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Skyelark of London - 6. A surreal world

6. A surreal world
It is ridiculous to jump happily into the deep end of a swimming pool but
feel apprehensive about diving into the ocean when the bottom is around
three and a half miles below - but you do. There is no real increased risk
but the mind plays tricks. Diving off Skyelark into a calm peerless ocean
caught one's breath. The water was a perfect temperature, there were no
nasties around - sharks or Portuguese men of war - and it was a bit saltier
than expected. But the blue was not just on the surface but if you opened
your eyes under water, the brilliant all encompassing colour stretched down
to the infinities below. The apprehension was justified; we were intruders
into a new and magical world.

That day the grey over cast and squally weather had gone and been replaced
by sunshine and fluffy clouds. A good breeze of 15 - 20 knots had seen us
on our way in the morning but the wind had suddenly died and the prospect of
a swim presented itself. It is dangerous swimming mid ocean as keeping a
boat stable and not drifting away from the swimmers is a challenge with
currents, big swells and a flukey wind, it has to be undertaken with care.
All sails down, engine on, no more than two people in the water at any one
time - but it is worth it. Just as the last of us was getting out the south
east trades returned - a quick fresh water rinse to get the salt off - and
we were on our way. All a delight.

The day before however had seen a few challenges. Getting up there was a
moderate sea and a steady wind of around 20 knots. Dan decided to put up the
old kite (spinnaker), a trusty soul who had seen Skyelark across the globe
but would soon be put out to pasture. Standing at the mast with Dan, he
asked me to clamp the kite head line, which I was releasing, the minute the
sail started to fill as we could not hold the tonnes of pressure that the
sail would then hold. I did it - but was aware that I only just did it in
time; it reinforced my awareness of the power of nature and how it needs to
be treated with care and respect. About 30 minutes later with Sjaak at the
helm there was an almighty sound as a particularly strong gust of 26 knots
had tested the fabric to its limit and torn it asunder. All hands on deck
to recover the two pieces of the kite - sail makers can do anything and will
repair - and stow it below while getting Skyelark back in proper trim.

The wind and squalls came and went that day. At one point it was calm enough
to take a shower so the generator was put on to heat water. (With its solar
panels, wind and hydro turbines, Skyelark is basically self sufficient in
the energy it needs for instruments, fridge and freezer, lighting, water
purifying etc. It is only when the prospect of a hot shower beckons that
extra umph is needed.) But the generator overheated - the water cooling
filter was blocked. Plastic - even out here in the middle of no-where!
Easily fixed - and showers beckoned. Dan and Em inspire confidence - they
know Skyelark and her little ways and the pills and potions to keep in her
medicine cabinet.

But the day had not ended. After a delicious meal of confit of duck , duck
fat roast potatoes, peas and with peach crumble and custard to follow - all
courtesy Dan and Em, we are doing a steady 9 knots in a 20 knot wind. Having
remarked that we were just about to pass the '666 miles to go mark', Sharon
and I are down below - our turn to wash up - when there is huge bang and the
sound of sails collapsing. 'All hands on deck' - twice in one day. The
Halyard in the mast, with which you pull up the sail, has snapped, chafed
through. The sail, all 50 ft of it, has sped down its runner and lies on the
deck and over the port side. Lines and sheets are everywhere. Em is at the
helm, the rest of us, Sharon, Hermann, Sjaak and me, are on the foredeck
following Dan's instructions and trying to get everything back under control
as darkness falls. Within half an hour, the old wire and line have been
removed and a different way has been found to raise the mainsail and we were
back on our course as if nothing had happened. Faith justified!

The culinary talent of everyone on board is astounding. There are no
prepared meals, and every third night the watch teams cook the evening meal.
You are given the food - like Ready Steady Cook - and told to get on with
it. Given the small galley and hob, the angle and the constant rocking and
rolling - sometimes music is played! - it is a triumph! Last night Sjaak's
tiramisu - he even made the sponge! - took the biscuit for best desert.
Sorry Dan. So we should all be fat pigs - but we are not. Even though there
is no space on a yacht to do any kind of exercise you are never still. Up
and down the hatch probably 30 times a day, crawling at an angle across the
deck to the safety of the cock pit, staggering wildly to the mast and
foredeck, reaching for clamps, bending, contorting, pulling on reefing lines
and sheets and not forgetting, in the confines of a very hot a sweaty
saloon, trying to get the enormous 'birthday kite' back in its bag - no mean
feat. . We are all pretty fit!

But there are strange goings on too. In the depths of the night Sharon and I
saw a huge black bird hovering over us. There have been a number sightings
of shooting stars but on Sjaak's and Hermann's watch they saw what they
described as a comet; it lit up the sky behind Skyelark - and was verified
by other yachts in the fleet. Quite large fish now keep appearing on deck on
the calmer nights but no-one knows how they get there - and the constant
noises and the sound of invisible people chattering and talking continue to
make me wonder at my own sanity. And as for me talking in the night to two
winches which, in the gloaming, look like two of our cats looking out to
sea - sea fever is obviously encroaching. I had better soon to shore before
madness truly sets in!

And this morning I hear Dan yell to Em 'Em, the do'nut has escaped. It is
knocking on the hull.....'. I bury my head in my pillow before I can find
our if they have let the dangerous creature in. I may be going nuts but it
is good to know I am not alone. But we are approaching the doldrums - the
horse latitudes - and that way madness lies!

Cabedelo, here we come!

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