Blue days

Well it must be about day 12 today – so hard to keep track! Yesterday I was mother- not much to say about that, except it was hot, hot, HOT. Phil and I tried out a recipe for honey wholewheat bread, and everybody loved it. Before that, our little dove flew off after dark – he’d moved to the boom at dusk, and then a big flop of themain dislodged him and away he flew. It made me sad to see him go – I hope he found a friendy passing ship to rest on before too long.
Otherwise, more dolphins, sparkling phosphoresecence, shooting stars, lighter and lighter winds. I had a lovely cool shower on deck after dark. It’s even possible I took my lifejacket ff – don’t tell the Skipper! We finished the sprint, it was a bit of a fizzle for us. ANd we passed through the first finish – in smoething like 7th place – yuck. Sometimes this doesn’t even seem like a race, as we haven’t changed sails in days and progress is so sedate. But we are getting lots of gybing practice – I finally feel almost comfortable helming through them.
We were very happy to hear the news that GB is no longer going to be able to stretch the rules and use the weather routing software that would have been cheating for anyone else to have. I would have loved to see the facebook exchanges about that!
Otherwise we are in stealth, we can’t see any boats an they can’t see us. ANother beautiful sunset, millions of stars, and we are ghosting along in the best direction we can manage. Helmng and trimming require the utmost concrntration. Wish us luck!

Day Ten

More of the same – except for wind. More blue sky, more heat, more shooting stars, more dolphins after dark, more boobies… and less wind, so that we have to resort to the windseeker all too often. THis afternoon it seems to have done its job, and we have such a steady breeze on such a smooth long swell that we can practice hands off helming as Henrietta steers herself calmly and efficiently in the right direction. Or as right as it can be with the current wind.
Today we saw our first boobie standing on a sea turtle – quite entertaining. And we currently have a passenger, a little collared dove who is perched on the mainsheet. We’ve laid out a smorgasbord of snacks and drinks for him, but he still eyes us suspiciously and remains in his spot. I think he’ll be calling trim for the spinnaker soon, he observes things so closely. The poor little thing has obviously made some questionable decisions in his life, to find himself so far out on a baking ocean. Many of us crew can empathise with that! His only hope is probably to sty with us to Panama, but I think he’s not going to be happy when we gybe… We are technically in the ocean sprint – by far the slowest and most relaxed we’ve ever done. No flapjacks needed for energy this time.

Hotter and slower

We’re still running downwind, the sea is still blue, the sky mostly blue too. But it’s a lot hotter, and a lot slower, as each day goes by. Today the wind got so light we had the windseeker up several times. ANd then we had it down, and the A1 up instead, several times as well. Wooling and packing is a familiar torture in these sweltering conditions – at least it’s not squally – yet!
We have finally, after only six legs, 7 months, and ten races, learned to do a spinnaker peel – where the new one goes up before the old ones come down. Very satisfying when it goes well. That we are bothering to peel just shows how close the racing is now, especially in these light conditions. We’ve had THe CHicken – Pulteney – in sight on the horizon most of the day, and late this afternoon we caught sight of another CV even further east – then we gybed, so have probably lost sight of them completely. On wildlife – our booby count increased dramatically towards sunset last night – we must have had about fifty of them soaring around us as we ate our dinner – perhaps that was what attracted them. THis evening there were ten or so boobies, and a graceful noddy swooping around for a while. There had been a whale sighting yesterday morning – raising his tail and spouting dead ahead, so we had to dodge him. And during the night for about 3 hours we had a group of acrobatic underwter dolphins, with the mst amazing streaking and spiralling phosphorescent torpedo trails. I think they were the lissome, dorsal finless ones again – I certainly never say a fin break the surface.
It was a gorgeous night – billions of stars, and a few shooting stars bright enough to leave trails behind them. We have Mars, fiery colored, overhead in the evening, and Venus astonishingly bright in the mornings. Today’s sunset – no green flash – produced almost lurid pinks and blues across the whole sky. THe cloud cover has increased, so I’m not sure how many stars we’ll get to enjoy tonight. At least it is blissfully cool up there now.

