In a few days I will see land again. I can’t wait to see it. 3 1/2 months since I last saw land, that was the Cape Verdes and even then I didn’t get a good look as it was hazy so I could only see the outline and no detail. I have no doubt that it’ll be incredibly tempting to stop when I get to Hobart, but at least when I leave I’ll be on my way home. Plus, I’m really looking forward to the Pacific; I just hope it’s a nicer ocean to cross than the Indian has been.
The last four months have had a bit of everything. From the Canaries to the Equator, it was super downwind sailing, with only a few calms as we passed the doldrums. I was always nervous that I would get stuck in a windless hole for weeks, but the northeasterly trades turned to the southeast trades with barely a break. From there it was the long beat south. I had been debating whether to go the traditional route and go to the west with the wind more abeam or go east and be hard on the wind which is a shorter route. The St Helena high was far from stationary so I ended up meandering down the middle and not committing to either route. It would have been fine but at the end of the trades I got some south-easterlies and made a huge mistake and went east on them instead of continuing south to 40º. Because I did that I got stuck in the variables for weeks. It was just calm after calm. Easily the most frustrating time so far. A glassy sea, not a ripple of wind day after day. I was tearing my hair out, kicking myself for not having gone south. It was such a relief to finally get to 40 degrees south and past the Cape of Good Hope. To begin with the Indian Ocean gave more easterlies and calm days than westerlies. To look at the chart every day and barely move my fix, was hard work. Not even a third of the way round the world and progress was painfully slow. Half way to Australia though it got better, but the weather is so unstable in the Indian Ocean. It can change with no warning. One day I was sailing along quite happily with 15 knots from the north; luckily I was on deck because in the blink of an eye I had 40 knots from the southwest. I had full sails up so the boat was flattened. At first I just stared at the mainsail in the water waiting for my brain to catch up with the new wind. Then I couldn’t decide whether I should drop the headsail or main first so everything came down at once. I’ve had a few of these sudden wind shifts, they are still unpredictable but my brain now works straight away instead of lagging behind. Most common though is a calm of a couple of hours between a wind shift, much more civilised I think. It makes flying the kite a little harder I find. In the Atlantic I would quite happily leave the kite up overnight but here if I have a kite up then it’s a sleepless night. I have still been caught out and had to wrestle to get the bugger down. It would be so much better to have a sock to hoist and drop, easier anyway, but race rules sadly don’t allow. Hoisting is fine because the kite is just wooled (short pieces of wool which hold it together while being hoisted) but dropping it is interesting on my own, especially because I tend to leave the kite up for a little too long as I don’t like the drop.
From a sailing point of view, the Atlantic was easy in the trades. I would have the same sails for days or weeks and only trim them, but in the Southern Ocean I can go from full sails with kite to the storm jib and deep-reefed main in the space of hours and back again. There’s more to do in the South which is great but I do miss the warmth of the trade winds.
Since the South Atlantic, albatrosses have been almost daily visitors. I was mighty excited seeing the first one as I’d never seen one before. Shearwaters, petrels and albatrosses are always here unless there’s a calm, then I don’t see them. I love having their company, but they keep trying to take my fishing hook so I’ve had to pull it close to the boat. It’s probably the reason I’m not catching anything here.
I was really looking forward to getting under Cape Leeuwin, to me it was a big milestone. For 3 days leading up to it I’d had a lot of wind so was doing some good consistent speeds. The night I rounded it, I opened a bottle of wine I’d been given to mark the occasion. I only had a tiny bit as I don’t really drink much at sea. Next milestone: Hobart, I thought. Only a few hours later I got a text from the race saying to head north to avoid a storm ahead. I had a NNE wind and a 4-5 metre sea so my northing was minimal. The storm was forming ahead of me, to the northeast. It wasn’t your typical Southern Ocean storm, it was small and incredibly vicious. Having no modern forecasting technology onboard I would not have known about it until I was in it as it developed incredibly quickly. It was suggested that I sail west away from the centre so I didn’t end up in the middle of the storm. I took the advice and sailed west back along my track. Losing all those precious miles for 12 hours. But to not be in the centre of a 70+ knot storm it was all I could do, but not so easy to be sailing backwards that’s for sure. If I had been sailing the right direction it would have been a great sail but I was totally lost as to what to do. I kept getting really confused with the north now being to the right as opposed to the left and the sun being on the wrong side, it just felt so wrong. When the NNE wind died and the calm before the storm came there was nothing I could do but wait. Everything was stowed and lashed down so we just rolled in the swell watching the sky. An eerie feeling. It’s horrible waiting for a storm that you know is coming.
By going west I avoided being in the worst of it for 6-8 hours; instead I got 2-3 hours of the height of it. In total, it lasted for 14-16 hours, with 70+ knots and 12-13 metre seas. I don’t really want to write about that storm right now; some stage I will but for 10-11 hours I was at the helm - because a tube on my self-steering had snapped - a decision that still really bothers me. I collapsed in my bunk when it had calmed to 40-45 knots and thought … “What am I doing here!?”…
The days following the storm were the hardest of the whole voyage. The sea was still large at 7-9 metres and the wind between 30 and 40 knots. Swell was coming from every direction so it was the most confused I had ever seen the sea. It meant that the boat could not be stern-to every wave so we were constantly beam-on to the swell and with the wind vane playing up not being able to properly fix it in that size sea we just got knocked down constantly. To say I’d had enough by this point is an understatement. They were the hardest and loneliest days I’ve ever had. All I wanted was a break from it. But being under Australia, half the world from home I might as well sail home again instead of taking a break. So in 4-5 months’ time, that’s where I’ll be, home. And hopefully the toughest times of the trip are left behind, between the South Atlantic variables and Australia. I would have written more about the voyage to date but my lovely brother Nick will be typing up my scribbled handwritten blog so I will save the rest of the stories for when I’m back at a computer.