More drama – fast and slow

You could be forgiven for thinking that this race we are deliberately providing drama for Ollie, the media man. Early this morning, as we sailed along close hauled so at quite a heel angle, a crew member took a nasty tumble down the companionway. The result is a grazed and bumped head, temporary numbness in the shoulders – now gone – and the need to wear a neck brace and be basically immobile until we reach Derry. No fun at all. It is alarming how the simplest things that we do every day, like climbing down the companionway steps or into an upper bunk, can turn out to be the most fraught with danger.
In racing news, the drama is at a much slower pace. During the night we gradually pulled past DLL, still just visible through the grey haze astern. And we’ve crept up on PSP, so that from a glimmer ahead on the horizon at nightfall, they are now clearly visible on our port beam, their pale sail nearly the same color as the silvery grey sky. We are sailing upwind on almost calm seas and in mostly steady winds – just concentrating on keeping Henrietta at exactly the best angle for speed, gradually grinding the others down. Eric has almost promised to make flapjacks for the sprint – if we are ‘good’, which probably means all sleeping in the right places and sitting dutifully on the rail with our feet out. Come to think of it, throwing fellow crew down the companionway probably doesn’t count as good – we may have blown it already.
We saw – almost ran over – a big sunfish a little earlier, and Chris saw a shark. There are many feathers floating on the water – we wonder if the sharks are feasting on the many birds – shearwaters I think – who are now mostly resting on the water in little groups. As we pass we disturb them just enough that they start flapping and running to take off, only to flop down again once they realize we pose no threat. THere was a bird – a tern? – attempting to land on the windex early this morning. WIth the proximity of DLL, we can only assume it was one of their spies – luckily it soon desisted.
In other news, the aft heads, heroically repaired by Kevin B. and Herb to much jubilation and adulation yesterday, has failed again. It’s a long way to Derry with 22 people and only once working toilet! We have to remind ourselves frequently that we all CHOSE and PAYED FOR this level of discomfort and indentured servitude. Perhaps the fact that London, the end of the race, and all the comforts of home and civilization are now less than four weeks away is brining our mass insanity into sharper focus. But spirits are high ad the lurgy is dying down, so it’s not all bad here on TeamHL50YOPS

Living in interesting times

Life aboard took quite a turn for the dramatic yesterday evening. We were celebrating Herb’s birthday, and we all knew that Herb and Janet were expecting news about a new grand-daughter any minute. Life was pretty good. But we’ve had another bug going around – a coughing one – and yesterday one or two crew were diagnosed by our resident medics as now having chest infections, and one had pneumonia. All quite managable, as we are well supplied with antibiotics and have 2 nurses and a doctor aboard this trip. But one patient began to have what seemed to be a very bad reaction to the antibiotics, and was in such pain that nothing would touch it except morphine. Very scary! We were so lucky to have Fiona and Herb aboard to treat the situation with great calmness, and the Praxis doctors to consult with.
But it was certainly unsettling for all the crew, and sleep was in very short supply for a while. The news of the grandchild’s safe delivery on Herb’s sixtieth birthday almost got lost in the noise, and the fact that the ridge of high pressure dumped all over us and had us stuck not moving while the boat in front sailed away, and those behind caught up and even overtook, was just a background issue.
FOrtunately our crew member recovered completely, and was back on deck this afternoon to a round of applause – and a flutter of admonitions to wrap up warm, go get a jacket and hat. It has been a gorgeous sunny day, and although we now have DLL in sight AHEAD – just a mile or so – and Garmin and possibly PSP ahead and just over the horizon, at least we are moving steadily again, THe sunshine has been gorgeous, the sea calm, although the wind is cold. THere has been much less wildlife today too – but after our traumatic times last night, we are all quite grateful for the easy sailing. We’ll just keep grinding away at the boats around us – in TeamHLFiftyYOPS, that’s what we do,