Days 7 and 8

Day 7- yesterday
We still have beautiful sailing conditions – it must be quite monotonous to read about day after day. And it’s definitely heating up, but still not sweltering and we have enough wind to keep moving quite nicely. mostly with the A1 up, but sometime the A2.
Speaking of the A2, we had it up when we crossed with Jamaica this morning – deja vu all over again from 24 hours before. At first we were on parallel courses, then we decided to gybe over and pass in front of them. Of course it had to be one of our bad gybes, with the kite wrapping itself around the forestay, looking like we were going to have to douse it ignominiously and let Jamaica sail right past us. Fortunately, after we eased the halyard a few meters, the sail unwrapped itself and we were able to ssve face and sail away from them. Phew!
However, we did put a few more scrapes and holes in the A2 – I can’t believe quite how much time I have spent working on that sail in the last couple of weeks! But please rest assured, Team Emily, we are giving it LOTS of love and attention, and we have not messed up the new ‘go faster’ stripe. Dolphin hour seems to have become a regular occurrence around dinner time. Yesterday it was a huge pod of leaping ones, attended by a flock of diving birds. The guys begged Eric to allow them to fish, but of course we didn’t, we are racing and who wants to catch a dolphin anyway. Today’s dolphins were a bit late, showing up after dark with their surprising plosive breathing and phosphorescent silhouettes. ANother starlit night, gorgeous sailing, and the moon rising very late as an orange crescent – I really thought it was a ship for a while. We’ve even had tiny green flashes at sunset these last couple of days – definitely heading south, if the Southern Cross once more low in the sky wasn’t enough to tell us that. Day 8 – today.
THere was a gorgeous sunrise today – pink and orange and yellow and chartreuse in the east, stretching to a beautiful lattice of low dark grey grey clouds against higher, lighter, fluffy ones the other side of the sky. We’ve had an escort of boobies all day – a masked one, and many brown ones, who could also be immature Masked rather than simply Brown, according to our book. THe flying fish are back, and for the first time the decks are so hot we’ve had to wear shoes.
We celebrated Konigs Day – from the Netherlands – at the first dog watch. With orange leis, orange drinks, oranges, and bobbing for carrot cake hung on a string. Delicious and well worth it.
And so the race goes on, we move south as best we can, switching between the A1 and the A2 as the wind strength dictates. It seems, with the warmth and the easy conditions, so much like a luxury cruise, it is all too easy to forget about the boats ahead we are supposed to be catching. It’s a strange frustrating kind of drag race we are engaged in, as one boat or group then another gets a good band of wind for a while and makes progress, while others can only watch. Wish us good luck and good winds – From Team HLFIFTYYOPS*, goodnight.
* THe keyboard now has neither a five nor a zero. And the closing bracket is gone. What will be next to disappear?

Warming up and slowing down

It must be day six now. We STILL have champagne conditions – last night we had the most beautiful sailing under a starry sky for our first night watch, and lit by a sweet little moon on our second. THe sun rose very gently – no dramatic colors, and there were soft grey clouds in the sky matching the gentle breeze and soft pillowy waves that were swooshing us along.
Soon after sunset we caught sight of another CV – lit up in the grey early light she looked quite dramatic. It turned out to be Jamaica, on the oter gybe, and they soon crossed behind us and disappeared southwards – it was as if they’d never been there, except for the record on our cameras. The wind has lightened quite a bit today, and the clouds have vanished apart from some charming white bubbly ones – we raised our biggest kite for a while, but the sailing is probably the most pleasant we’ve had, almost anywhere. It is really getting warm now, seaboots and foulies are gone and we’re in shorts and Tshirts. But we are able to make good progress and it’s not TOO hot yet either. Long may this last!
Creature sightings, apart from many birds – terns and petrels? – we spotted a couple of sea lions lounging with their fins above the water. So they do hang out this far off shore – I suppose they are able to sleep on the surface when conditions are calm like this. We have also had a few squid on deck – as always, not enough to eat.
We heard over the VHF during the night that GB, DLL, and was it Garmin? won the scoring gate points. Well done them – it was already obvious we were not in the running. We have finally managed to free the spinnaker sheet from under the boat, which surely can’t hurt. Morgan took a quick plunge over the side as we slowed down between spinnakers, and the job was done in seconds.
Fiona and Elena have been excelling themselves in the mothering stakes today – great things are coming out of the galley. ANd with music on deck and nearly everyone taking turns at the helm in this perfect gentle conditions, you could almost believe we are on the luxury cruise this leg is sometimes accused of being.

Land Ho! Mexico!

