Tuesday 6th December 2016
24/11/2016 – Tales from Xplorer Part 2 – Into the Tropics”
We have just crossed 23 degrees N, the Tropic of Cancer. Yes folks, we are now in the Tropics – Yippee! Break out the swimsuits and sun cream! Err….not quite, it is more like a miserable day on the Isle of Wight – windy, overcast and raining, break out the foulies and hot chocolate!
A strange aroma has started to emanate from “The Bamford Suite”, worryingly, from the skipper’s bunk. Fortunately, the source has been identified as two gently rotting cabbages stored thereunder. Simple fix – last night’s dinner had to include cabbages. Only problem was it was Tom’s turn to cook, and it would be fair to say he is far from the Michelin star level in the kitchen. Turns out that fried rotting cabbage is not as bad as you might imagine!
We have been spoilt for wildlife recently, with dolphins joining us every evening as we enjoy our “sundowner” beers – maybe they can smell it? Last night saw a group of about twenty playing around the bows, and at night they have given us some beautiful displays, with phosphorescence pouring out behind them. It is worth coming out here just to see that! *
Anna spotted our first flying fish at lunchtime, remarkable little creatures that soar for huge distances between the waves. We will have to inspect the deck for them each morning as they have a tendency to throw themselves onto the boat overnight, and can be pretty smelly by morning. On the delivery from Gibraltar down to Las Palmas Tony got slapped around the face by one in the dark! Nobody laughed – much! Hee hee!
On board wildlife is limited to a small potted Basil plant named, err …. “Basil”, who managed to stay on board after a meal in Las Palmas. Basil’s fate is in the balance, as while Anna and Tom have shared their water with him, and tended to his wilted and rather diseased looking leaves, hoping that with good care he will make it to St Lucia alive, Tony and Peter have more sinister plans for him…..
Sailing wise, we are currently creaming along in the general direction of St Lucia at 8 knots. Despite the cloud and rain continually broad reaching in 15-25 knots of wind feels pretty good. Our record speed is currently 13.7 knots surfing with Anna at the helm. Boys being boys that record will have to be broken soon!
Time to relieve Tony at the Helm, so that is all for now.
Love to all at home
*So impressed was Tom with the phosphorescence that he has taken to flushing the loo in the dark in an effort to tempt some on board. No results as yet!
About the Author. My name is Tin Tin. I am a small fluffy ARC bear, smuggled on board by Val in Las Palmas. Seeing as nobody else was prepared to write a blog, it has fallen to me. I am here to cuddle the skipper, and Anna is not talking to me because I refused to give her a cuddle when she was feeling poorly. Stuff her – I am here for the boss
24/11/2016 – 24 hours from Las Palmas”
So after months (years?) of planning we left Las Palmas on Sunday and started our first ARC.
Leaving the pontoon and starting was huge mixture of feelings and emotions. Excitement of course but tinged with the stress of getting underway with so many boats in a small piece of water and huge dose of emotion as I said goodbye to Val. I could barely speak for 10 minutes as we made our way out of the marina.
The pre-week in Las Palmas was also a complete mix. I and the Xplorer team (Anna, Tony and Tom) worked endlessly on provisioning the boat, checking things, fixing things, improving things and, biggest challenge of all, finding places to store everything – not least 300 litres of bottled water. We also consumed quite a lot of beer and wine! Val and her friend Kim came to see us off and good time was had by all. The highlights were the safety inspection, the fancy dress party and the Dymo machine. We passed the safety inspection first time with 99% of boxes ticked and just one small follow-up. After reading the safety regs 100 times over the last year there were really no excuses. The Flower Power fancy dress party was hilarious. We all looked pretty ridiculous but the story can’t really be told in words. The pictures will be published at a later date! The Dymo machine came on board because I asked Anna to take charge of the storage of everything and to label the lockers, floorboards etc. with the contents. Then Tom and I (mostly Tom) got hold of the machine and various misleading and often obscene words got added. And things got moved of course. It’s pretty obvious that to find the naan bread you should look in the sail repair locker… All good schoolboy humour and Anna treated us accordingly. But I’m not sure the safety inspector ever understood why we needed what was in the second drawer down on the chart table!
