Camaret to Lagos non-stop 5 days at sea
Sailing across the Bay of Biscay in December with a Dog, a broken autopilot, a piece of grass called ‘Le sod’ and learning that I can fly….
Started the day awoken by the excited voices, wooden clunks and metal clanks coming from near our deck. It was the people on Belle Poule a beautiful square rigger that had pulled in last night – a French sail training ship. That’s one of the lovely things about sailing – you never know who you are going to wake up beside. It brought back many happy memories of my time at sea with the Ocean Youth Club – sailing from Northern Ireland to Scotland and from Wales to Norway – good times.
We started the day with chores – I set out on one of the foldable bikes . They cycle well now that they are adjusted correctly and the tires are pumped up! However the handlebar was not fully tight and I fell off – lucky escape – ego and body in tact! I fixed the bike and carried on. As I become fitter and better at fixing things these knocks will not be so challenging.
I cycled to the chandlery to collect the block for our third reef. No, they had sent it to the wrong town so that was that as we are planning to leave in a couple of hours. We cleaned and sorted the boat – Our electrician turned up to quietly and professionally finish the work he had begun yesterday. Only another few hundred quid!! His work around would fix the issue of our new batteries not charging. We ate breakfast of delicious fresh Bretton Crusty Bread and Golden yellow butter and then it was time to get changed. I am getting used to putting on 3 thermal layers – oilskins boots, a life jacket and gloves. It was raining, grey and very cold – again. I do wish we had managed to get the heating system working. We probably won’t even need it in the Algarve!.
I was on watch when we departed Camaret at 11.00 until 14.00 when it was Marks turn. In four more hours we will reach Biscay. The weather was good – a heavy swell but no wind. The sea looked very strange like hammered lead. Four hours doesn’t seem like a lot but when everyone else is down below resting and keeping warm and you are alone on deck in the wind and the rain it is a long time. Our watches are made even more challenging, as the autopilot doesn’t work. It engages but then goes 2degrees of course every couple of seconds – that is not good! So, we have all had to manually steer all the way. Good experience I suppose.
Coming off watch I was cold – well my toes in particular – they were totally numb. As I always do when I travel I had brought my trusty hottie so I boiled the kettle poured the hot water carefully in the hottie and cuddled in my bunk to warm up. I took May with me as she is still a little anxious – the swaying and all the bangs and crashes. May had not enjoyed the morning and had been a little bit sea sick – a cuddle and a rest with me would make her feel better.
It is important that all the crew are rested, warm and well fed and watered as we have 4-5 days at sea ahead of us. I do hope May will learn to poo and wee aboard this time – she will have to! We had the idea to cut a sod of grass and put it on her dog toilet in the hope that might help her. Mark went and got a sod of earth this morning. I thought he would return with a neat little square but instead turned up with a huge sod of earth with long grass on it. We put it on the poop deck on top of her dog toiled.
May was not impressed. It was named “Le sod”
Friday 5th –
Moonlight and singing to whales
We are getting into the rhythm of the watch system. Waking 30 minutes before you are on night watch in order to get dressed in all the gear and go outside, clip on the safety harness and receive hand over instructions from the helm. We sailed happily though the night – sailing by the stars, Full bright moon ( running out of ways to describe how beautiful the moon on the water is – silver on black is so cheesy but at least it matches our boat!) and the dolphins and waves. All so breathtaking. I finished my watch and handed over to Mark. 14.00 I had noticed that the wind was getting up and noted the change in the wind and the barometer. Then when it was marks watch 14.0 til 18.00. We all have to steer on watch, as the autopilot seems to have a life of its own –once set it moves by degrees off course, which is not ok. It is of course much more tiring having to actively steer the helm for four hours – keeping the wind in the right place for the sail and keeping on course means you cannot lose concentration for even a moment to sip tea or put on warm gloves.
At around 16.30 a sudden squall hit us hard and there was some very loud banging and slapping –the preventer had broken allowing a crash Gybe snapping a batten in the main and damaging one of the blocks. There was a lot of unfamiliar noise and in the coming dark and the increasing swell Mark, May and I were quite anxious. Simon however was calm and professional as always. He sprung into action – threw on his life jacket and went on deck. His demeanor had changed – still calm but now with an acute focus. He took the helm and Peter, who by now was also dressed and ready for action, began to take the main sail down. We had too much sail us for the squall that had hit us. Peter and Simon worked to get the main down fully but it was catching in the wind and would not fully come down into the sail bag. Simon and Peter hooked their safety harnesses to the jack stays, went on deck and climbed onto the coach house roof to pull the main down and lash it for good measure. The wind was howling through the rigging. Mark was on the helm – he told me later he was thinking though, which of the man over board pieces of equipment he would use and in what order had one of the team fallen. We were anxious but in good hands. As I had been off watch I was on ‘May watch’ – that is I was down below holding May so that she did not fly around like some of the other objects like the footrest and the charts, the kettle and the bin. We thought we had stowed everything really well – but you don’t know until the sea and the wind get up and you are in the middle of Biscay. If I was needed on deck I would have put May in our cabin but the team had everything under control. I knew where my life jacket was – actually I was beginning to understand the importance of keeping everything on a boat in exactly the same place at all times so you can find stuff in a hurry or in the dark if needed.
By around 18.30 order had been restored – the Main was down safely and we were sailing on a very small triangle of Genoa. – We were doing 7 knots on a handkerchief! Peter had taken the helm for his watch.
Mark had been fantastic during the last two hours of his watch – he had been pretty anxious and was just about to take action himself when Simon and Peter had come to help. Now this is Biscay in December. We are so happy we came on this delivery trip with Seaway – we are learning so much about our boat.
