Day 21 (Saturday 09 September 2017)
Life in the Doldrums and The Coolest Place to Sleep
The last few days have blurred together. We entered the doldrums corridor and then declared our intention to motor for 60 hours. Once this was done we were committed and had to do this. When the time came to start motoring we were still sailing along nicely at 11 knots but had to slow down to the 6 knots required motoring speed.
The watch system changes while we are motoring. There is no need for a full watch to motor the boat in a straight line. This presents the issue that there are not enough bunks for all the off-watch people so makeshift sleeping positions appear wherever possible with everyone trying to find the coolest place to sleep.
This does become a really uncomfortable phase of the race. Wherever you are below decks, you are sweating in the heat. On deck, there is nowhere comfortable to sit or lie. The deck is hot and hard and the best place seems to be lying on the sails at the bow, at a risk of getting splashed with warm sea water every now and again! Several of us are feeling the strain, not feeling well which does not help the tolerance levels.
Silly things are still being done by the crew. We had another block in the heads because someone put too much toilet paper down the bowl. A highly unpleasant process to put right. Switches in the nave station keep being turned on and off, seemingly at random. Someone has been playing with the Sat-Comms causing them to be left on consuming the boat’s data allowance. All these small things cause unnecessary aggravation for others. It has also transpired, as we are motoring, that when we left Liverpool, one of our four diesel fuel tanks was empty, so we have a lot less fuel on board than we thought.
As we continued south the expected wind hole never appeared. This meant that we would have been better not declaring and not motoring. More frustration. Watching the position reports, it seems that all the fleet in the corridor are progressing at a similar rate. We are still the most westerly of the fleet which we hope will be an advantage when we get to the other end. We are having to sail straight into a southerly wind and battle head-on into the waves. This means that we are using far more fuel than expected for this journey. Yesterday it was calculated that we now have a severe shortage of fuel.
The way the Doldrums Corridor works means that we can travel for no more than 6 degrees of latitude, 360 nautical miles, and must motor for 60 hours. The intention was to increase our speed for the final half a day to reach as far as we are allowed within the time period. With this lack of fuel, we now can’t do that which is annoying. We could have gained a couple of places from that one manoeuvre. This also means that we have to live with reduced generator usage from now until the end of the race. We have used the last of our initial tank fuel in getting to the end of the doldrums motoring section. We are now on reserve fuel which has been transferred from the jerry cans in the Lazarette into one of the fuel tanks. We should have just enough fuel to keep our batteries charged provided we don’t use too much electricity from the batteries each day. So this will mean cutting down on fresh-water usage, no more laundry and better dishwashing routines, no more use of the toaster (a good thing in my opinion as it means less eat in the galley at breakfast), and the absolute minimum of charging portable devices. At our daily crew meeting it was suggested that we stop all device charging apart from those we are required to charge, i.e. the media devices. However, too many people are clearly too attached to theirs to let this idea be passed! However needs will be met, so while both my laptop and phone have 40% battery life now, once they have died that will probably be the end of my electronic recording of the race.
Last night we did come to the end of our motoring section so we are now under sail again. I have had a long rest, though not much sleep, and am feeling much better this morning. We now start racing to the end of the corridor and then to Punta, only 2,800 miles away now!
Day 22 (Sunday 10 Sept 2017)
Out of the Doldrums and into the South-East Trade Winds
This feels like the last part of this race. We are out of the Doldrums corridor and into the South-East Trade Winds which will blow us all the way to Punta del Este. Unfortunately, our position in the race has dropped back to 9th place. The boats to the East of us have had better wind a better wind angle so, although they had further to travel, they have all caught up with us. Additionally, we had some poor helming in the latter parts of the corridor which meant that we were travelling east and west, and not south.
The wind has been too much to the south to be an advantage for us. We are sailing close-hauled into both the wind and the waves. This makes for choppy conditions with the occasional, but too frequent, splashing of everyone in the cockpit area as we plough into a wave. At least the sea is warm but as night falls most decide that foulie sallopettes and breeze jackets are the best option rather than getting another salt-water soaking. I had a rain-water soaking last night as we went through a rain-storm while putting two reefs in the main sail. I was soaked to the skin but in the morning, putting on damp shorts and t-shirt, my shorts looked and felt much cleaner and the shirt felt much better than when it is salty.
It is strange how the time passes on board. Off watch is all about rest, food and drink. Drinking is especially important as I am finding that none of the drinks taste nice. I have almost stopped any tea or coffee. The squash tastes horrible and even the lemon and ginger tea tastes odd. It is therefore a struggle to keep hydrated. During the day, being on watch is busy as there are tasks to do and always the trimming to reassess. However, during the night watches, there is time to reflect and to come below to write blogs. Annoyingly, during the day I think of lots of things that I should write about, but come the evening, I don’t seem to be able to remember any of them.
There has been lot more cloud in the last day or so which with more wind means that the temperature in the boat has dropped slightly, which is a relief. During the last couple of off-watches, I have slept quite well.
Day 24 (Tuesday 12 Sept 2017)
Less Than A Thousand Miles to Rio – the end is in reach!
We have been on the same tack since we left the Doldrums Corridor, close-hauled into a SSE wind, and trundling along nicely. It makes the days and watches monotonous with no change in direction and very few sail changes. We had several attempts at sail changes, swapping the Yankee 3 for the Yankee 2 (larger than the Y3 for lighter winds) and shaking out a reef in the main sail only to have to put them all back as they were. We have times, usually during the night, when we are gaining on the rest of the fleet but other times when we are losing ground again. At today’s Skipper Meeting, Lance suggested that we extend the helming sessions to reduce the course wobbles that happen every time we change the Helmsman, and that, tomorrow morning, we try the Yankee 2 again to see if we can cope with the extra canvas consistently.
The wind is generally a consistent 15 – 20 knots although this can increase markedly when a squall comes through. It is funny how we can be sailing along nicely and then the wind seems to drop away slightly, lulling us into thinking that it is time to either shake a reef out or change to a larger head sail. Then suddenly, out of the clouds, we see the rain cloud and the winds increase again. This can be accompanied by changes in the wind direction so we have to both change course and ease the sails to make sure the boat is manageable.
It is now less than 1,000 miles to the next waypoint, just off Rio de Janeiro and from there we will have another 1,100 miles to Punta. Somehow this makes the end of this first race feel almost in reach. Spirits are generally high as the sailing is straight-forward and we are making good progress. However, there are some inter-watch frictions appearing, mostly our watch complaining about the other watch always being in the way when we are trying to get ready to come on watch.
Most of the time for the last few days, when on deck I have been wearing my Foulie Salopettes and water-proof jacket as the confused wave patterns mean that there are frequent inundations of spray. During the nights, these extra layers are fine anyway, and during the day they act not only as a water-proof layer but also as effective sun-screen!