Tuesday, 13 January 2015

It's swell, really

There was a point yesterday when I decided that this had gone on long enough. I'm not fidgety or bored or deprived in any way (except of course of 8 hours of solid sleep). No, it's more a temperament thing. I'm just not zen enouugh. Not blissed out, Moitessier-ed (after the nomadic Frenchman who did for crossing oceans what Jack Kerouac did for being on the road). From everything I've read and been told about long ocean passages, there is a state of being you arrive at where you just want to keep sailing. The non-watery world loosens its pull on you. That's always quite appealed to me.

I imagine the zone feels like a good yoga class. Pain recedes (exhaustion too), time is suspended, your mind slows down and you focus on what is immediately to hand. In yoga, that's your breathing and your body's balance. On the ocean, that's the impact of the wind and the waves on your boat. It's probably easier to get in the zone without all the electronic gizmos which are the interface we elect to use now and which make modern boating safer, more comfortable and less fraught. Alex is always telling me I'm a romantic who would wilt at the first abrasion on my hands from salt-encrusted hemp lines and sodden canvas sails. He's right, but I'm all for seeking some romance in this adventure of ours.

I find it in the swells. I especially love them in the morning when the sun is still low in the east and for a millisecond before a hefty watery mountainside collapses on itself, you get a flash of translucent aquamarine on its crest, and the breaking tips of the waves appear lit from the inside. I love the flying fish too, those tiny winged silver missiles which skim and ride the air currents above the troughs.

The high seas in high spirits are a magnificent sight when the sun's out, but not so appealing in the pitch black, when the wind is swinging around under the clouds, not to mention rain spilling out of above clouds. We've had a pretty rough time of it this past week. I don't know how the mythical bath-tub sailor gets on in such conditions, but we've been working the boat and ourselves hard. You need a cool head to gybe a big boat in any conditions, but especially so in strong trade winds.

I knew that trade winds were brisk and constant. That's why sailors love them. You need a bit of oomph to push along a big ship (I'm thinking here of all the thousands of big sailing ships which have plied this route since Columbus). But that trade winds come in various strengths, like coffee, is something I hadn't fully realised. I'd expected Force 4 or 5 (using the Beaufort scale), but for the past six days and nights we've been served up Force 7 and 8. The ristretto level of trade winds, rather than the Americano.

We don't mind strong wind. We've been making very good speed. Even with her sails well-reefed down, Enki is a powerful boat. It's a thrill to feel her slice a straight furrow through the water, and surge across a wave face, to appreciate her balanced sail trim (thanks Alex) and how responsive her autopilot is 95% of the time. However, there's been no slacking around since the very strong trades blew in. The person on watch is truly on watch, keeping an eye on swell angle, wind shifts, approaching squalls, potential autopiliot flipout... I'm hoping to get back to those nights where I settled myself into the beanbag on the floor of the cockpit, in front of the wheel, so as I could see the instruments when I looked up from my book...and in the early hours, I even managed to catnap with an alarm clock in my hand set for 20 mins hence.

Tonight, finally, the winds are weakening, and there's supposed to be a touch of south sneaking in on Friday. That'll blow us straight towards landfall sometime next Sunday (18 Jan), or perhaps later. There's time still to get in the zone.

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