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Khaleesi - Blog Day 23 - The Plight of the Night Watch

It is a funny thing, darkness. We have a policy on board Khaleesi that we hand steer most of the time, for two reasons: the first is the power required by the autohelm can be high especially if conditions are not good, and secondly we need to be practised in hand steering should anything go wrong with the autohelm. Steering during the day tends to be relatively easy, but a funny thing happens at night when the helm suddenly loses all visual references such as the sky or clouds or even the position of the bow relative to another boat. The only reference left is the compass in which you need to place all your trust, else you will be lost. The main culprit is the mind or the brain. Everyone has a built in compass but humans have lost the art of using it over the years. So at night, when the stars are hidden by a blanket of cloud, and the moon has not risen and all around you is black dark, your mind starts playing tricks on you and this can be very disconcerting. You sense that the boat has changed heading and a quick look at the compass confirms that you are now anything up to 60 degrees off course, due probably to the effect of wind and wave rather than your ability to steer. So you correct your heading by turning the wheel and your mind tells you that you are in fact altering course, but then you look at the compass and find that you have not changed course at all!! This is a very weird sensation, and sometimes you can feel that you are turning full circle when you are really only altering your direction by ten or twenty degrees. But follow the compass and you will get back to your heading. If you can perchance find a star to steer by that is on your heading, or the lights of another yacht that is on your course then all is well, but beware the darkness and your "natural instincts" as the sea can be a cruel master.

Then there are the noises; the faint rattle of a shackle on metal, or the creak of the boom as it rotates on the gooseneck, or the flap of the sail as it loses the wind and then snaps back into position as it catches the wind again. These are all familiar noises, but there are also the noises from the sea and these can be a little startling. There is the comforting whoosh of the hull as it moves through the water and the loud splash as she dips into a trough in the waves and throws up a plume of froth and hissing water that rushes past you. There are waves that rush towards you in the darkness that you can not see, but you hear the roar as it advances and you brace yourself for a good dowsing, only for the wave to break and pass behind you. Then there are the smaller waves that gasp and sigh beside you and sound like a person or something that has been holding their breath for too long and finds the surface just in time to take a big gulp of air. You peer into the darkness to see if there is a dolphin, or even a whale that is perhaps swimming alongside you, but you see nothing. It leaves a lingering doubt in your mind that you are alone and you remain a little on edge before accepting that maybe it was just the sound of the wave. Sometimes though it will be a marine creature, most probably a dolphin or dolphins, that will leave a trail of phosphorescence in the water like twisting snakes in the inky darkness.
Here we are on Day three of the passage from Santa Maria, having covered about 300 miles. We continue to be plagued by light airs,but we resisted the temptation to resort to our engine again, and have enjoyed some spells of 14 knot winds that have pushed us on at 7 knots. The bigger yachts with the advantage of greater sail area are well ahead of us, but we are happy that we are achieving a good boat speed relative to the wind speed, and that we can maintain the heading we want. So we are now Eastbound, and hope that as we approach the Portugese coast the current will pull us South, and the stronger winds will speed us along. However, we have a few miles to cover before that happens, and going through fog banks, and through squalls,adverse winds or waves will no doubt play a part in our decision making and our ability to make landfall in the desired timeframe. So the four of us, me, Allison, Pete and Merel Tonn who joined us in Santa Maria from Betalguise, will continue to stand our two hour watches and peer into the darkness to see if we really are alone!
Khaleesi at 6/11/2018 1:32 AM (utc) our position was 37°35.47'N 020°54.86'W

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