Jack Rowland Smith - Log Day 11 - JACK Rowland Smith - Trials and Tribulations

Not him again I hear you say...... well “him” it is but there was some talk yesterday about others taking over the log for one episode but clearly not this one!!! Watch this space

Day 11 and the position point has not moved for the untrained (or even partially trained) eye and yes, we are still in the middle of the Atlantic. However the stats are 1,800 miles sailed, 1,100 to go.

The morning started well enough, albeit our overnight run had been down on miles because the wind was very light and variable. Dropped night miles are usually pointed out by worried family at home, rightly concerned that we may have lost our way in the dark and either tried to anchor (not really practical in 4.000 feet of water) or just followed the wind around in circles (very possible). “John the Router” has been known to pass the odd comment or two about our nightly stats verses the rest of the fleet as well but we normally receive these after 3.00pm Spanish time when he gets up, by which time we have moved on. So responses to the email barrage yesterday were “yes everything is ok but the wind was rubbish and the flogging sails kept everyone up”. We have however now learnt our lesson and we are not risking life and limb flying through the night at maximum power. We have a double reefed main and jib and that keeps us comfortable and safe but not overly fast.

First job of the day, pole out the jib as we had run overnight without it which, in hindsight, was a mistake. Skipper goes on deck to attach the pole, rare for the skipper to be seen doing manual tasks on the foredeck but I was finishing my watch and so could delegate the task:-) Skipper returned shortly afterwards looking very puzzled with a large shackle in his hand (alas no pin) that he had found lying on foredeck. For those who are less family with such “kit”, a shackle is used on boats to attach important things together. So finding one on deck is not a good sign because it was certainly not dropped a passing flying fish, it came from somewhere aloft!! “I have found the shackle that we lost from the topping lift a few days ago” announces skipper triumphantly, “no you haven’t because I found that two days ago” I respond.

One of the many issues in undertaking a trip such as this is the wear and tear on the boat including the halyards, the rigging and anything else that is in constant use. Everything wears quickly and is under constant pressure. Many boats will carry out a mast inspection at some point during the journey where some poor unsuspecting crew will be “nominated” to go up the mast, usually very tall and swaying in large circles, and check everything is ok. These “nominees” usually have characteristic such as being small in size, light (wouldn’t want to strain those left on deck), knowledgable, foolhardy and serving a forfeit for previous misdemeanours. To this point in our trip we had not discussed the possibility of undertaking such a task albeit I would suggest the likely nominee would not be Skipper (knowledgeable?), Chef Sue (no misdemeanours.......), Ben (the special one and a minor), Clare ( sick goes a long way from that height).........George the autopilot?

So back to the matter in hand, binoculars are out and being trained at the top of the swaying mast to try and figure the likely previous location of the shackle. On the positive side the mast is still standing and the sails are still up so it cannot be terminal. We conclude, with no concrete evidence, that the shackle was likely a spare left on the furling equipment when the rigging was changed but we are not absolutely sure. This got us discussing a mast inspection and the likely “mast monkey” did offer to go but skipper was not having any of it as it is not without some pretty significant risk and we were not at risk. However the matter of wear and tear has yet to be fully accessed on JACK and will likely only be if we have a real problem or once we are in St Lucia. Fingers crossed no monkey business will be required and we are sailing in the safe knowledge that all the rigging and all the halyards were replaced before the trip and we have double of everything up top (good job skipper).

On the matter of breakages, the tally so far for those interested in such statistics; a badly damaged boom (our fault), a number of broken battens in the main sail (probably our fault), a bent spinnaker pole end (more a design issue than failure) and Chef Sue has some toe nail paint chippings......... The only other issue is George, who had another hissy fit last night at midnight when we were careering along at 8 knots on a dead run. So clearly that gremlin is more than just an IT Helpdesk “switch it off and switch it on again” issue. And there is no pattern to the problem either other than it has to be dark, windy and at the point of sailing we are most exposed.

The fragility and enormity of what we are doing was brought home just before dinner when we received a “Pan Pan” email from race control reporting that a boat (not in the ARC) had hit a whale with its rudder and the damage included the boat taking on water. You can legislate for many things but not hitting a whale!!! We hope the boat and crew are safe and they are able to make safe onward passage. Conversation at the dinner table was a little more muted than normal as we discussed whether we really did want to see whales and surely dolphins are good enough!

Another worrying finding is a fault in our watch system, or maybe certain individuals’ understanding of the word “watch”. So we are in theory 4 hours on watch and 8 hours off watch and watches are split between Skipper, Ben/Chef Sue and me. The 20.00 - 24.00 watch keepers have now twice been caught laptop set up, earphones on and are certainly “watching”, not the boat or the horizon, but the latest blockbuster. Skipper never defined what a “watch” actually constituted before the trip, clearly fatal mistake......... this being said we have seen no sign of boats, ships or even airplanes in eight days now so the need for really avid watching is not so high.

Day 11 was a day of frustration for me. A trip like this will always have its highs and lows and it is a long time away and in a confined space with no real means of escape. We are lucky that this is a family boat so we knew what we were letting ourselves in for and we all get on, albeit the “Are you alright darling Ben” or “what would you like for pudding darling Ben” from Auntie Chef Sue is becoming a little to difficult to bare!!! Other boats have a paying crew going along for the ride, if you do not get on with someone then it is a long time in a small space. Yesterday was the first day when I thought, this is a long trip.

My thoughts had nothing to do with the crew I hasten to add, rather the conditions/situation we often find ourselves in being restricted in what we can do. After poling out the jib first thing yesterday the light wind started to once again veer east and then even slightly south of east. As a result of our gybing angle and the waves, this left us steering further and further away from where we wanted to go which is broadly due west. For most boats this situation, whilst not ideal, is not a big issue because they would sail with their best course and then, after a while, gybe back and go back the other way so the average course is achieved. Obviously no real option for us, so we just have to accept our predicament and carry on and that is frustrating and irritating especially if you are tired, which we all are. To keep the speed up we once again shook the 2nd reef out iof the main, not a popular move in certain camps who think it is foolhardy given the damage, but on balance we now have a process sorted so we can do it minimising the potential impact. This being said, we reversed the manoeuvre just before dark and forgot to loosen a key rope and came close to fulfilling our own prophesy...... however all is now better because by 4.00pm the wind had started to back and we were able to slowly change course back towards our destination and the frustration and irritation was lifted. Until the next time.......

So what does this all mean. Well the forecast is for the wind to go light and the winds are now more Easterly in direction rather than the traditional North Easterly. There is therefore no doubt we will have to gybe and run a day or so south again. Unless we are forced we will do this on a light wind day to minimise risk and we plan to leave it as late as possible just in case........ if the boom does break the less miles left the better.

And to finish a couple of thoughts. At some point today, probably later this afternoon, we will have less than 1,000 miles to run and for those who have enquired via email about the purchase of peerages for the Independent State of Jack, these are available but the currency is wine.....

Let’s hope for some fairer winds today and some dolphins (forget the whale request)

Nick (Nominated Mast Monkey)