Most of his week has been spent bobbing. Bobbing here. Bobbing there. Bob bob bobbing about in wind holes.
We’re further out to sea than the other boats, about 200-odd miles off the coast of Mexico in search of stronger winds. Alas, stronger winds have yet to be found, instead, a wind hole for a day has cost us 200 miles behind the other boats so we’re hoping that they get the same in return. Despite the not-quite-so-brilliant racing though, suncream and shorts are finally out during the afternoon watches. It’s taken 11 days (and the mornings/nights still require trousers and midlayers) but now the breeze is warmer, we’re not wearing full foulies anymore and sunglasses are welded to our heads.
Skill of the week that I’ve been trying to crack is “navigating the deck”. You wouldn’t think this would be a challenge, but there are hazards everywhere. Quite a challenge for a calamity Hartwell. All across the deck, there are things to trip over, be they ropes running to winches, “ankle breakers”, handles to get yourself caught on. Yes, my clumsiness now been been fully established and my legs are sporting a beautiful selection of bruises. A lot of this (I like to think) is related to my tether alongside the suite of obstacles available. Our tethers ensure that if we go overboard, we’re still attached to the boat but it does make it tricky moving around on deck. At night and over 11 knots of wind we have to clip on with these tethers to straps around the boat, the result being that you feel like you’re dragging a small, misbehaving dog behind you at all times. It slows you down but it can also be quite good fun “clipping on” with the tether though when the boot is heeled over at an angle onto one side: it feels a little like a Via Ferrata in the mountains.
The sailing this week has mostly been downwind, which means spinnakers have pretty much constantly been flying. This is quite an achievement for VS as usually the bowsprit is hanging off somewhere which prevents these massive sails from being flown. With our shiny new “FrankenSprit” installed in Seattle though, kites (another term for spinnakers) are good to go. As a sailing novice, steering the boat with these kites flying is pretty damned scary. If you you mess it up, it can end up in disaster. We haven’t done anything quite as spectacular as the 2 day sail wrap that the crew managed on Leg 2, but some examples we’ve experienced of getting it wrong so far are:
1.A kite flying over the top of the boat to end up trailing in the water behind,
2. Getting a twist in the kite then accidentally dropping it in the water, the sail then ripping as it was pulled it out due to the weight of the water in it.
Incidents like these have meant many an hour for Karri & Dana – our sail Chiefs – working on the sewing machine to repair kites, be it night or day. Damage needs to be repaired quickly so that the kite can be used again ASAP, as Murphy’s law is that the kite that is broken is the kite that you need. On the more positive side, kites have been quite entertaining when they need adjusting, Huw sending Dana up one of the sheets (the ropes that control the kites) so sort something out in the harness. We’re pretty sure this was done just for fun, but we got some amazing action shots of Dana. Dana is mighty but tiny so it looked like we’d sent a child to fly in the air.
On a few occasions, we’ve sailed upwind with “white sails”: the Yankee and staysail. This is generally harder to mess up so on the very few occasions we’ve had this, I’m straight back at the helm as pee training. It’s quite pressured though: there are lots of very experienced people on this boat now and ensuring a straight course is important to make sure we’re covering as many miles in the right direction as possible. The cry is always “focus!”, and any time you’re asked if you’re “on course”, that’s inevitably when the zig zagging begins. You also get blamed for splashing people (which is secretly quite fun). Waves people, waves – they’re unavoidable!
Having seen things done a couple of times now, I have more confidence to get stuck in. I can now identify very small, simple problems and fix them (woohoo!). This week saw me making sail ties during “craft club”, helming more, actually go onto the bowsprit to adjust something (wet but very cool, suspended above the water) and just generally being a shadow of other more experienced people.
Disappointingly, we’ve not seen much wildlife still, although what we have seen appears to be the jumping kind. Dolphins jumping alongside the boat, squid jumping onto the boat at night. Flying fish jumping into anyone when they get the chance: you experience a substantial thud of fish to your body, a quick return of said fish to the sea and then it’s below decks with you to wash off the area that was hit. People have always said that flying fish smell but I didn’t ever believe them. I do now. They REEK! How can a fish fresh from the sea smell so much? These fish are amazing to see fly though, they can go above the water for a good 10m or so.
The night watches are now enjoyable for their stars: I’ve spotted the ISS a couple of times and the planets are clearly distinguishable alongside the Milky Way. Other constellations are revealed through Amancio’s Stars app: you hold it up to the sky and tadaaaaa! Amazing. We’ve also had the joy of learning about Greek mythology on night watches, listening to reggae or electronic tango whilst sailing through the stars and a lot of 60s music. All good. In the day, the music is always upbeat: conveniently, Emily appears to have multiple playlists where I know ALL of the songs. The poor people on this boat are having to suffer my singing practice.
This week I cracked and washed my hair on deck after 10 days of greasy, salty mankiness, Emily helped using a jug of fresh water. This felt absolutely amazing. Since then, other people have been washing more and more which is a bit of a surprise. I’m not sure how I feel about getting covered in salt water at the moment, so I’ll stick to the industrial wet wipe showers for now. I’m sure I’ll crack later.