Ships Log 1 Dec 2003

Thursday 27 November

After the radio net yesterday a yacht advised that they had a crew member who has unable to keep down food or fluids for more than 4 days. Their satellite phone is not working so I phone Rome International Medical advice and then Falmouth Coastguard who relay us onto a doctor at Portsmouth Hospital. Rome give use useful practical advice on treating symptoms, with Falmouth we work a 4 way relay with me talking to the Portsmouth doctor via Falmouth, and Nicky passing the message onto the yacht via radio. The crew member is still alert so they decide to carry on for now. In the middle of all this we catch a fish, but we dont have time to slow down enough to get it on board and it gets away (honest!)

 
The moon is still very small and low so the nights are pitch black apart from a brilliant canopy of stars obscured by menacing squally clouds, about half with rain. The waves are now about 2 metres. We race through the night with Jasper steering, doing 8+knots surfing down waves. Nicky does the 9-1 watch, I do 1-4, Bernard and Beryl together the 4-7.
 
This morning we again speak to the yacht. The crew member has not improved and they have decided to divert to the Cap Verdes which are 480 miles south. We advise Falmouth and they agree to investigate which Cap Verde island has the best medical facilities and if helicopters are available. We will speak again at this afternoon's radio net.
 
Friday 28th November
 
We ran the radio net on Thursday for Group D. This was anything but easy, as the fleet is getting more spread out. Lower frequencies are better for communications 50 - 100 miles away, but as the faster boats get ahead we have to try higher frequencies. There are 6 racing yachts out of 48 boats in Group D, while the smallest cruising yacht is 9.5 metres long, so already we are spread out over an area 360 miles E/W and 200 miles N/S. That's 72,000 square miles so its not surprising that we haven't seen another yacht for 36 hours. We start the net on the lower 4C frequency, then have to switch to 6C, and finally resort to a number of relays to get all the positions in. We think we may have had a poor connection on our set, (now fixed), but it is very frustrating for everyone.
 
The yacht with the dehydrated crew is well on its way to Cap Verdes and is now only 230 miles away. We speak to them again this morning, and although there has been some slight improvement, they definitely made the right decision to divert. Beryl cooks a great pork and courgette dinner yesterday, and she and Bernard coped really well with their first major squall at 5am, when the wind suddenly increases from 15 to 30 knots in 10 seconds, and Intrepid screams down the waves at 9 knots. They did so well that I slept right through it. Breakfast today is pancakes and maple syrup, orange juice and coffee. Beryl wins the prize for estimating the previous day's run (148 miles) - a handful of premium cocktail peanuts. As I write we are averaging 6.5 knots towards St Lucia, 2000 miles to go, ETA in 13 days time, brilliant sunshine, a stunningly beautiful rainbow arcing out of a menacing squall, 2 metre waves, we are enjoying ourselves.
 
Saturday 29th November
 
Where are the fish? Being caught by the other boats seems to be the answer. Ocean Wanderer have caught so many they are restricting their fishing time. I change lures, put out more line. We console ourselves with the thought that we really need to eat our fresh meat this early, and eat fish later. 
 
We pass the 2000 miles to go mark!!! We have covered 740 miles at an average of 143 miles/day or 6 knots. In 2001 we averaged 144 miles/day, in stronger winds. Our duogen produces about 8 amps, and solar panels 2 amps (during the day), so we produce more than we use in the day, but discharge at night with lights and the autopilot on.
 
Today, Saturday, we have brilliant blue skies, fluffy clouds to the south, 1.5 m waves, wind from dead behind, classical trade winds sailing. Bernard burns the toast, but redeems himself by washing up.
 
Sunday 30th November
 
The weather forecast yesterday was for 50 knot squalls ahead of us. Ocean Wanderer, Songster and ourselves had a discussion. If we were racing we would go straight. However the sensible cruising course was clear - to divert south to try to get below the squalls, even though this meant slower going to St Lucia. We changed to 225 - South East - this meant putting the pole on the starboard side to stop our foresail flapping.
 
Just as it was getting dark, and I was literally getting the marinated chicken out to cook, we CAUGHT A LARGE FISH. At last!  And this one was large, a beautiful yellow/blue/green dorado 4 feet long, about 9 kgs. But the light was fading fast, and you can't haul in a fish that large when you are doing 6.5 knots. We reduced sail, I hauled it in, and by torchlight used alcohol in the gills to stun/kill it, then I cooked about 1/6th of it with banana, coconut and peppers. We only managed half of what I cooked so its fish for days to come.
 
