"Harry" has been missed more than we could ever have imagined - as the old saying goes - you don't realise how much you rely on something until you don't have it any more.
It wasn't that we had used the autopilot that much in the first 1,000 miles of the trip - we had probably hand steered 950 of those miles anyway - but what we perhaps didn't fully appreciate at the time, was just how invaluable those short "autopilot assisted" breaks are when sailing 2 handed - the chance to pop below to make an occasional cup of coffee, someone to steer whilst reefing or hoisting and lowering sails, or simply just a short 5 minute break from the relentless concentration needed when steering dead down wind in fresh winds and big seas for days on end.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the last 1,500 miles we have sailed since the loss of our autopilot, have been as hard as any sailing we have ever undertaken - not because the conditions in themselves have been especially difficult - but because they have waged a steady and relentless "war of attrition" on our reserves of concentration and staying power. The conditions have been such that we could not let our concentration waver for even a microsecond second when on the helm - any lapses would have instantly been punished by at best a crash gybe, and at worse a broken boom/spinnaker pole and/or torn sails.
When we ran into a massive wind hole on the evening of Day 17 we must have been the only crew in the whole fleet that was actually rejoicing!! At last it gave us a chance to relax a little for the first time in almost 7 days. With a light wind on the nose for much of the day, the boat largely sailed itself, leaving us free to indulge in the almost forgotten luxury of making ourselves a cup of coffee whilst on watch, and even have something resembling a conversation on watch changes, rather than a few snatched words before collapsing into one's bunk!
By nightfall, the wind had died to nothing and we were going nowhere - so rather than waste any more valuable reserves of energy just to get perhaps 0.25 of a knot of boat speed out of her, we simply hove to for the night and got some much needed rest.
Although we now only have 350 miles left to run to St Lucia, they will not be easy ones. The NE trade winds appear to have deserted us, leaving in their wake largely light and variable winds for the next 4 or 5 days at least - or at least that is what the GRIB files are promising us. There is no obvious strategy for avoiding these, other than to make the best use of what little wind we have got.
In reality the wind over the last 12 hours has actually been more steady and favourable than expected- allowing us to cover 50 miles in the last 12 hours - not stunning when compared to our previous daily averages, but something that we didn't even dare dream of when we first downloaded the weather forecast for today.
No one one board is even daring to think about exactly when it will be that we have the first rum punch in hand - that would be tempting fate too much - but we are moving again and are heading in the right direction - we can't ask for more than that!