Wildlife

Well the sailing has been quite mellow for the ast 24 hours – at time far TOO mellow, but there’s little we can do about that except endeavour to keep moving and avoid being swallowed up by the high pressure areas apparently building all around us.
THe nights are pretty short now – last night we were treated to a spectacular roange and purple sunset under glowering xlouds, with Jacobs Ladders almost worthy of the tropics. Moonrise, too, was a moody orange one – sending some of the leggers checking the AIS to see what that orange light on the horizon could be. Of course us jaded RTW crew have seen it all before. And yes, we were fooled too, the first time. Dawn too was orange and purple, with shades of grey and pink spreading across the sky behind us. It’s beautiful out here! The wildlife has been laying on quite a show – we had dolphins in the evening, phosphorescent ones at night, and gleaming ones leaping in the sunrise. We also have many different birds – storm petrels dart about all night, sometimes dive bombing us alarmingly, and looking for all the world like bats with their jerky flight patterns. We’ve had a pair of terns – common or maybe arctic – flying overhead at intervals night and day. Or maybe it’s a succession of different pairs, we have no way to tell. Highlights today have been a shark, lazily circling a drifting piece of wooden palette as though scraping his belly on it – probably eating whatever small fish were underneath it. And then we caught sight of what seemed like a pod of large, black, slow moving dolphins. We later realized they were pilot whales – much more exciting. They cruised lazily past us, then spent quite a while porpoising and spouting astern, but they never came back close enough for Ollie to film them.
On board, we are celebrating Herb’s sixtieth birthday. He looked quite content standing on the stern, wearing a balloon crown and smoking a cigar. And Maaike’s apricot and chocolate chip cookie flavored cake was voted her best so far.

Interesting times ahead

We’ve had quite a mixed bag over the last 24 hours. Last night we went from some nice kite surfing with the wind good and free, to edging along with the A3 as close to the wind as we wanted to push it. We had a little bit of excitement in our midnight watch, when dark rain clouds appeared ahead – but according to our radar watchers, there was nothing to see. As the clouds approached – or we approached them, the wind suddenly doubled in strength and our new leggers got their first taste of a knockdown. Nothing too major – just the down on our side, boom in the water variety. But the new crew now know that being ‘on the vang’ can be a serious job, and that while you might be sitting comfortably in that role as we tootle along, when the time comes to actually release it, everything will be at crazy angles and it is very hard to brace yourself properly and do the deed. Still, I don’t think anybody fell out of their bunk, and no serious harm was done. But we changed to white sails and altered course in a more northerly direction for the rest of the night.
TOday was mostly a bit more grey and overcast than lately – but warmer, especially once we were able to gwt the A2 up again this afternoon. Sadly, this probably heralds the giant sized light wind randomizer the fleet is about to enter. It seems like it’s a case of ‘too high can’t go under it, too low can’t go over it’ as far as the high pressure is concerned. It’s going to mean interesting times.
In other news, there is once again a major shortage of teabags aboard. THe North-American victuallers are astounded that 2 bags have been consumed in 9 days, but that’s only 2 or 3 cups per day for each Brit aboard, perfectly reasonable consumption. At least there’s still plenty of coffee, but we don’t know abut hot chocolate as the dry bag containing drinks is missing. Right now there is a more serious and imminent emergency – it’s approaching the end of mother watch, and no bread has been made. It’s going to be a long hungry night for Team HLFiftyYOPS. Apart from the fifteen tons of chocolate and sweet snacks we are loaded down with… maybe it’s all part of a plan to lighten the boat.

