Tears, Breaks, Jibes and Burns (not all on Intrepid) 8th December 2003

Just past halfway! 1370 miles to go. The wind gusts hard, Intrepid turns into it, the boom shudders, the jibe preventer tightens, the main sail rips from front to back a 5 metre long gash through which wind joyously rushes, shredding bits of sail and seams, I am setting a rope for a small jib, and am thrown right across the cabin roof, luckily I am clipped on to the lifeline - I am the only one on deck....The commotion brings up Nicky, then Beryl and Bernard, I hadn't even noticed the tear at first with all the flapping of sail, we tame the other sails, then gingerly lower the injured main - the tear is right above a seam, and almost impossible to repair at sea. Prudence pays off, we have just bought a new set of sails for precisely this reason (its a bit like being without a spare tyre on a car) but are using the old ones for the Atlantic crossing (since new sails make little difference to speed when the wind is behind). We hoist the new main, sort out other sails, get back on course, write the log....... 2 hours of good exercise 146 miles closer to St Lucia, Bernard has correctly estimated our days run for the last 5 days and we were thinking of chucking the log and keeping Bernard instead - but today I win - thanks to the torn sail.

Some people think the ARC is a race - actually its the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers. So although there is a racing division of 30 boats who genuinely race, the other 220 yachts are supposed to cruise across giving each other support when required. People being people inevitably even in the cruising section we compare times, and boats are given a rough handicap, but getting there in the fastest possible time is not the idea - otherwise we would all have the largest possible boats, gorilla crews, put up far too much sail, break far more than we do already, not sleep and not enjoy it. For most boats just getting there without major breakages of boat and people is enough of a challenge. Our position and logs are on www.worldcruising.com, ARC.

Hello, I'm Beryl - half of the Black Country crew aboard Intrepid and I've got in quickly, while Andy's not looking to give you a 'crews version' of life on board.

Bernard (the other half) and I have never crossed an ocean in a small boat before. It seemed like a good idea on a sunny June afternoon a couple of years ago while we were driving to the South Coast for a weekend on our own boat. So far, we don't think it was a bad idea at all!

We joined Intrepid in Gran Canaria a couple of weeks before the start, having met Nicky and Andy earlier in the year and deciding that we all felt we wanted to do the crossing together. We spent the time helping with the preparing the boat (and partying) attending seminars and generally settling into 'boat mode' ready for the big adventure.

It's a bit different crossing the Atlantic to our normal 'epic' crossings of the English Channel. We're very glad we're crewing on a well equipped and carefully planned vessel with people who have had plenty of experience of long passages and living in a small space for a long time.

To date on the crossing, we've celebrated less than 2000 miles to go, first 1000 miles and half way (this was celebrated with a special dinner and fizzy wine last night). Andy and Nicky had volunteered to be Net Controllers and this adds a dimension to the radio communication. They also have e-mail etc. and we have received e-mails from our family and friends whilst on passage which has been lovely for us as we had not anticipated being able to maintain any contact during the voyage. We've settled into life at sea, doing watches and taking it in turns to do the cooking - we've had freshly cooked bread twice this week.

Yesterday was the most exciting yet. I know Andy reported our torn mainsail but later, we saw four other boats - the most we'd seen since about day 2 - then a large cargo boat came into view and swiftly crossed our bows bound North. One of the four boats was a large catamaran which was not an ARC boat but was crossing from Tenerife to Puerto Rico. He came past very close and Nicky spoke to Bill (the skipper of The Painted Lady) who invited her and Andy for a beer and a shower when they're in the States in the spring.

While I type, our cruising chute is being hoisted as the wind seems to have taken itself elswhere. I think I'll drink my coffee and close this log before Andy realises I've done it. St Lucia here we come....

A number of changes - almost imperceptable - are affecting life on board. Its hotter, about 30C, the winds are lighter, there are more squall clouds but less wind in them, the waves are lower. The wind has been from the south or south east (contrary to all the weather forecasts which forecast NE), then as night falls dies away completely. A number of other yachts reported no wind yesterday and motored, we managed with our green yellow and orange cruising chute (affectionately known as the Big Green Monster) to make 4 knots during Thursday, but as this is the sail that broke Nicky's arm in almost exactly this position 2 years ago, we don't have it up at night particularly as squalls are around. After dinner we make a virtue of necessity and motor for 12 hours which recharges our batteries, fills our water tanks, and moves us 60 miles on. I steer through 2 squalls and find - 6 knots of wind. Fresh meat vacuum packed in Canaries (chilled but not frozen) is still in good condition as is most fruit. Bernard (the log) wins a pancake breakfast for clearing the cruising chute rope and estimating our mileage (131). For the first time we have bright sunshine with a few fluffy clouds winds at midday wind SE 6-8 knots, speed 4 knots, yachts 100 miles to the west seem to have 10-15 knots from the East or North East so maybe we can get there soon!!!

