Day 37: stop the boat – I want to get off!

Sorry if I sounded a bit miserable yesterday, I wasn’t really, just feeling a bit frustrated at being so close to France but unable to make decent progress due to the annoying easterly wind. Once again I sailed about 100 miles in 24 hours but only managed to make 30 miles in the right direction.

By 10pm it was really getting to me as I was trying to watch a film but the boat kept pitching and rolling as though it were trying to throw me overboard. Maybe it’s had enough of me after five weeks at sea? Every few seconds the bow would rise up and there’d be a horrible pause, then a moment of weightlessness before gravity returned with a vengeance and we slammed down into the next trough with a crash and shudder that shook me to the bone every time.

Bearing in mind that Odyssey has a relatively conservative hull design with a fairly fine entry I would hate to think how a modern yacht with a flatter hull would have felt in these conditions, it would probably have been ten times worse as it slammed into every wave so I should be grateful for small mercies.

Finally I’d had enough and decided to stop for the night. Stopping in mid-ocean might sound a bit odd as you can’t just pull over into a layby. Anchoring is not an option either as it’s several thousand metres deep here so even if I tied every rope on the boat together I’d still have nowhere near enough.

Luckily there is a solution, which as I mentioned yesterday was practised in days of old and is every bit as useful today. It’s called heaving-to, and all you do is tack the boat but don’t release the jib sheet as you normally would. Once the boat has turned through the wind and the jib is pressed hard against the stays you bring the rudder back over as though you wanted to get back onto the original course, but since the wind is now pressing equally on the main and the jib you end up stopping dead in the water.

This worked perfectly so I lashed the wheel and sat back to see what would happen. Immediately the motion all but ceased and we bobbed gently over the waves which rolled quietly beneath us. We came around to face more or less west and drifted slowly downwind in that direction at about 1.5 knots which is as close to stationary as I could get. The force of the wind in the sails kept us from rolling and held us at an angle of about 5-10 degrees of heel so it was very comfortable indeed.

Heaving-to is a trick which is well worth getting to grips with as it can be a life-saver. It’s a survival tactic in storms and even in moderately rough weather if the crew are feeling seasick and can’t carry on then it’s a great way of taking a break from it all. Not all boats can do it so effectively, particularly some modern designs, but it’s another reason I chose Odyssey as her hull and rig are pretty much ideal for it. I didn’t have the mizzen up so don’t know what difference that would have made but it would probably have allowed me to trim things even better to reduce the downwind drift still further.

It was a huge relief to finally stop moving, so I treated myself to another glass of red wine and sat back in comfort and peace to read for a bit, finally retiring to my nice stable bed around midnight. One advantage of the strong wind for the last 24 hours is that the batteries are nicely topped up so I didn’t have to run the engine at all and could happily leave the radar on all night, which is good as several ships passed by with one coming within a couple of miles.

After a wonderful nights sleep I awoke at 8.30 feeling refreshed and ready for anything. That’s exactly why I decided to stop as I’m now approaching the coast where I’ll find a lot more shipping and will need my wits about me, so would rather sacrifice some speed as and when necessary to ensure that I’m all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. I guess that’s something Ellen MacArthur wished she could do on her epic voyage round the world, but she was racing against the clock so had to put up with ridiculously small amounts of sleep. Still, she made it, so it just goes to show what the body can take if you push it hard enough.

I have no intention of pushing myself at all thank you, and was delighted to find when I arose today that the wind had indeed veered still further and is now blowing from the south. I resumed my course and am now sailing directly towards La Rochelle at a good 7 knots. Today’s weather chart for the next 24 hours shows high pressure over Spain with a depression to the west of the UK so hopefully that’ll mean the wind will carry on veering to the west which would be great.

Now that we’re off the wind a bit the motion is a lot easier so I’ve got back to my sewing, which I can do in the cockpit as the sun is shining again. With a bit of luck I might even have it finished by the time I arrive! And since I’m now pretty much due south of the Fastnet Rock off southern Ireland I really feel I’m finally into European waters at last. Next stop France 🙂

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