Day 34: bewinded again

Humpfh, as my good friend the lovely Ulrika would say! That’ll teach me to moan about the lack of wind as it gave me a bit of a runaround last night.

All day there had been little or no wind, puffing fitfully from the south-east which isn’t really much good to me as I’m trying to go east. It finally returned around 8pm, coming from the north-west now and giving me around 3-4 knots which is better than a poke in the eye I suppose.

Since it was also trickle-charging the batteries via the wind generator I decided to compromise with power and watch a film (Monsters Inc which was most enjoyable) and leave the radar off until I went to bed, going up on deck every 20 minutes to check for ships. Once I retired for the night at midnight I put the radar in watch mode with the screen brightness turned right down, which according to my ammeter uses just 2.2 amps, as opposed to 4.5 on full brightness.

Before going to bed I started to re-read Francis Chichester’s account of his solo transatlantic race in 1960, and it must have inspired me as when the wind changed around 3am I sensed it in my bones and got dressed and ready for action. It’s all a bit of a blur but I found we were charging off to the north so I had to gybe, which is a real pain as it means releasing the preventer lines on both booms, hauling in the main and mizzen sheets, releasing the Monitor wind vane and engaging the autopilot, starting a turn of 90 degrees (to starboard in this case), waiting for the main boom to swing across before letting the sheet out, ditto for the mizzen, releasing the windward genoa sheet and pulling in on the leeward one, re-rigging the preventer lines on the other side of the boat, trimming the sails and fiddling with the Monitor to get it settled on the new course, and finally engaging it and disengaging the autopilot. Phew! What a lark!

It took about 30 minutes and don’t forget it’s pitch black, raining, and the boat’s heaving around like a wild thing, and I’ve just got out of my nice warm snug bed. However rather than being my usual grump I congratulated myself on my motivation as normally I’d just let it do it’s own thing and carry on sleeping. I think as I’m now so close to France I want to get there as quickly as possible, so am prepared to go through a little hardship now and then.

Mind you, I only said a little hardship, so as I settled back in my bunk I fully expected a nice uninterrupted night’s sleep. Actually I should mention that around 1am I’d been woken by the radar warning me of a ship overtaking me about 3 miles to starboard and had stayed up until it was clear, so I hadn’t had more than a couple of hours sleep and wanted lots more.

So needless to say I was dismayed to sense the wind gradually increasing and the motion of the boat getting more violent as it picked up speed and started crashing through the growing waves. It kept me awake until 6am, by which time it was very noisy indeed and all hope of sleep had long since fled into the murky half light of dawn.

Coming up on deck I saw that the wind had shifted again and we were now heading south at 8 knots. Argh! We’re clearly doomed to sail up and down without ever actually making any headway towards our destination. The wind had picked right up to what felt like a force 6 or 7, but my wind instrument gave up the ghost soon after Irene and now just vaguely indicates roughly where the wind is coming from, but doesn’t even try to guess how fast it’s blowing, with the speed indicator reading zero.

Odyssey was clearly overpressed as she charged through the swells, spray flying everywhere. She’d come right up from a broad reach and was heading far too close to the wind, indicating too much weather helm which in turn means there’s too much sail up. I wound in some of the genoa but it was still too much, so reluctantly I clipped onto the lifeline and crawled up the heaving deck to put a reef in. Thank goodness I fixed that first reef point yesterday! By the way, I was also pleased to notice that my leak-plugging seems to have been a success and the rain stayed on the outside.

Back in the cockpit things still didn’t feel right and the wind seemed to have increased even more, howling through the rigging and blowing spray off the wave crests so it was probably around 30 knots or so. Heaving a weary sigh of one resigned to a night of hard labour I made my way up to the mast yet again and put in a second reef, which is no easy matter when the boat is leaping around all over the place. With a bit more taken in on the genoa she was far more settled and we came round onto a broad reach heading due east at a good 7+ knots.

By now it was 8am and time for breakfast, so I settled down with Francis Chichester and a big mug of tea to wait for the wind’s next little surprise. Thankfully it never came so I finally got back to bed around 9.30 and slept till 12, by which time the wind had eased and I could shake the reefs out again. We’re now making good progress which will make up for the last two days, when we covered only 100 miles in 48 hours.

I tell you all this just to prove that I do occasionally do a bit of the sailing stuff, despite appearances. I know sometimes I just can’t be bothered, but I must admit it does feel good when I’ve had to brave the elements and get the boat under control again when I could have pulled the covers over my head and waited for it all to go away.

To cheer me up this afternoon I had my first ever sighting of a big whale, which came up around 200 metres away and snorted at me. It was huge, at least 40 feet and possibly as big as Odyssey but it’s really hard to tell. It followed me for a few minutes then gave a final sigh and disappeared, leaving me in the company of a gaggle of tatty looking seagulls.

Despite lack of sleep I’m feeling jolly happy as France is now just 500 miles away, the sun is shining, the sea’s calmed down a bit, and there’s an empty packet of chocolate chip cookies blowing around at my feet 🙂

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