Written on day five
This morning we caught sight of high mountains through haze – Mexico! We are sailing in beautiful conditions – the sky blue, the sun golden, and the sea a proper sea green, with fronds and sprays of drifting bronze and brown kelp scattered over it. Some of the seaweed was clumped together in floating islands, populated by roosting seabirds, and more gulls, terns, and petrels filled the air, many of them quite vocal in their squabbles. THe kelp was not ideal for us,as there was so much it was impossible to avoid it all. THat led to me hanging on to Meg’s ankles as she leant over the stern with a knife, trying to hack fronds and stalks clear of our rudders.
It does not help that we currently have a piece of spinnaker sheet jammed under the boat somewhere – early on it was ont he rudders, making steering difficult and creating a lot of noise against the hulls. Now the rudders are clear, but we are travelling too fast to see what it is caught on under the boat – whether it is the keel or the propshaft. we just don’t know, ANd how did it get there, you may ask? Well, this wonderful downwind racing means a lot of spinnaker gybes. Last night a t midnight a was peacefully writing up the log, deputizing for Ryan and Chris the nav assistants, who were both on mother duty. I knew they were gyning up on deck. but with both watches up they didn’t need me. There was suddenly a series of horrible heeling lurches and a lot of noise and shouting. I didn’t know what was actually happening, but I was pretty sure it was more like Armageddon than a normal gybe. I’m told that the kite got stuck on its way around, then we hit a gust and broached so it was dragged against the rigging before eventually coming past the forestay – and in all the excitement the old sheet went over board and got trapped under the boat.
After the gybe, the crew on deck could see a small tear in the kite against the night sky, so word came down to set up the sewing machine. THere was a delay dousing as the lazy sheet, under the boat, was not available for the letter box, but eventually the kite came down, and sure enough, 7 new tears and scratches in our beautiful, newly repaired, A2. It was nothing too serious, but Nick and I still had 4 hours of taping and sewing to do before it could be rehoisted.
In short, not ideal for our run to the scoring gate. But we are having gorgeous sailing – it’s warm but not hot yet, it’s still dry, and we are romping down wind with little surfs to add to our speed, Dolphins have obligingly continued to visit, almost as regularly as they did in the Atlantic. The trick for me is just to make sure the racing doesn’t spoil this perfect sailing. One of our new joiners took a bit of a tumble today when the sheet we were tugging on sprang up during a gybe – fortunately nothing too serious, but it’s a reminder that our goal is to sail safe, sail fast, and have fun.

Some late posts

Due to the keyboard problems with the crew computer, my blogs have not been posting correctly. So I’m catching up with some late ones.

Day 3, and looking back at the end of race 9

Well it’s our third day out, and as I’m sure you’ve read in all the SKipper blogs, we are having beautiful blue skies and downwind sailing conditions. The wind is lighter now, so we are saiing our biggest spinnaker, and many of the new joiners are getting a taste of helming with the kite up, and on the lovely long, slow Pacific swell that is pushing us southwards. I was mother yesterday with Phil – so not much to report except that the bread was successful and the yogurt was not. Maybe we used an icecream mix by mistake – all our new packages say on the outside is a flavor – we just hope they are for yogurt.
This seems like a good time to recap the last stages of race 9 while I can just about remember them. I think the last post I wrote was as we came out of stealth, when we were in the lead. We were worried about the big windhole between us and San Francisco, and sure enough on the second day out
we woke up in it. The ocean was so smooth it looked like a pool of mercury – with an uneasy motion as left over swells rolled by from at least 2 different directions. We saw large floppy fins like sealions but surely too far from the coast, and what appeared to be a group of large porpoises, with only tiny dorsal fins just breaking through the grey top of the water. A dark colored albatross, – black footed? – came by, the wind was so light it was barely managing to glide, just inches above His own reflection in the silvery surface. We thought he’d be our last one before San Francisco. Slowly though, the wind came up – first just scattered catspaws on the top of the waves, but eventually filling in from the north west. Down came the windseeker and up went the A2. California seemed so close! It was comforting
to hear the coastguard over the VHF speaking with a familiar America accent.
THat night we had complete darkness again, and the helming challenge was not
to let the surfs carry us too low. Tricky helming and trimming, requiring all
our attention.
THe last day out dawned grey and misty again – but now we had more wind, and the angle had changed so that our challenge was staying low enough. We were pushing as hard as we could with the A2 up – white knuckles stuff for me, and I don’t think Eric slept at all in those last couple of days. He helmed a lot, taking shrt breaks for one of us to take over, then kicking us off when we ‘lost the groove’ – which was a difficult one to keep in. ANother handsome dark albtross came by – quite a surprise so close to the coast. He soared alongside us and around us for quite a while, making sure we got a chance to admire him.
THen, with Morgan on the helm, Eric said how glad he was we hadn’t hit ‘that log’. Of course everybody turned to see the log, and as I remember the sequence of events, we lost the groove again and the kite stated to flog, with the horrible explosive sounds we’ve all grown to hate. THen the halyard broke, again, and the kite collpsed into the sea. It was harder this time to avoid it, it seemed to be in danger of being sucke under the boat, and we were slow releasig the tack. Eventually we had all hands on deck to recover it. As it trailed behind us it was obvious something was badly wrong – I wasn’t even sure the entire spinnaker was still there. Heather was saying encouraging things like ‘it’s not to bad’ until she got a better view, then she just told people not to look. Eric’s succinct comment was ‘It’s f***ed’ – and once we had it inboard we just sent it below to be bagged and out of sight. We were not a happy crew to have done our worst ever sail damage at such a critical point in the race. THe rest, I guess, is history. We flew the A3 instead for about 3 hours, not
really the right sail for the conditions. Then the wind lightened more and more, and we switched to the A1 and now struggled to hold a course low enough. The fickle winds were definitely favoring GB. Few of us got any sleep
that day. We had murres – guillemots to you Europeans – amusing us with their
clumsy attempts to take off. Most of them just flopped back into the water, so any one that actually got flying raised a cheer from our slightly overtired crew.
We saw no land at all until after dark, when the lights of San Francisco’s Outer Sunset appeared, and we could also make out the Mile Rock and Point Bonita. The Bridge was invisible under a blanket of marine fog. BUt so dramatic when we sailed under it with the A1 up, the towers and the deck lit
up with an eerie orange glow. Team member Tony, who sailed with us in the SOuthern Ocean, came out in his power boat with pizza and beer – the pizza was gratefully received, bt not the beer, as it would be against the rules. THen after a cold wait for the photographer near the Bay Bridge – you can see
us falling about laughing hysterically in the pictures, we were too exhasted
for sensible poses – we were in. At home in South Beach Harbor, with good friends waiting for us in the middle of the night. We were perhaps a bit subdued at that moment, dissapointed with second place when we’d been so close to first, sad about the mes we;d made of our A2, and generally too tired to think. But on reflection we have so much to be proud of – just 14 of
us coming across the Pacific all the way from CHina, coming second and thanks to the scoring gate and the sprint – (we know it should have been DLL’s] picking up more points than any other boat on the leg. ANd back on the top of the leader board too. But more than anything else, we had an amazing passage across the world’s mightiest ocean, and we still like eachother! It doesn’t get much better than that.

