The photo above is looking up at Bob from somewhere in the depths of the South Atlantic Ocean.
We’ve made it from one side of the Atlantic to the other. Woohoo! Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a reasonable chunk of Atlantic lying between us and Bermuda that we’ll be tackling over the coming months, but it still feels like a major achievement to cross such a huge swathe of ocean. We’re currently in the Caribbean and working our way north, from Martinique to Nevis, where Alex will be the best man for his best friend’s wedding. I can’t think of anything better after almost two months at sea than a week of celebrations with good friends.
First I’m going to start with a disclaimer – what you are about to read will probably sound awful and imply that I’m having a horrible time of it. That could not be further from the truth. As I write this I’m lounging in the cockpit smoking a cigar and listening to Sia – Chandelier on the stereo. The book I’m reading is by my side (Paulo Coelho’s ‘Eleven Minutes’). I’m motoring despite what could be a decent 10-knot sailing breeze, which is a shame, but the sun is shining brightly and a long tail is flitting across the waves and occasionally trying to land on board. So far it hasn’t quite managed it as it has been all too wary of the thing sitting staring at it, but if it’s the same one that kept me company yesterday then I’m hoping it might grow accustomed to my presence and land on deck rather than trying to perch in the rigging – an impossible feat owing to the fact that the mast is constantly swinging back and forth through an arc of about 30 degrees every 2 seconds or so. Life is indeed good, and promises to get even better in a day or so when I expect a good breeze to fill in from the East which will hopefully carry me all of the rest of the way to St. Maarten.
The voyage began at 9am last Friday, when I cleared Bermuda customs, had a chat with Bermuda radio and headed off through town cut and out into that Atlantic. It was lovely to see my mother at the customs house to see me off and she stood at town cut and watched me set sail and turn south toward warmer climes. Unfortunately all was not well already by this point. In removing the anchor from the bow roller and stowing it in the cockpit locker I pulled a muscle in my back badly. To make matters worse the sea was very confused and I felt quite ill. I popped a couple of seasickness pills and they knocked me out pretty quickly, so I set an alarm on the AIS to wake me up if anyone came within 5 miles of me and went to lie down. I slept for most of that first day and the following night, rising occasionally to check on things and once to have a chat with the Atlantic Explorer, an oceanographic research ship that was going round in circles and which I had to adjust course slightly to avoid.
The next day I woke up in considerable pain, so I decided to crack open the medicine box and took a couple of codeine pills. They helped a lot, the seasickness had abated by this point and I was able to be more or less functional while attempting to keep physical activity to a minimum. I made good progress to the South South East until the breeze dropped and came too far aft to sail under my current sail plan so I struck all sail and motored overnight. That was fine until about 3:30 in the morning, when I happened to wake up and was looking out from my bunk into the cockpit. Something felt wrong. I was concerned that I might not be able to hear the AIS alarm over the noise of the engine. As it turned out however, that was not a problem. What was a problem was that as I was looking at the cockpit locker (which I had opened to allow the engine to have good ventilation) smoke began to billow out of it. Not usually a good sign, so I got up to investigate and found the locker filled with smoke and water gushing from the exhaust manifold. Again, not a good sign, so I shut down the engine, checked to make sure that the gushing water had stopped, set sail and doused the bits of engine that had been liberally salted with fresh water.
The next day I set about seeing what I could do about this rather catastrophic failure of the exhaust system, all the time kicking myself. Before I’d left I’d made a list that extended to about 2 sheets of paper of all the stuff that I wanted to do before I left. One of the things on that list was to replace the exhaust system. This was later downgraded to ‘buy stuff to replace the exhaust system’, and later crossed off the list altogether as something that could wait until I got to St. Maarten. It was the only thing on that list that didn’t get completed. Sod’s Law! ?
Anyway, the crack turned out to be more than just a crack in a pipe. Two sections of the pipe had completely separated and there was very little left of the lower piece except rust. A repair at sea seemed impossible so I resolved that I could probably do without the engine and that I’d just have to sail the rest of the way. I changed my mind when I looked at the weather forecast – no wind at all in my location for another 2 days at best. I came up with all sorts of cunning plans and finally settled on one that I thought had probably about a 50% chance of success. More in its favour however was that this plan required me first to drink a can of Heineken since I needed a bit of metal from which to make an insert. That decided it, so I set about the repair. My back complained bitterly throughout (except for the first stage of the plan) and it took me the best part of about 4 hours but I eventually came up with something that I thought would work. Miraculously it has indeed worked so far. I’ve put about 10 hours of run time on the engine since then and haven’t seen any water or fumes emanating from the wonky-looking union at all yet. It hasn’t shaken itself to pieces either which is a distinct bonus.
That was yesterday afternoon. I sailed yesterday evening through the night until about 1am, at which point I was too tired to continue and had to try out that repair. It was a beautiful sail up to that point, with light winds occasionally gusting to moderate and very fluky, shifting back and forth by 10 to 15 degrees regularly. The wind vane, Wanda, couldn’t cope, so I was hand-steering. The stars were resplendent, the moon was a beautiful crescent and sea shimmered. Bob left a beautiful green trail in her wake – bioluminescence generated by all the microscopic planktonic life that was glowing in protest at having been disturbed. I sailed under a band of very low but not vertically-built cumulus clouds, a formation that invariably heralds a change in the wind, and sure enough the breeze dropped out further once I was through it and eventually died out to nothing, leaving the sea a glassy series of slow-moving hills by about 4am.
That takes me to now. I could be sailing right now but only if I set either the spinnaker or the large old rotten genoa that I don’t mind banging around. Unfortunately that is far beyond the capabilities of my back. Ah well, there will be plenty of time for spinnakers and rotten old genoas in the months and years ahead. Last night I decided to stop taking codeine to see if I could manage the pain without it. Absolutely not! Even breathing is tough. Every movement is agony, even shifting my weight in bed, or standing up and sitting down, hence the strategic arrangement of cigar, water bottle and book. I even have my hand-held GPS next to me because although the compass is right next to me the movement required to lift myself up to look at it every time I want to check the course is too much. What I really need is a mirror so that I don’t have to get up and look at the horizon. Maybe that’s taking it a little too far? ?
Damn, my cigar has gone out. That means I’ll have to go all the way to the other side of the cockpit to get my lighter from the pocket in the dodger. Woe is me! Well, while I’m up I might as well make the best use of the exertion by getting a beer as well. Perhaps a snack. Life is hard!
More calm seas…