Thursday, 8 January 2015

Already half gone

Missing item: comforting cotton-wool clouds. They're supposed to be standard issue on a tradewinds passage. Well, not this one. Some atmospheric prankster swapped the boxes around. What we've had to play with this past week is a huge dirty shroud of Sahara dust which blotted out the sun, and which was replaced last night by marauding squall bands which creep up on a clear sky with intent to spoil and lay waste. What's the deal here?

The deal is, you take what you're given, and you run with it. Day and night. Best to look on the bright side. The swell is 3 m not 5 m. The moon is glaringly full so as well as hearing the swell on approach you can admire the whipped foam topping. Enki is creaming it under a well-reefed main and genoa. Very stable, autopilot very reliable. "Give me some gorillas to trim the sails and we'd be flying," says the skipper. He's a hard man to please, but if you push him he'll say he's happy. He loves his boat. "Look how balanced the wheel is," he says. "I can bend over and light a fag and it doesn't move." Of course, the ultimate boat performance test.

We're halfway across, give or take a few miles, and if the past few days are any indication, the second half of the voyage promises a much more respectable average speed. The skipper starts to get the wobbles if Enki's speed pushes 8.5 knots, but not nearly as often as the woman at the stove wobbles. This boat rocks. Cooking is an extreme sport, involving lunges towards a sliding pot, lurches after runaway cutlery, juggling a stack of fridge baskets, damming a cascade of plastic lids and containers, moving non-slip mats around the bench with the speed of a hockey player dribbling a puck. I think I've got as many bruises as a hockey player now too.

Are we having fun? Of course. I'm not bored yet (that was my hope - that the weather would be so benign that the boat sailed itself and boredom set in). It's busy out here. Nothing to see but waves and clouds (and right now, dolphins), nothing to do but keep a boat moving west. But there are "jobs". Running the generator, checking the lines for chafe, baking, sprouting (mung beans, beards). Even pulling on your wet weather gear and clipping the toys, as we call the personal AIS, personal EPIRB etc, onto your harness, takes a good 15 minutes. Getting a clear run with the HF radio is sometimes an all-day effort. Until the swell made it so wretched, I've been keen in the kitchen. We read to go to sleep - and we seem to often be trying to go to sleep. With this iffy weather the option of catnapping in the beanbag in the cockpit during the night watch is closed. All eyes on the dials. I've re-discovered the pleasure of having stories read to me. Last night I put an ear bud in one ear, selected my story from the New Yorker short fiction podcast, and listened in stereo to the story and the wind and the waves. It's rare to see a ship now, but of course we need to keep checking because sometimes, believe it or not, you are where you don't want to be. Last night Amy C on her way to Rotterdam altered course in order to avoid us, after Alex contacted the bridge by radio. What are the chances in this wild ocean?

We've got a cute algorithm on the chart plotter which calculates our ETA, depending on our boat speed. Some times it says we're going to arrive on the 18th, sometimes on the 19th, sometimes on the 16th. Such information is meaningless, and contrary to the spirit of the endeavour. It's just a bit of fun. We've still got 1400 miles to go to Antigua. That's a few more changes of wet weather gear in the dead of night.

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