The planned route (Click to enlarge)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Some hours in the life of 3000 miles at sea...

So, it's finally come to the point where we must down tools and actually wave goodbye to land for the next month. We look set to head off on Friday, traditionally unlucky for sailors, which is a good start. This 3,000 mile sea leg has always been a big part of our trip and as we look around the boat at fully stowed cupboards, uncharacteristically clean clothes and clear decks it is apparent that there is no turning back. There are some nerves but most of all we just can't wait to get our teeth sunk into it. Despite making consistent progress for the last 3 months we still have the bizarre sensation of being able to fly home by dinner time if we wanted (this has been even more noticeable in the Canaries where we worked out it would be much cheaper to fly home and deliver presents in person than post the 2 parcels destined for the Gee and the Tuppen Christmas trees). When we arrive in Trinidad, hopefully sometime in late January, we will have crossed an ocean powered only by nature, be far enough South to get the swimmers on in mid winter and have entered our 3rd continent. It's an exciting time.

With the fact that we are going to be out of contact for the next 3-5 weeks in mind, we thought it would be good to give you some idea of what we are going to be doing with our time. In a nutshell, both a lot and not a lot...

I would like to say the day starts at 8 in the morning, but the day never really starts or ends. Time ceases to fall into the standard day and night and you begin living the rolling cycle of watches. I suppose we need to take an example. It's 3am. Someone calls Hol from out of her half sleep and she bolts upright ready to head up into the night. She is crawling out of the bunk next to me and into her wet weather gear, hat and head torch. As she transmogrifies into a passable likeness of Ellen MacArthur, I luxuriate in the extra space and warmth of bed. With the water crashing around the hull and the boat pitching continually beneath you, sleep remains elusive. All too soon after just a few snatches of dreamfilled sleep, I then see the tip of Hol's nose illuminated beneath the halogen glow of her head torch. It's 5am and she is summoning me onto deck. I stumble out and we fumble like moles passing in too narrow tunnel as i squeeze past her into the cold. Hol crawls back into the warmed bed. The brief exchange of information tells me there have been a few squalls coming through but nothing serious and we are yet to land the tuna we've been discussing and salivating over since fresh meat ran out a week ago.

It's then up through the galley and onto deck. The wind whips through the rigging and instantly wakes you as your eyes struggle to shake off sleep and focus in the gloom. You clip on and make your way to the exposed helm and park yourself. Checking speed shows a good 6 knots and sails full. You then assess the sea and the sky (incidentally all there is to assess) to see what the next 2 hours has in store for you. A couple of patches of cloud off in the distance with the odd flash of lightning, but nothing that´s going to reach us soon. An uncovered moon giving off a surprisingly comforting amount of light, the odd planet shimmering above the horizon and waves crashing gently every now and again. Sometimes the 2 or 3 hours of watch pass quickly as shooting stars streak overhead, your mind is awash with some thought from earlier or, if the weather allows, you dip in and out of a book. Other times you keep looking to your wrist as the minutes creep round reluctantly and you can think of nothing but bed. The best watches are sunrises and sunsets. You begin to appreciate the subtle differences in mood and light between the two. The moment the sun dips at sunset night begins, but night doesn't end with such definition. From the wonderful moment you realise the thick black is being oh so slowly lightened and diluted the day has begun. You may still have an hour before the sun shows itself on the horizon, but from that moment all the optimism, warmth and excitement floods into you. The fact that you may head straight down to bed as the day stretches itself across the sky seems alien to begin with, but it soon becomes clear that you need to sleep when you can if you are to avoid exhaustion and retain the enjoyment of the crossing. You rouse the next person from sleep as they take the first of the daylight shifts.

It is most likely 6 to 8 hours until your next shift. After as much sleep as you feel like you make your way onto deck. Your time off watch in the day can be filled with a huge array of things, but often nothing. Depending on your mood you can choose to escape to the rolling fecundity of Hardy's Wessex or maybe plunge into the roaring gales of the southern ocean with grand accounts of bygone nautical exploits. However, with the rolling watches and the tiredness it brings reaching double figures in pages read is a challenge rarely met. Hol is looking forward to test her theory that she can simply sit on deck, stare into the waves and sky and think for an indefinite amount of time; the results of which I'm a little nervous about.

Fishing is always a possible diversion. It also remains continual and fruitless. Despite infinite discussions with all and sundry we have met along the way (as well as the purchase of some nu-rave squid lures), we have turned up nothing. The elusive ingredient of luck appears to be absent from the fine blend of speed, depth, lure and line. This doesn't stop us fingering the lines knowingly every now and then and looking into the middle distance. The only thing caught tends to be the eye of the last person who felt the line who is secretly hoping they won't have just missed pulling up a monster.

Being an old boat there are always things to be tinkered with. The fact that you are sailing constantly for 24 hours a day means you are aging the boat much faster than most boats ever experience. In one day the amount of wear and tear on lines and sails is about the same as you would get in a a month or so of use by a regular weekend sailor. This means a close eye has to be run over everything and running repairs are inevitable. The old nautical adage of “a place for everything, everything in it's place” rings true on board as the constant movement of the boat means if it isn't stowed, stacked or tied then it is sure to entwine itself around you just when something goes wrong.

Food inevitably remains a focus for the passing of the hours. We take it in turns to be mum for a day (no feminism here I'm afraid) making meals for as long as you can stomach it below and washing up in a salt water filled bucket on deck. Depending on where your watch falls that day you may be woken by the smell of hot porridge coated in golden syrup, fresh bread or pasta and soup wafting into your cabin calling you up to feed. Feeding is important to everyone on the boat and food tends to consume about 60% of our conversation. Consequently we try and eat one meal all together up on deck at least once a day. In between meals the deck is regularly crossed with snacks of dried fruit, nuts, biscuits, crackers, occasional chocolate, crisps and even cake if someone is feeling generous. Hunger is the enemy that can bring on sea sicknesses and so must be suppressed at all times. Washing it all down with ginger teas, fresh coffee and hot chocolates all conspires to mean the usual upside of getting thinner on passage is one benefit lost on Lista.

Maybe we will be a little bit wiser by the time we touch land in 2009. Maybe we will erase all good things learnt by a huge rum fuelled bender on arrival. Whatever happens we will have completed the biggest challenge of the trip so far and be a good chunk of the way round the world!
Wishing everyone a joy filled festive season and look forward to catching up on the other side of the pond. If you would like a less Gee and Tups sided account of our sailing adventures so far then check out Dave and Kat's online log at
P.S. This is joint blogging for those who think Nick is scared of the dark and Hol is growing a beard

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