Icy night, and day

Last night we continued our ice watch – and t was certainly icy cold on deck. I fished out my dry suit again, for the first time since the Pacific. We maintained a radar watch downstairs, as well as having two people specifically on ice watch on deck. At one point we saw an eerie white glow of to starboard – we wondered if it could be moonlight reflecting of ice, or a ship, or an alien spacecraft. It turned out to be a hazy beam of moonlight, coming straight down through the heavy overcast that was blotting everything else out. It was quite funny when Fiona sent Kevin H down to ask Debs if she could see the moon on radar. Obviously, at that range, she could not.
ALthough the dawn did not come at 3 am, it did arrive by about 4:3O. THe clouds had cleared in the east, and the big round moon was riding on top of them, still shining on the sea as the colors turned from the grey and black of night to the pinks, blues, and whites of morning. First there were ragged patches of palest blue, looking as if they had been painted on top of the clouds, rather than showing behind them. THey certainly made steering in the lumnpy seas and erratic winds a lot easier. A little later there was a beautiful display of ‘jacobs ladders’ – shafts of sunlight shining down through the clouds. ANd then the sun rose dazzlingly above it all – it made for particularly spectacular silhouettes of the crew on the rail, with the shining spray pouring off them, and our bow wave surging and seaming alongside, all lit up by the sun.
We’ve had some quite good surfing, when we’ve been able to hold on to our course! Eric R. (NOT the Skip], almost joined the 2 knot club, there was whooping and hollering as he achieved 19.9 knots just at wake up time this morning.
At lunchtime we were finally able to raise the A3, so we are sppeding along with the kite, ice watch still in force as we hear that yet more Clipper boats have reported sightings. There are many birds, storm petrels and larger shearwaters and petrels too. We just hope that none of them are known for roosting on icebergs. Every now and then a solitary dolphin leaps alongside, then disappears, clearly intent on his own business and not interested in playing with us.
TOday is the day that we will once more cross the longitude of Rio – so by crossing all the lines of longitude on the planet, we will have sailed round the world, in one definition, at least. Any excuse for a celebration. Debs has prepared cupcakes, and Maaike is inflating balloons. As we discussed the various egg substitutes at our disposal while on watch this afternoon – at the tops of our voices as we are flying along with the kite up – Ollie the Media Man commented that that was the first time he’d heard yelling about cupcakes on one of these boats. What can I say? That’s how we roll on Team Henri Lloyd FiftyYOPS.

Night and icy day

Last night was another beatiful one. First, in the evening, we had vigorous leaping dolphins – little fat ones, each attended, it seemed , by his own shearwater – or petrel. THey were obviously on the hunt, and did not stick around to play with us for long.
Later, the big round moon kept peeking through the clouds. SOmetimes it lit up patches of sliver, or shone on Henrietta, happily surging through the black water. Other times it only shone on distant wave crests, setting patches of the horizon all a-sparkle, or made patches of clouds glow amber. Dawn came very early – the clouds just tearing apart enough to show some clear azure sky between them. It was about 3:3Oam!
Today started sunny and clear, but there is a real bite to the wind. We are on iceberg watch, and at 11am we had our closest point of approach to the wreck of the Titanic. I’m glad we didn’t pass it at night – it was gloomy enough by then under a solid overcast, to make the mood quite sombre. CLipper have moved the ice gate further south, making the iceberg watch even more vigilant. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing, or a bad ting. Are we more or less in danger of seeing one? WHile an iceberg is something I’d love to see, right now, thundering along at 12 knots or so, it would be a very bad thing!
Many birds today – Manx shearwaters I think, and other lighter ones, plus some little storm petrels. ANd aboard, most have recovered from their sea sickness. Olly COusteau, the media man, is once more in evidence with his red wooly hat and his camera. I hope he’s getting some interesting footage.It is COLD – the sea temperature and air emperature have dropped noticably. Layers are being added liberaaly, all around. TOday we also change our clocks 2 hours, so no 3am dawn for a while.

