horrible and uncomfortable going up wind – sleep has been in short supply for everyone for the last 48 hours, and it’s been so wet on deck we have been wearing foulies at night, while down below we are still living in a sauna. Tow nights ago as we fought through a seemingly endless stream of fierce squalls (180 degrees of Eric’s hair, at least) – Skipper on the helm, triple reefed main, heaving to to drop the headsails, the whole shebang – there was a brief rent in the clouds revealing, of all things, the familiar outline of Ursa Major. ANd sure enough, sometime during yet more squalls and rain yesterday morning, we crossed back into the Northern Hemisphere. Ceremonies are on hold, however, until better weather – ad there’s a good chance we’ll cross back to the southern side of the equator, however briefly, sometime tomorrow.
Our wind instruments had been reduced to just the windex and Eric’s coiffure for this race – now we’ve lost one of those too stalwarts (never fear, the coiffure is safe). THis morning, our active radar repeater at the top of the mast broke loose, and proceeded to swing around wildly, smashing the windex to pieces, before taking its final death plunge into the sea. So we are really down to the basics – especially when night falls and we can no longer see the telltales on the sails. Never mind, we still have one working compass! As I write this, James’ washing up water is leaping out of the sink on every wave and splashing on my legs – at least it’s not salty. I think it’s going to be a log hard night here for Team Henri Lloyd 50YOPS.

Different weather!

Well finally, after the light winds, grey skies, squalls and calms, we seem to have found some real wind, and the sun has ALMOST been out today. It’s a stronger, more steady wind, but of course it is still blowing from exactly where we need to go.
So things are looking up around here – it nmust be 12 hours since we were last becalmed, and maybe 24 since we had a proper squall. And of course it doesn’t hurt that we two nights ago (the night we flew the A1 for a while) we finally left Switzerland behind, and then the next day PSP as well. ANd this evening we have switched from the Yankee 1 to the 2 – the firt time the 1 has been off deck since the first evening out of Brisbane. We’ve seen no ships and no islands today – just the sea and the sky, and about 2 birds of unknown variety. A highlight of yesterday was passing Blup Blup island, and tonight, we may well see Wuvulu. Of course it is stil extremely hot below decks, but I think we are just getting used to it. From Henri Lloyd 50YOPS, goodnight.

The Bismarck Sea

For all our complaints about slow progress, this is an incredibly beautiful seascape we are in. The sea is like a piece of tin foil that you’ve crumpled up and the smoothed out again, all ruffled and silver, and the sky is full of shades and variations of soft greys. We are working our way along a chain of volcanic islands, each perfect cone. with its crowns and garlands of clouds on the upper slopes, is silhouetted against the general silveriness. It’s like being in Japanese brush painting.
Today we passed Manam island- an active volcano, with what looked like great clouds of steam pouring out of its crater and streaming off downwind. It is all unbelievably exotic, and worth sailing against frustratingly light winds and the north-west monsoon to see. We’ve been racing Switxerland at close quarters for days now – last night we played cat and mouse after they emerged dramatically at sunset from behind one of the islands. All night long we hunted them – momentarily creeping ahead at times only to stall in light and flukey winds, letting them gain the advantage again. At one point in the darkness we were almost close enough to deploy the grappling irons and seize the mythical Swiss chocolate they are loaded down with. Actually, some of their washing up liquid would be more valuable right now, and we’d like some of their fancy CLinique sunscreen…
Today we also have PSP in sight – and now it’s dark, the wind has changed enough for us to raise first the windseeker, and then the light weight kite. It’s an inky dark night, and as ANita and I have mothered today, i was able to enjoy a solar shower and tie just sitting and drying in the warm night, rather than grinding, trimming, and helmong with the rest of my watch. After a light supper of Anita’s excellent bread with jam, I’m off to enjoy 12 uninterrupted hours in my bunk, accompnied by a fully charged battery pack to drive the USB fan that is making sleep possible for each of us on this hot and humid leg. I just hope I won’t be woken by a sudden squall and a call for ‘all habds on deck’ to drop the kite. From Team HL50YOPS, Goodnight.

In the Vitiaz Strait

Last night we reefed, unreefed, trimmed, tacked – in fact did everything we could to make upwind progress through the Vitiaz Strait. We had strong winds at times, down to 2 reefs in the main, and the bashing was so bad that no one could sleep below decks. But today it seems it was all for nothing, as we are completely and utterly becalmed, drifting gently round in circles off Scharnhorst Point in Papua New Guinea.
We have the green, sharply eroded and mountainous landscape of PNG to port, and to starboard the volcanic peaks of New Britain. It sounds very exotic and romantic, doesn’t it, but we’d be happy to get out of here, just as soon as possible.
There are pods of small dolphins circling in the grey glassiness – even they are swimming lazily. We can’t quite figure out if it is the dolphins we see leaping vertically upwards from time to time, or the fish that they are chasing. We have had the fishing gear out today, but have had no more luck with that than with wind. If we are still here tomorrow, we might get our chance to swim with the dolphins.
Switzerland is still in sight – if only we could drift closer to them, we could raft up for a party, but unfortunately we are drifting at pretty much the same rate and direction, so the distance remains constant. Some crew members have proposed a night raid by dinghy, in search of the mythical swiss chocolate – but with all the talk about pirates, that probably wouldn’t be too well received.