During the night we had 40 knot squalls, it's difficult to sleep when the boat sounds like an express train charging down the waves, rocking from side to side. Bernard and Beryl did well in a squall, and then the wind died to 5 knots, then back to 30 knots....
 
Sunday morning I inspected our duogen generator again. the corrosion is much worse around the top of the tower. We send a long email to try to help the manufacturers sort out the problem - luckily it is still generating, (but for how long?) and I reinforce it in a 2nd place with duck tape. On the VHF, we hear other boats also have generator problems - and they have a full freezer...We are currently doing 6.5 knots to St Lucia in bright sunshine as the wind has veered south .
 
Monday 1st December
 
'Squalls with winds in excess of 80 knots ahead for the next 5 days, which can hit with little or no warning - all boats will have to pass through this area'. The weather forecast received yesterday was informative but not exactly comforting. Our 'standard' wind is about 20 knots from the East; for this strength of wind we normally have most sail up, especially as it is from behind. But if we are hit by 60 knots let alone 80 knots with this sail we would be knocked sideways in the water with the mast parallel to the sea. We re-examine the forecast, especially since we are running the net for Sunday. On the positive side it's 'only' squalls, not sustained 80 knot winds - and there does not seem much we can do to avoid it, (so don't try). We decide to adopt a sail pattern of small mainsail, no pole and large foresail which we can reef to nothing in about 10 seconds, and to leave the radar on more, as if the squalls have rain they show on radar.
 
I read the weather forecast to Group D, apprehension from some voices, but mostly calm, we have prepared for this sort of weather. Some discussion on tactics broadly in line with our conclusions. Group D is even more spread out so we need lots of relays from Alliance and Helice to get in all the positions, and I repeat the forecast on the higher frequency to ensure everyone is aware. Takes about 1.5 hours to complete, and the constant transmission at high power has unfortunate side effects - it recalibrates our speed log, so I then have to re-re-calibrate it back. Alliance reports on squalls close to them, and the ARC sends useful clarification on the weather as the picture we get from other sources is not entirely the same picture.
 
We prepare for the night carefully - and typically all passes peacefully - no squalls at all, and we average 6 knots. Morning, we reset the pole since we can probably spot squalls coming, and bomb along at 7-8 knots with squally clouds to the left of us, squally clouds to the right of us, straight for St Lucia 1600 miles away. 1100 miles covered, more adventure ahead.
 
Tuesday 2nd December
 
The ARC forecast on Monday reduced to 'only' 60 knot winds - so that's all right then. Then suddenly lots of social contact (or at least what passes for it in mid Atlantic) - I see another yacht - our first for 2 days, and we contact them on VHF. All boats listen on VHF 77 and 16, but its range is only 20 miles. They are 'Penelope' (189) from Finland, another ARC boat - we swop news and views of the forecast - they are heading north of east to try to avoid squalls. The conversation sparks new boats to call in - Calliopy (169) from USA comes in, more discussion, then delight, Clive from Nicky Tam (64) calls. We met Andy and Nicky who are on Nicky Tam, in Naples earlier this year, and Clive the skipper in Gran Canaria, so its great to speak to them. Then we see a storm petrel and a rose foot tern, 1200 miles from nearest land. Then a real ship.
 
On the radio net, we ask all boats for reports of squalls. Essentially none so far, although Alliance having dodged them, finally was hit by one and it only had 30 knots of wind. No-one is sure whether to relax.......... We read 2 emails for Imagine whose laptop has broken and receive an email from Mark, a friend of mine which provides another perspective: "I am writing this on the 07:45 from Staplehurst to London that is limping along late again with steamed up windows, draughts and rattles.  The one reading lamp that is not broken is doing little to dispell the gloomy, damp twilight that represents the closest thing to dawn for days.Your adventure is keen counterpoint to commuting as we pull into Sevenoaks - doors slamming, thrown its seems to me with the venom of the condemned".  Nicely put.
 
As I write we are 1200 miles from the Canaries and 1600 miles from the Caribbean. If there is a centre of the Atlantic this is about it. Squally clouds cover the entire sky, the waves are increasing, night is about to fall. We feel lonely.......... It really is great to receive your messages, (just dont include this email if you use reply), with all best wishes from 19.15N 33.48W
 
Andy and Nicky Gibb, Bernard and Beryl Heath, Intrepid of Dover

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