Proper wind

Early yesterday morning at least part of our mysterious slowness was explained, and solved. A heave-too during the change to white sails gave us the chance to find and remove a heavy plastic bag filled with water that was acting like a drogue on one of the rudders. Phew! SO with the steady winds we have at last made some progress, leaving PUlteny in our wake, and passing the usual stragglers, Garmin and Mission Performance, today. It’s still a heck of a long way to the boats ahead though – but we do like to come from behind, after all.
Last night was a beautiful one – bright, almost round moon making a path on the black water, and Henrietta just creaming along, foam curling and clouding over the starboard rail. SHe felt light, and wanted to go FAST – even though we were reaching quite close to the wind, she was still getting some little sideways surfs on the small swells.
The morning, when it arrived, was a grey one – layers f clouds in all shades of grey and blue covering the sky. We had the sails of Mission Performance to starboard, and Garmin to port, so we’ve spent the day leaving one behind and gradually overhauling the other. It’s reaching all the way, with constant shifts in wind direction and strength keeping us all on our toes, trimming and retrimming sails as well as finding the fastest angles for saiing.
Seasickness has taken its toll, with both the mothers being out of action today, and watch leader and assistant of port watch suffeering yesterday. At least there are lenty of us aboard to pick up the slack! It’s noticably colder too, everybody is in foulies, and the last few holdouts have switched from sandals or bare feet to boots. I think tonight we’ll be seeing gloves, for the first time since San Francisco. WIth the grey sea and sky, and the occasional light drizzle, we definitely feel that we are in the North Atlantic, heading back to familiar UK watrs.

A good day to be on deck

THis morning did not get off to a good start. I got up early for breakfast, only to find it was not ready. THe A2 was spread all over the floor, obviously neglected and in need of woolling. Within seconds of my reaching the saloon, news came from the deck that our watch should be woken early to help douse the A3. In just a very few minutes, the A3 was bundled downstairs, and spread all over the floor on top of the A2. SO now our watch had two kites to untangle and wool. And then, the aft heads stopped working too – definitely not a good morning.
We’ve been having a frustrating time in general – the boat just does not seem to be fast at the moment. Yesterday we suffered the ignominy of being overhauled, bit by bit but relentlessly, by Old Pulteny, and every six hours the sheds bring tidings of slight losses to the rest of the fleet. We can’t figure out if it is just the extra weight, with 22 people aboard, or if we are dragging something underneath that we can’t see. Yesterday evening the steering was definitely a little weird, so we think there was at least SOME weed wrapped on one of the rudders – not enough for us to see, though.
ON the plus side, the wind has increased, and we have been power reaching along under sunny skies with a steady breeze. Maybe the increased speed will have shaken the weed loose – the strange wobble in the helm seems to have stopped, anyway. Henrietta’s helm feels beautifully
light, and she is shouldering her way valiantly through the
small swells, sometimes getting strange sideways surfs up to eleven knots, and sending up rainbows in the clouds of spray she creates. Unfortunately the new angle of heel and the increased motion has triggered seasickness for several crew, including poor Fiona, working hard at being mother with Emma today. WIth Herb and Kevin B. engaged in major excavations of the plumbing system all afternoon, it’s been a great day to be on deck. however splashy it is up there.

