Saturday, 3 January 2015

Poled out

This run across the Atlantic via the Canary Islands is generally considered to be a bit of a cakewalk . You could do it in a bathtub, I heard one Frenchman say on the dock. Just a matter of going south until the butter melts, at which point you hang a left and keep going till you hit the other side. Once you've set your sails you hardly need touch them for the next 2000 miles. It's downwind all the way, a sleigh ride on the great ocean swells under a blue sky ranged with rows of cottonwool balls. The tradewinds clouds. These are the stories anyway.

The butter's got no show of melting yet. We're still bundled up on night watch - I can't find enough scarves and hats and gloves to keep out the chill. There are no clouds of any sort in the sky, which is hazy and dull, and all surfaces on the boat are again covered in fine red Sahara dust. But we've turned left anyway. We're now 200 miles due north of the Cape Verde islands, heading due west on latitude 21 degrees north.

We turned towards the Caribbean on the evening of 2 January, after five days of idling our way down the west African coast in very light winds. That easy start gave us a chance to bed down a few important routines. Like when to go to sleep, and when to stay awake. We got the teamwork at the mast happening while the swell was negligible (and I learned the meaning of the word belay - belatedly). The pole on Enki is heavy, but it's manageable if the lines are properly set up and you know which to pull and in which order. Alex did the brainwork, I provided the brawn (true).

More dolphins came by. The sea was calm enough for us to go up to the bow, and peer down at them riding the bow wave and flipping over on their pale tummies to cast an eye up at the crowd. On New Year's Eve we opened a miniature bottle of Spanish bubbles under a nearly full moon and toasted years past, and the year about to begin. We wished for more wind.

Now we've got it...20+ knots from the east. The genoa is poled out to starboard, and the brand spanking new main flung way out on the port side, the boom held in check against gybing by the all-star team of boom brake and preventer line. We're peeling away the miles. There are so many of them, but the days are not long enough, and the nights pass. The swells are not so huge, but I may have missed my chance to stew the quinces in the pressure cooker and I've put away the tapestry. Now it's all about keeping things in one place as the boat rolls from side to side.

For those of you with an interest in power generation (hands up please), the word from OTS is that you can never have enough. Even with the wind generator spinning madly, and over-sized solar panels hung out to absorb electrons, we can't keep up with the boat's needs, not remotely. After the morning date with the HF radio, the generator goes on - and remarkably, given the 2 to 3 metre swell, we have been able to make water at the same time. The sail trimmer has the boat beautifully balanced. Eat your heart out, ye hard-core cruisers. This morning I had a hot shower and washed my hair (admittedly it was a challenge to stay upright, and the pleasure lay not so much in the lather as in completing the task with the only breakage being a plastic lid).

Until now, the longest passage we'd made together had been 7 nights at sea. So cakewalk or not, this is big for us, and we're taking it all very seriously. The 72-hour forecast is for more of the same along our route (amen to that, there's next to no traffic now on the AIS, and Enki II is honking along like she's made for ocean-going. Which of course she is. Her small, but committed crew would like to register gratitude to the Swedes who make these fine sailing vessels, and only wish that more of you could join us on night watch under the stars and the bright New Year moon.

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