And the sailing? Well the weather briefings made it clear that there were two distinct choices – go west first or go south first. West looked more windy and quicker over the fist week but more doubtful later. South looked slower at first but with probably more reliable trade winds later. We went south and slow it certainly is. We managed 5-7 knots over the first 20 hours but we are now crawling along at 3 knots with hardly any wind. Our onshore route planners are telling us it will shift helpfully and pick up over the next 24 hours. We’ll see.
Anyway, we are trying making the best of it. Tony has started an 850 page Ken Follett novel. Tom was trying to fish but had to pull the line in when a school of dolphins stopped by and is now stuck on question two out of 303 questions in the GCHQ puzzle book. I am writing this. Well, we could be enjoying storm Angus.
26/11/2016 – The Xplorers – About My Shipmates
Hello! Tin Tin the Bear here again. I thought on this blog I’d introduce you to my shipmates, the four ‘Xplorers’ which I’m forced to share my boat with on this voyage across the Atlantic. You can tell a lot about people by what they read.
First up we have Peter ‘have you seen my glasses’ Bamford. Despite bringing at least five pairs of reading glasses on the boat he can never find them. Peter likes to think he is in charge of this ship….little does he know that Val is sending messages via a remote sewn in my paws which directly controls the autopilot. Peter lives in the Bamford Suite, a luxurious cabin in the front of the boat which he shares with the emergency food, rotting vegetables, kitchen roll and the spare saloon carpet, which is on board just in case Moneypenny Warren goes drinking again. Peter is a caffeine addict insomniac who prowls the boat at night by the light of his headtorch, temporarily blinding anyone who is on watch. Currently reading a book about serial killers, but he is still my favourite.
Tony ‘Biscuits’ Brown is a salty old seadog with a hidden stash of biscuits. He lives in the biscuit tin in complete squalor surrounded by crumbs, and has an appetite even bigger than the boss. On the odd occasion he is not eating you can be sure he is planning what to eat next or snuffling around looking for food. Something of a whizz in the kitchen and is Chief Chef. Even Tom could not ruin his Pork and Cider. Keeps playing with his antique sextant whenever the sun comes out, but claims he needs to read the book on how it works as he hasn’t used it for ten years. Tony is a real sailor and talks about ‘thermal activity’ and ‘precipitation’ rather than clouds and rain. Currently reading a book longer than War and Peace which looks very grown up. It has very small letters.
Tom ‘Farmer’ Brown. Lives in the tidiest cabin in the boat surrounded by a not very well hidden stash of San Miguel. Tom got blamed (unfairly some may say) for breaking half the crew on a night out in Las Palmas. Or perhaps it was planned – Anna has not drunk since then so everyone else’s beer ration has been increased. Tom is Chief Engineer, which mainly consists of fixing things Peter has broken. He is currently reading a book with the charming title ‘Don’t tell Mum I work on the Rigs’, she thinks I’m a piano player in a whore house’. It is 10 pages long and has very big letters and pictures. However, it is more intellectually demanding than the colouring book he has brought for next week.
Anna ‘Moneypenny’ Warren. Annoyingly still holds the record for boatspeed aboard Xplorer. This bear is convinced she is a spy. She knows where every single piece of kit on the boat lives (except for the Dymo) and about all the hidden food stashes. Cruelly rationed the chocolate and sweets into four separate bags with each crew member’s name on. Usually found reclining in Moneypenny’s saloon, pretending to be asleep but actually has one eye open at all times. Currently reading a book about Brexit and the only one on board who can get past puzzle number one in the GCHQ puzzle book. I don’t trust her one bit and I’m keeping my (button) eyes on her every move.
Affectionately, Tin Tin the ARC Bear
27/11/2016 – Sailing Update
I have now decided to take back control of the laptop from Tin Tin and write a sailing update rather than hear more abusive tales about his shipmates. He has been keel-hauled for insubordination and is now fixed firmly in the saloon with heavy duty Velcro!
We are now about 250 miles west of the Cape Verde islands. We seem to have been about this distance from Cape Verde for a long time. Having headed south we turned west about 250 miles north of these islands and have been on a never ending arc around the west side. We are now almost 1000 miles from Las Palmas and just over a third of the way across.