Down below days

It was all going so well 2 days ago when I last wrote. We were having such lovely smooth sailing, with the 1 up, smooth sea, gentle breezes – a bit too gentle at time – and clear moonlit nights. Of course something had to happen, and not long after midnight on Monday night it did.
We were gybing the A1 in a light breeze, the moon was bright enough for us to see it clearly, billowing around indecisively before we were able to pull it around the forestay. Unfortunately, the billowing hid the fact that the top of the sail was wrapped around the top spreader of the rig, and when it did eventually come round to the other side of the boat, it was with a tear almost three quarters of it’s length. Not good at all – although I was happy that Morgan’s ‘It’s torn in half!’ turned out to be an exaggeration. We really shouldn’t have been so smug during the Le Mans start, commenting on the ugly repairs in other boats’ spinnakers, should we. And Debs had tempted fate just that afternoon, mentioning how few repairs the A1 had in it. I think sailors are superstitious for good reasons.
So as sailmaker in chief, I was kept very busy for the next 19 hours or so. First, with 3 of the ‘ladies of starboard watch’, there was a massive untangling operation. It is amazing how much more difficult it is to run the tapes when the clew has passed through the hole in the middle of the sail a few times on the way down. THen we cleared out the forepeak and spent three hours piecing and taping the sail back into its proper shape. It about .3am, we were done, and left Nick and David F. from port watch to tape the other side. At 6.30am I was woken up to sew – Nick and I worked until breakfast time, and at about 8.30 Maaike came to join me, The 2 of us then spent the rest of the day huddled in the forepeak, surrounded by acres of white cloth, with the sewing machine whirring away. But only in short bursts! We found that the tape we’d used to patch the tear was so sticky, we had to stop and clean the needle every 10 inches, or the thread would just jam and break, making us restart over and over again.
We sewed all day, through on watch and off watch. It was a little like being in a zoo, as we had frequent visitors, many just bringing their camera’s to capture the animals in their habitat, others bearing treats – especially chocolate – which they tossed to us before leaving. We DID get to pop up out of the hatch to view a long lazy whale. First he just lay on the surface, doing distinctive forward angled spouts, and as we passed he gave us two tail slaps, and raised an astonishingly shiny head for us to view. Ollie, our resident media man and marine biologist – he wears a red beanie in honor of Jacques Cousteau – tentatively identified it as a sperm whale. Although he did admit that he mostly studied chemical oceanography, not large mammals, our various books seem to agree with him. I had predicted we’d get the sail done by nightfall – Maaike was more optimistic, predicting dinner time. In the end, it was done in time for a late dinner – delayed so we could get the sail up and check it’s condition while there was still daylight. After some 42 man and woman hours, miles of tape and almost our entire acetone supply, it really didn’t look bad at all, and received a round of applause and three cheers when it was flying again. If Nick hadn’t highlighted the line of the tear with a black permanent marker, you’d hardly know it was there.
SO as I spent yesterday below decks sewing, and today I’m mother, I can’t tell you too much about life above decks. THere have been whale, shark. and ray sightings, and the wind is frustratingly light. THe scheds tell us everyone is gaining it’s frustrating enough, even down here. I suppose we should have known the winds would be light for a while, when the trans-Atlantic rowers left New York the same day as we did. And Giovanni Soldini’s ex Volvo 7O, Maserati, waiting for a window to attempt the New York to the Lizard speed record, stayed firmly in port. But it’s a marathon not a sprint, things are sure to get better eventually!

Atlantic Time

We’ve been racing a little less than 24 hours now, at the start of our Atlantic crossing back to Europe. So almost the end of our adventure! We had gorgeous weather for motoring out of New York, and the Le Mans start took place against the backdrop of a lovely orange sunset. It was not our best start ever- Eric was the SKipper in charge, and we were right in the middle of the line. There was a bit of discussion from boat to boat about what the upwind course the boats would all have to hold should be.Eric got applause from GB – upwind and right next to us for short shrigt he gave one skipper, far away on the end of the line, who suggested the course everyone else was holding was too close to the wind. THere did seem to be a little confusion, with Switzerland and Garmin crossing eachother right after the start, but everyone got away OK. Once the mandatory ten minutes were up, everybody raised their kites – mostly A2s, though a few like us went strainght for the A1, which we have been flying ever since.
Itwas a beautiful night for saiing- bright moonlight giving us a clear horizon and letting us see the kite for trimming. It was a perfect refresher for our new andreturning leggers. TOday has continues in the same vein, with lovely sunrise, smooth seas, and mellow winds. Of course we wouldlike a bit more wind – we did seem to be in our own personal lull for a while this afternonn. THe fleet is all very close – last night we could count 11 of them behind us, now in daylight we can only see 2 or 3. It’s definitely been a very pleasant start to our last ocean crossing.