Well, we are now over half way to St Lucia (based upon our planned route, heading south, close to the Cape Verde Islands) and have continued to benefit from moderate to strong north easterly winds, although we have now encountered two significant issues which have combined to cause us to lose time due to sailing under mainsail alone for a day and a half.
This week started around 6am last Sunday morning, when Fred heard a loud squeaking noise coming from the rudder mechanism, which is located directly underneath his berth. Complete dismantling of his and Andrew’s berths was required to allow further investigation. This showed that it was not a major problem and it was quickly solved with a liberal application of WD40. A suspected recurrence, later that day, caused the berths to be removed once again, only for the problem to be traced to the deck block for the genoa sheet, which was solved with a couple of squirts of SailKote.
Later on Sunday morning, when we were within about sixty miles of the most northerly of the Cape Verde Islands, we rigged the spinnaker pole so that we could try running dead down wind, with the genoa poled out on one side and the mainsail out on the other. It took us quite a while to get this set up to a point where we were completely happy with it and we managed a partial “wrap” of the genoa around the forestay in the process, which was quickly solved by turning in a full circle. This setup worked fine and we ran with it for about thirty hours before going back to a normal port tack in order to run slightly further south in an effort to benefit from the North Equatorial Current.
Monday was fairly uneventful, but Tuesday more than made up for it! When James and I came on watch at 2am, Alan and Alasdair reported that the speed had dropped from over 7 knots to just over five knots. However, the apparent wind was still about 20 knots and the reason for the reduction became clear when James went up into the cockpit and shouted down that the genoa was in the water alongside the boat! We quickly recovered it and secured it to the deck. The swivel in the snap hook that joins the top of the sail to the top of the furler mechanism had failed ( it had actually unscrewed!), causing the sail to drop down and out of the foil, where it had been blown over the rail and dragged into the water along the side of the boat. We decided to wait until daylight to do anything about it and carried on sailing under just the mainsail, albeit at reduced speed.
On Tuesday morning, Alan went up the mast to retrieve the halyard and the top swivel of the furler mechanism. This was no easy task, even for an experienced climber and mountaineer, given the rolling of the boat in fairly substantial swells and waves, and he now has an impressive array of bruises beginning to form, despite all of the precautions taken. After a brief recovery period, we replaced the broken swivel with a shackle and tried to hoist the genoa back into the furler foil. However, the wind was still quite strong, the feed in plate became detached from the foil and the bolt rope got jammed in the slot. This had happened when the new genoa was fitted, back in 2009, when it was simply stuck in place with tape. That was fine when working in the marina, but was not really effective when bouncing up and down in big waves and running into a strong wind! Anyway, between duckings from waves coming over the bow, we eventually got it back down and secured on deck. We decided to carry on sailing under mainsail alone for the time being, while we waited for the wind to fall before trying again. Showers and clothes washing were the next activities for the three of us who had enjoyed the (not altogether unpleasant) salt water duckings at the bow!
On Wednesday morning, the wind was slightly lighter so we stowed the genoa below decks and replaced the feed in plate in the furler foil, securing it with a jubilee clip and covering it all in gaffer tape. We then managed to raise the jib, while running downwind this time, in order to reduce the apparent wind effect. We then gybed to run back slightly north of west in order to continue benefitting from the North Equatorial current, hoping that things would be “plain sailing” for the next few days, which would see us reach our half way point at some time on Thursday morning.
Wednesday also seemed to be noticeably hotter than previous days, even quite early in the morning, so we celebrated the day’s minor achievements with ice lollies. These have become our latest treats, with apple, blackcurrent and orange flavoured ones currently on offer, the only problem being that we just can’t make them fast enough to keep up with demand (mine, especially)!
The wind continued to ease during Wednesday afternoon, so we switched back to poled out jib with the mainsail out on the other side. The jib actually works better poled out than the genoa, being just the right size to fill the triangle when fully unfurled. We ran this configuration overnight, when the wind continued to fall to less than 15 knots.
On Thursday morning, towards the end of our 8 to 10 am watch, James and I furled the white sails, put the pole away and raised the cruising chute for the first time this trip (and the first time since it was repaired following our little “incident” off Cape Finisterre). Alan and Alasdair were busy down below, rewashing the fruit and vegetables and discarding those that had started to perish. Fred and Andrew were also busy down below, sleeping through the first part of their watch, yet again!
With a little tweaking, we were soon running at between 8 and 9 knots, as the wind had picked up to around 20 knots, more or less in the direction of St Lucia. James and I celebrated with late breakfast ice lollies (well, they were made with breakfast apple and orange juice). We have been running like that for the last few hours, and at almost exactly noon, we reached the point where we were half way to St Lucia. Unfortunately, (or, appropriately?) half the crew were in bed, but we shot a couple of short celebratory videos and I had another ice lolly! (You will have spotted the recurring theme by now, I suspect.) We are planning celebratory pancakes this afternoon, with steak stew for dinner, followed by cake, all washed down with a ration of chilled coke from our limited stocks.
It was so hot today that we decided to put the bimini up for the first time (in several years). This means that it is now pleasantly cool in the cockpit, rather than being unbearably hot. In fact, it is probably now the coolest part of the boat and I suspect that it may well stay up until we leave the boat, whenever and wherever that turns out to be. I should just say here that we’re all really sorry to hear that it’s so cold for those of you back in Scotland!
For the numerically inclined amongst you, we did 9 miles from leaving the marina, including the start, to noon on the first day. The subsequent daily noon-to-noon log mileages have been 187, 142, 174, 174, 178, 174, 153, 156 and 145, so we have sailed 1,492 miles “through the water”. Our total projected (gps) route mileage was 2,892 and at noon today we still had 1,446 miles to go, meaning that we had achieved half distance. I think that we have actually made quite good time, to cover this distance in almost exactly nine days. However, the wind is currently forecast to be a bit lighter again over the next few days, so it may well take us a bit more than another nine days to complete the second half of the trip, ignoring any other problems that we may encounter along the way.