The first week has been characterised by cloudy skies, rain on and off, and variable winds. Most days the weather has resembled a summer day in the English Channel. We’ve all got soaked at some point and had resort to foul weather gear. We’ve had some great sailing in 15-25 knots of wind and several patches of very light wind. Yesterday was very frustrating with the wind even going round to the West so we had to go close-hauled and even tack a few times. Yesterday evening it all changed. Finally a patch of blue appeared, the clouds parted and we had a magnificent night sky with stars as I’ve never seen them before. Today was been clear, warm and sunny, and it feels like the tropics at last. The wind is only around 7-10 knots but throughout most of today we have been managing to go broadly in the right direction at about 6 knots. Its dropped off this afternoon so we are bit slower now.
Those watching the Fleet Viewer will have seen that we decided to head south first. We knew that it was a longer route and not as quick at first, but the aim is that we’ll have stronger and more reliable trade winds in the second half. The trade winds are typically from the east or north east. The forecast guided through all of this by our own view of the weather forecasts and with the help of a couple of experts on shore running routing programmes. The forecast from Wednesday onwards is looking encouraging but we are probably going to have to go quite a way further south as the trade winds are not fully developed further north. We are currently at 18 degrees north and we need be below 15 and possibly 12. Its probably going to continue to be a bit slow until then and we won’t actually be pointing at St Lucia for another couple of days at least.
We hear that the boats that went north are ahead of us but that’s not a surprise. For them it all depends how some low pressure systems develop in mid-Atlantic over the next week. Could be good or bad for them.
On the domestic front, we’re all going through the round of our first showers – 40 seconds each. Anna is baking bread and doing press-ups. Tom is still trying unsuccessfully to fish off the back of the boat, Tony is reading and unusually not eating, and Tin Tin is…… oh my god where has he gone, I’d better go and find out what he is up to now!
30/11/2016 – Half Way Across
Today we are going to celebrate being half way to St Lucia – just over 1400 miles to go.
After 2 or 3 days of fairly rubbish wind and too much motoring we’ve now picked up a good easterly which is pushing on at a steady rate. We are back to the unending broad reach and enjoying it. We have another bit of weather instability to get through tonight which might bring light wind again and a brief period of rain or showers but its generally looking more hopeful for the next few days. We are down to about 14 degrees north and still heading a bit further south before we finally make our turn towards St Lucia.
We are into a good routine on board at this point but we have had a discussion about the least enjoyable bits of an ocean crossing. The front runners are;
– removing inadvertently defrosted and rotting prawns and meat from the freezer
– being downwind of the holding tanks when the heads are in use
– removing used toilet paper from the fishing line (its all we’ve caught so far)
– doing any form of washing up especially when Tom or I have cooked (Tom didn’t realise that you had to stir the Chilli and it is alleged that I use very available knife, pan and cooking implement when I’m cooking)
– delightful smell of polyester shirts after two days
– looking under my bed in the food drawer and wondering what else may be found festering.
– motoring, especially the looks of childlike disappointment on Tom and Anna’s faces when the engine is turned on
But the thing we all live in fear of is getting the glare from Anna for any one of a number of possible misdemeanours. These include asking repeatedly where things are stored (me), improper use of the Dymo machine (Tom), use of electric winches for minor sail trimming at night (all of us), use of the Wind Vane auto pilot wind shift alarm (Tony).
We have to put up with all of that but sailing in t-shirts and shorts in the middle of the English winter isn’t bad. The dolphins and the night sky make it pretty spectacular.
04/12/2016 – “THEY SAID THAT THERE’D BE SQUALLS!”
We are now over two thirds of the way – just 900 miles to go. We will have a bottle of Champagne tonight to celebrate. With current wind, we should get to St Lucia on Saturday, but you never know.
The sailing has hotted up in the last 36 hours. We have found ourselves in the windiest bit of thIs whole part of the Atlantic which is what we’ve been hoping for right from the start. However, its all courtesy of a Tropical Wave which is bringing cloud and lots (I mean lots!) of rain. The squalls come with the heaviest rain and mostly seem to happen at night. Every time they come the wind hits 30 knots on the leading edge (Force 7). At day you can see the squalls coming but at night we rely on the radar. The redder the radar trace the wetter and windier it is. When we know they are coming we put two reefs in the mainsail and the genoa and Xplorer takes them in her stride. She does sail superbly.