A calm - A swim! In ocean 4000 metres deep. That's relatively shallow, some miles further on its 5500 metres deep - but there again only 100 miles ahead the ocean bed rises sharply to within 500 metres - a really steep 'sub-mountain'. Nicky was not sure she would be able to put her feet down, and stayed on Intrepid while Beryl Bernard and I swam. We have to leave someone on the boat in case a sudden wind gets up - we tow a fender behind when swimming, but Intrepid can easily drift at 3+ knots - and we could see a large squall 3 miles away coming in our direction. I particularly wanted to snorkel to check our propeller shaft and anodes for corrosion after all the corrosion we had with the duogen. Fortunately they were all intact. We practiced retrieving me from the water using the electric winch, then hurriedly raised sails and scudded away from the squall. I think/hope we have finally got away from the calms.

The radio net gets more and more difficult to control as the boats get even more widely spread. Alliance (221) was controller yesterday, and less than half the boats could hear him, so we had to use 2 frequencies, and Nicky had a lot or relaying to do. Josephine (125) had collided with a whale, which fortunately left the boat intact, but the whale dazed. Apparently they often sleep on the surface......At 4pm we raise our Big Green Monster and try it on either side with the genoa - not a great success - 2 hours of setting sails for 5 knots, and as night falls we revert to main and genoa and bomb through the night in bright full moon light at 6.5 knots rolling down waves and tracking squalls. We have less than 1000 miles to go...

CRASH JIBE!! I am just getting up when there is an almighty crash above. Bernard and Beryl are on watch, and a squall has just overtaken us, and for once this has more wind than usual - 35+ knots. The wind backs (as it usually does before a squall) at precisely the same time a large wave hits and Intrepid rolls and the wind comes over the stern from a different angle. The wind vane steering (that should hold us at a constant angle to the wind) can't react in time, and the jibe preventer which is supposed to hold the boom can't take the huge forces pushing on the full main sail and stretches then snaps. The boom swings over, no-one hurt thankfully, although Beryl has been looking up at the foresail we have all been reminded about keeping our head down, and the boom passes over her head. I rush up, we centre the main, furl the genoa, furl the main, take off the shredded jibe preventer, rig a new thicker one, check the boom and all the rigging, have a needed cup of tea and a few deep breaths, check that we had done all we can do to stop it happening again, unfurl all the sails and set off again in a light 15 knots of wind. A nice peaceful Sunday morning. Its not pleasant or easy to report such events, but I try to describe our sailing as it happens, good and bad.

All are well, sunny skies and rolly waves, we celebrated both 1000 AND 900 miles to go yesterday with Spanish Cava and fresh fish caught to order, ETA St Lucia Saturday 13th December.

After the excitement of the crash jibe, we lunched on Beryl's excellent home made bread - one of the benefits of long distance sailing is that it 'forces' you to do what is in practice is enjoyable anyway. We dont have any bread making equipment, just packets of bread mix, and with about 10 minutes work and 1 hour elapsed we feast on a meal that would genuinely shame most London restaurants.

We looked forward to a simple radio net - and so it started out..... Ocean Wanderer (199) broke in with priority message - a crew had severe rope burns with the skin almost completely torn off on fingers on both hands and bits beneath exposed. Jim on Helice was controller so we said we would help on 6C while Jim continued the net on 4C. Having done this before with Alexa we were quickly through to Falmouth, patched onto Portsmouth Hospital who confirmed it was serious if there was tendon damage and he might lose the use of the finger(s). They advised the patient to go to hospital within a maximum of 2 days, and were slightly surprised when we explained that the nearest hospital was 6 days away (they asked our position and looked at an atlas just to check). Falmouth were keen to get a medical evacuation arranged from Martinique -although we think it would still have been 3 days before Ocean Wanderer was in range. 4 stage relay messaging from Portsmouth to Falmouth to us by phone then by radio to Ocean Wanderer (and then back) we took them through a detailed description of the injury and concluded with Portsmouth that the tendons were probably OK, and pumping him full of antibiotics (which OW had) was probably sufficient. It took some sat. phone time but it was really good to see the system working so effectively - 50 minutes beginning to end.

Today we have main and jib on starboard, poled out genoa on port doing 5.5 knots to St Lucia in 13 knots of E wind, dodging round squalls. Bernard is analysing the behaviour of winds in squalls and their effect. Bright sun, 30C, rolly!

Andy and Nicky Gibb, Bernard and Beryl Heath 16N 50W

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