Land Ho – Isla de Guadeloupe

The champagne sailing continues – sunshine and warmth during the day, stars at night and the moon, with a huge ring or halo around it, lighting up the sky. And of course it’s all downwind with te A1 or the A2 up, depending on wind strength. I’m happy to say that the A2 is holding up beautifully, still looking very handsome with its new ‘go faster’ stripe. Written on Day 4
This morning we had albatrosses again, 2 or 3 Laysan ones, with their smart black and white coloring. I thought we’d left them behind with the North Pacific. Probably they are using Isla de Guadeloupe, whose towring rocky mass we passed this afternoon, as a base. We’ve also started to se sea turtles, flippering determinedly along – so we really know we are reaching the south. We’ve had regular dolphins with dorsal fins that is, in the evenings. And our French sea mammal book identifies the amazing, torpedo like, finless ones as ‘Lissodelphis Borealis’. Now we have no idea what that is in English, but we do know its a member of the dolphin family and not a pygmy killer whale, whatever Eric and Olly may say in their skipper blogs.
It’s been a fantastic race beginning for our new joiners – the boat is relatively flat, the motion is gentle, and it’s dry inside and out. It’s a nice restful time for us RTWers too – we are still recovering from the North Pacific and a busy stopover in San Francisco. One thing that is not doing quite so well is the crew computer – characters are gradually disappearing from the keyboard. So don’t be surprised if my spelling and punctuation become more and more erratic. From Team Henri Lloyd YOPS, south of Isla de Guadeloupe, goodnight.

Back to sea

We’re back out to sea again – after a windy start, beating under the Golden Gate bridge in sunshine. It became an overcast afternoon, with whales (California gray ones most likely) spouting in all directions. Then a dark night, with the most amazing phosphorescent dolphins racing alongside. And eventually, stars. And of course a constellation of CV nav lights all around, too.
Even better, we are flying our A2, so lovingly repaired after its misadventures on the last morning of the last race. All are agreed it looks beautiful – even those who didn’t see it’s sad state just 10 days ago. The new stripe is quite the design feature. THank you, all you wonderful helpers!

Into stealth

Well we sprinted in gorgeous sunshine – reaching along and learning to refine our surfing techniques. I’ll get Henrietta to do a cut-back, off the lip, soon, I’m sure…
We had a few stars to help us last night, but it wasn’t easy helming. Then a gorgeous sunrise – the sun a red-orange jewel in a pearly sky. And dolphins in our wake! We haven’t seen those for so long.
The crew computer is on the blink, so I might have to be in stealth too. Wish us luck, the Golden Gate feels so close now.