21st December to 5th January 2016
We’ve arrived at English Harbour, Antigua and I’m anchored next to mangroves in Tank Bay near Nelson’s Dockyard. There’a host of fabulous, exquisite and shining mega-yachts up the road.
Since leaving Mindelo in Cape Verde, it’s been me, Henrietta, doing the real work – that’s over 2,100 miles of rolling ocean. Seems to me, M has been doing a lot of sitting about contemplating the nature of the universe, reading books, singing, day-dreaming or peeling onions, or whatever humans do when they don’t have a proper job. In fact this will be the last blog post I’ll write myself, at least for a while, as I’ve decided M can write it himself from here on. He needs something constructive to do.
First though, and before I sign off, I’ll tell you about crossing the Atlantic. (Don’t you dare call it “The Pond” ever again. It’s a very long way and it’s not clever to call ‘Oceans’ ‘Ponds’ – just silly. Even in an aeroplane, it’s hardly a ‘Pond’). For me, if you want to know, it was 2,116 rolling miles in 15 days and 4 hours. My engine was on for two hours – mainly while M faffed about trying to find a place to anchor when we got here.
Most of the time, I have sailed downwind on a beautiful bustling blue sparkling sea. That’s how M would see it anyway. But for me, without a human’s appreciation of the finer artistic points and emotional nature of sailing, I should say I have rolled and lurched and twisted my way along with a rather awkward two or three metre swell up my backside most of the time, and with salty spray and baking hot sun on my deck by day – as well as flying fish that come aboard, crash landing on my deck at night. The wind has been fairly steady astern or on my starboard quarter, around 20 knots – just an occasional 30-35 knot squall to keep me from complacency. People call this the Northeast Trades, even though it’s been from the east most of the time. Ever since people have sailed across the Atlantic, they’ve rolled along this same road. It’s quite inspiring to think of the great sailors, explorers and ships that have followed this route through past centuries; and give a thought too to the horrors of slave ships that came the same way.
For the first three days I only wore my genoa and a scrap of mainsail, managing around 6 knots. For Christmas Day, it was calmer; then good breeze again all the way. It’s been unfailingly sunny by day and moonlit for much of the night. At dawn, there are dead flying fish scattered on my deck – at least there were in the first week – and one of M’s first jobs is clearing them before they get stinky. (One got stuck in a drain and wasn’t spotted till pretty poofy a few days later!) It does of course test a boat to be forever sailing; my bits chafe and wear and creak and squeak. Ropes and wires have to be checked; shackles watched; course forever noted and Hydrovane tweaked; sails trimmed, added, reefed, furled or dropped. We haven’t seen many other boats. In fact, apart from the first and last days, near land, we saw only one fishing boat and one tanker the whole way (there’s a picture somewhere). There’s not a lot of peace though; and Henrietta is one boat that did not have a Christmas or New Year holiday! (Mind you, it’s a lot better than freezing my bilges off in a Devon boatyard I suppose.)
And, as M will testify, I have performed perfectly: nothing has broken, been damaged or lost, and I’m as beautiful as ever (just need to get some of this salt off.) M has I think enjoyed himself, but I never quite know what he thinks. Humans are so contradictory. He seems to find it easier to deal with me than some human beings (which is pretty troublesome if you happen to be human). I think other humans love their dogs and pets for the same reason. Us boats and animals respond happily when we’re treated well and appreciated. Human beings need to sort themselves out.
M can add a few comments now, and, as I’ve said, he can write this blog himself from now on – I’m going to rest at anchor for a day or two…..
Despite Henrietta’s suggestion that I’ve just been sitting about doing next to nothing, I assure you I have been busy and am now pretty tired. The days’ chores are endless and, with never more than an hour or two of sleep, you become a bit frazzled and sore-eyed. (I cannot imagine how those professional sailors manage when they race round the world alone for months on end.) Those Atlantic rowers, I told you about, are coming to this same place too, but I think they still have three or four or more weeks rowing ahead of them. What a way to spend the winter!
The 15 days have passed extraordinarily quickly. What do I do? A typical day? (I’m interested in this myself since I find it hard to account for the time! It’s gone so fast.): at dawn, check boat and gear, clear fish on deck, pot of tea, wash self, do log book…through the day…learn a bit more of hf radio, chartplotter, sextant (sensible sailors know all this stuff before they leave!)…frequently adjust sail trim/change sails/course/Hydrovane….check for rotten stores, clean cabin, decide what to eat, cook, clear up, siesta, clip toenails, whip a rope or two, read novels, tune in SSB radio, charge up electronic gadgets…and, finally, Henrietta’s right, quite a bit of day-dreaming, watching the ocean and contemplating infinity…you wouldn’t be interested in all the ideas and wisdom, and peace and calm, that come to the solitary sailor – at least until you get a bit too tired. Life is honed to pure simplicity; eat, sleep, wash and think. If you’ve done it yourself, or (I expect) climbed remote mountains or tramped empty deserts or polar wilderness alone, you’ll maybe know. Trouble is that as you grow more tired, it becomes harder to think and use the brain coherently…and I soon abandoned grandiose schemes like learning the tropical night sky and advanced meteorology, and instead, in moments of leisure, just read some of the many cruising books on board or enjoyed straightforward novels.
Remember too that, given the incessant rolling and occasional unheralded lurch, everything is done very slowly. A ten minute task can take an hour. Preparing a meal can take ages. Sailing tasks too: one day, for example, with a force 5/6 from behind and heavy rolling, it took over an hour simply to rig the spinnaker pole for genoa and gybe the much reduced mainsail. I then needed a break to wipe away the sweat before hanking on and hoisting the staysail in lieu of main. Then taking it down again and securing it to wave-sprayed foredeck before nightfall. (Those racing sailors must be amazingly organised, better balanced and much stronger than me! But then they don’t have Bus Passes do they?.)
I’m now enjoying the novel joy of a calm anchorage and stable walks ashore, and meeting other people. I note I have owned Henrietta for six months now; she’s been a delight and after 6,000 miles I begin to see how she works!
Finally, Henrietta’s first and last stab at feeling like a human:-
Right now, …..I’m Rolling West
Rolling West o’r broad bold untamed sea, awed by scale and power and might,
Rolling West ‘neath milk blue sky, warmed by sun and soothed by breeze,
Rolling West, the sounds of hush and rush and shush, of flapping sail, of gurgle, splosh and rattle,
Rolling West, there really is no chance of rest!
[Subsequent bits remain unpublished]