Along with the squalls, we have had some very hot and humid weather. Nothing in the boat is remotely Superdry and all is moderately damp at best. Deciding on the appropriate clothing to wear on watch has been a challenge. Should you put on full foul weather gear to keep the rain out but risk getting just as damp from sweating? Or go for the swimwear plus sailing boots option? Tony even got the shower gel and shampoo out and showered himself of the back of the boat in one 30 knot rain squall. Shutting the hatches during the rain results in the cabin becoming something resembling a sauna, and it is impossible to cook dinner without losing half a stone in sweat. Nonetheless we have not yet resorted to boil in the bag and the crew are still being creative in the galley, making curries from scratch, battered garlic prawns, and a reappearance of my personal favourite, fried rotting cabbage.
As well as inventing new recipes, we continue to find a variety of things to keep ourselves amused as we go along. Anna has created an advent calendar in my cabin by numbering the cupboard doors and hiding treats behind them. This would be fine, except Anna insists on playing songs from the Michael Buble Christmas album as I search for the day’s door to open. There are plenty of incentives to sail faster to get to St Lucia sooner, but sparing myself from another day of Michael Buble is one of the more compelling. We all agree that being away from endless Xmas adverts and music is one of the best reasons to do the ARC. This morning Tom has also set up a new treasure hunt game for the rest of the crew to play – it involves finding the small but essential piece of the generator that he has dropped into the engine bay. We are thinking of sending Anna in via the locker at the back of the boat, through the steering cables and under the generator to get it. I’m sure she’d find a way out in the end.
Tin Tin the bear continues to have a whale of a time. He has taken a trip to the end of the spinnaker pole, been hung upside down by his feet from the saloon hatch, and very nearly gone for a swim in the ocean. He has had to be forcibly restrained with cable ties and duct tape before he tries that trick again. He disappeared from the boat for the whole of last night, but reappeared this morning sneaking into the cabin covered in lipstick and reeking of tequila. He claims he popped out to watch Strictly, but I find that a likely story.
Peter Bamford and Anna who wrote the funny bits.
08/12/2016 – “Just 300 miles to go!”
We are into the last two days of our voyage. The miles have really begun to rattle down. That’s in part due to fact that for the last three days we’ve been properly into the trade winds and we’ve had some great sailing with 15 to 25 knots from the East pushing us on at a pace under mostly sunny skies. Xplorer glides through the swells, absorbs the gusts and accelerates. It is also down to the arithmetic. If you’re doing 150 miles a day when you’ve 1500 to go its only 10% progress each day. When you’ve got 450 to go then it feels quite different. We should arrive in St Lucia on Saturday after 20 days sailing.
We managed to have a squall free night last night which was a bit of a relief after the previous one. On Tuesday night we had two big squalls. Tom and I managed to negotiate the first one OK but in trying to reef for the second one the mainsail furling line snapped. Our mainsail furls into the boom and this does not work without the line. It was a classic all hands on deck moment and Anna, Tom and Tony did a fantastic job in securing the mainsail to the boom while being lashed by real tropical rainfall and up to 34 knots of wind. I was doing my best to keep the boat pointing in a direction which best enabled them to work and stow the sail. Yesterday morning we managed to rig another temporary furling line but we can only have the mainsail up to a maximum size of two reefs. Since the wind is now fresh it doesn’t lose us too much speed but we are losing a bit. Probably half to one knot.
Not only are we nearly there but we still have water to drink, food to eat, water to shower in, diesel to charge our batteries and beer to refresh ourselves with.
And there are still funny moments. In the middle of last night when Anna was on watch the electric autopilot had an aberration which caused her to shout ‘help, help I need somebody up here’ Tony, Tom and I were all there in a few seconds – wearing nothing but our. underpants. I think Anna may decide to sort any autopilot problems herself in future!
Anna was also the major victim to a rogue wave that hit us out of nowhere yesterday afternoon. Tony and I were enjoying a nice cup of tea in the cockpit when a large lump of the Atlantic hit us and drenched us. There was a loud shout from downstairs as Anna, who had been asleep, was fired across the saloon bruising legs in the process. She was bruised but Tony and I had the more serious problem of very salty tea to drink.
On the wildlife front we are all very disappointed not to have seen a whale but Tom and Anna claim to have heard one the other night. We have very seen few dolphins recently but continue to find a few flying fish on the boat each morning when we do our rig check. Basil the pot plant was eventually buried at sea a couple of days ago having developed an even more bedraggled, mangy and unhygienic look. Tin Tin is missing Basil greatly, but is looking forward to being reunited with Val again at the weekend.
Val arrived in St Lucia on Tuesday and I am looking forward to seeing her too!