More of the same

The pattern of squalls and calms continues – progress is frustrating. In fact, we have pretty much decided as a crew that if we do encounter pirates, we ill board their vessel intead of defending ours. After all, pirates will probably have a motor they can use, cold beer, and at the very least, grog.
At dawn this morning we caught sight of a low misty landmass to our north – our only sighting of New Britain so far. The wind was filled with the scent of woodsmoke – forest fires must be burning upwinnd.
Our afternoon watch today was mostly taken up negotiating a huge squally storm cell – towering black clouds, furious horizontal rain, wind waves and white caps, the whole shebang. Of course we don’t know the actual wind stenght, but when we’re down to triple reefed main and staysail, heaving too to dump the yankee on the foredeck, we’re talking storm strength (close to 90 degrees on Eric’s hair – now freshly shampooed in the torrential rain). It’s good to wash the salt off, but after a couple of hours of taking reefs in nd out and sails up and down in the rain, we felt distinctly COLD, and a rare order (in the tropics) for hot chocolate for all went down to the galley. As the mothers, James and Dave C., are working in a veritable sauna, they couldn’t quite believe that we really meant it. As for the race, we seem to do quite well when we are actually moving- there are just too many times when we are not. We now have Switzerland in sight, ostensibly 2 places ahead of us. We’ll keep on trimming and tweaking, and see what we can do.

Squalls and calms

We don’t seem to get sunsets in this grey sea – the greys simply darken to purple and the light disappears. Last night nightfall brought towering dark squall clouds with rain beneath them, and a sky full of lightning flashes. THe first night watch was consumed wth squall dodging – putting inreefs, skirting the worst of the wind and rain – it never got wet enough to shoer, unfortunately, but the cold wind from under the clouds was great to have, and we seemed to be speeding along. But once we ran the gautlet of the storms, the wind died completely. We had 10 hours in which we moved only 3 miles. The log (odometer) stayed resolutely the same for each hourly logbook entry – on deck it seemed that if we were moving at all, it was backwards.
It felt like e’d be stuck for ever. In port watch, in the enervating early hours, conversation turned to considering who we’d eat first, if things got really bad, and how we’d stage their deaths if necessary. ALl the leggers are safe, you’ll be glad to hear – first choice was someone who is going all the way around the world, has plenty of muscle and little fat, not too old and tough… I’m not going to name names here, you’ll have to figure it out for yourselves.
We usually sleep on the high side to balance the boat, but this morning starboard watch couldn’t figure out which was the high side, as we flopped aimlessly about. Skip helpfully suggested that they just all pile into the forepeak, set up a disco ball, and party to some German techno music. A new twist on hot bunking, for sure.
The sun this morning seemed to leap out of the sea already at full intensity. We saw a sail in the distance – probably Jamaica – and felt very sorry for them if they had managed to chase us into our own private wind hole. We rigged Cindy’s sunshade – that old sail, sewn so lovingly in Mid Atlantic by starboard watch, is half way round the world now, and it will remind us of CIndy and other missing friends each time we raise it. FOrtunately the wind came up, and the sundshade was soon snapping in the breeze, trying hard to remember it’s former life as a sail. Heather wanted to try paragliding behind the boat with it, but in the end we had to put it away, as the sail plan does not call for studding sails (above or below) on a CLipper 70.
We’ve seen no land, but this afternoon we saw many logs drifting by, and exotic flotsam such as coconuts, gourds, bamboo, and especially graceful looking cormorant type birds perched on logs. We’re not in Kansas any more!

Moonbow in the Solomon Sea

We’re beating our way along the Solomon Sea, inch by inch and mile by mile. At times we’ve had the nasty bashing that comes with stronger winds, making the boat, the rig, and everybody aboard shudder as Henrietta crashes from wave to wave. But more often, the winds are lighter, and variable, so our days and nights are consumed with the niceties of sail trim and best course to windward – all the tiny little details that might make our upwind passage slightly more efficient than the next boat’s – if we are lucky, if we concentrate, if we tack on the right wind shifts, sail the best angle we can, keep the right degree of twist in each sail, and keep those telltales flying.
It’s a curiously empty piece of sea we’re in – we sea cargo ships occasionally, with their AIS (automatic identification system) turned off, because of the risk of piracy. We saw a brightly lit ‘unknown vessel’ that looked like some kind of drilling rig – it did not seem politic to sail over and find out exactly what it was, as we too have our AIS turned off, and might seem deeply suspicious, sneaking silently out of the darkness. THis afternoon a plastic soda bottle bobbed by – no message in it, as far as we could see. I wonder who dropped it overboard, and where? I can tell you, if it had still contained soda, we’d probably have turned round to retrieve it, as we have no squash or coolaid or anything else to flavor our water this trip. Watermake water comes at the temperature of the sea it is made from, and around here that is definitely not cold.
THe days are fiercely hot – when the wind drops, we suffer above decks. At least we have the wind scoop set up again, which makes the forepeak pleasantly cool for afternoon napping, and helps cool the entre saloon area. The nights are balmy – now that we are no longer getting splashed regularly, we can stay in shorts and T shirts night and day. We have also had bright moonlight, and last night the moon, behind a thin veil of cloud, had a complete rainbow all around it – there must be a name for the phenomenon, is it a moonbow? We’ve seen a red-orangey ring around the moon’s white halo many times before, but this time there were outer rings too, displaying the green/blue/purple colours of the rainbow as well.