Mark told me that the wind instrument had been saying 40mph and then its alarm started sounding and it just said HIGH WIND – no kidding! We are not sure but we thought that perhaps it was gusting 50mph. The waves were close together and about 16ft. You can hear the big waves – they have a low growl. We found that with some of the waves we could surf the boat on and some smashed into us jolting everything and everyone on board. Some you looked up at (a bit disconcerting!) and some seemed to slip under the boat raising us up.
I came down below and sat with Mark and Simon as Peter took the helm – I was sitting in one of the starboard seats holding May when all of a sudden we were hit by a massive wave – it hit our starboard side and literally knocked me out of my seat and into the air I flew several feet up and across the Saloon. I dropped May and then landed hard on my back on the floor at Simon’s feet. I was winded and afraid I had done some damage to my lower back – it hurt but I was ok – I had that thick ache of bruised bones and I was disorientated at the sensation of how one moment all was well and the next I was flying through the air. I was lucky I didn’t do more damage. Another boat note – ensure there are places to jam your feet when sailing and sitting in those Starboard seats or – don’t use those when sailing!
As things settled down we were all happier. Peter had made a delicious stew with Veal and Bretton smoked sausage. Simon is always ready to eat but Mark, Peter, May and I passed on the food. I went to bed wanting to get some rest before my watch at midnight. I love the movement of the boat rocking me to sleep as the water sloshes and whooshes past my head – our cabin is at the very front of the boat – ‘the pointy end!’ Strangely May was now getting her sea legs. It is interesting to watch her move her body and little legs to steady herself and she knows how useful corners are to stop slippage. She has even learned to use the heads – I am delighted with this as I was getting concerned for her. I had put an old towel down and encouraged her – this is a good place for her to go to the loo as we can easily clean it and it is safe and out of the way.
When I awoke at 11.30 to take my watch I could hardly move my back was so sore. I moved carefully to the end of the bed – which takes some wiggling – then there was the matter of getting on more layers – including oilskins – thermal socks, boots and life jackets. The boat was moving about erratically (not good for an injured back) Dressing in this environment is hard to describe – sort of like trying to get dressed into unfamiliar clothing in a small damp fridge, which is also a tumble dryer, which is also dark. Or think about being tired, wet and cold and as you are attempting to put your boots on someone comes up and shoves you hard on the shoulder so that you stumble – and this happens every time you get dressed. Being jolted about is not easy at the best of times but with a bashed lower back it made it all the worse. Being at sea for days you have to work on your personal resources as well as the boats – we had plenty of water, fuel and food but equally important are large quantities of perseverance, tolerance, patience and tenacity.
Out on watch alone under the stars in the middle of the Bay of Biscay and still with high winds and big seas I admit to feeling a little anxious. But also enjoying the experience always under the watchful eye of Simon Philips, our skipper. Simon’s was not the only benevolent eyes watching over us – As I took the helm a pod of Pilot Whales joined me – it really felt that they were coaching me along – amazing. I decided to sing to them and they seemed to like it as they stayed along side for miles.
Forgetting things and losing things – like days of the week and our new camera
Funny how the rhythm of the watches and cooking and sleeping and doing the log has created a weird sort of soporific, hypnotic blur – what day is it? Where are we? I was vaguely aware that it was the weekend ‘in the real world’ but that seems meaningless here
I was thinking how a lot of this is hard – physical challenges and mental ones too – over coming anxiety and remembering forgotten sailing skills – ‘bowline to rig the preventer? – Sure…no problem’
We are all settled now as a crew – each taking jobs as they come – if you cook you don’t wash up – if you notice something needs doing you do it. We take turns in a natural way and now we don’t have to chat all the time we can sit peacefully when we are off watch and do our own thing – sleep, read, write or listen to music. One irritation is that I cannot find our lovely new Canon Camera – I remember uploading some images and then I cannot think were it is. I have not yet got the discipline that I need of putting things back in the same place every time. I only hope I didn’t leave it on deck and it has gone in the sea …Mark and Simon are sure it is on board – we have just got a little “upside down’ and we will find it when we are in Lagos – I hope so – I hate that nagging sad feeling of losing something you really like and have just got – My new toy is lost! Something ADHD people have to learn to live with.
May has become increasingly happy and settled – she loves being on deck watching the sea birds and keeping an eye on us. She has learned how to steady herself whilst walking around.
We are doing really well and think we will arrive in Lagos on Tuesday. We have been doing between 7 and 10 knots all the way in 15 – 30 mph winds so we are cracking through the miles.
My Sunday night watch from 00.00 to 14.00 was the best yet – the auto pilot working means that being on watch is just that – so for the first time I put in my earphones and listened to an entire album – I haven’t done that for years! Wrapped up in layers with all the gear on and safety harness attached – I danced and sang and noticed my back was feeling much better! The album, which is perfectly targeted at me, was BBC Radio 2 – Sounds of the Eighties – all covers by contemporary artists – fantastic fun
At one point I took a seat to the Port side on the stern – a position that gives you great visibility of the whole yacht – I marveled at the autopilot and how it was much better at holding the course than me. I looked up at the clear sky and the stars which were pale because the moon was so very bright the track ‘Wonderful Life’ covered by Katie Melua came on and I thought – this is crackers.. I am on my own yacht sailing under the stars with the man I love asleep down stairs with my lovely dog – life is good –in fact, life is amazing – and just then a pod of about 20 or more dolphins joined me and sped in perfect formation through the cresting waves by my side – no words
An unexpected Detox and being an alien
Following almost 5 days at sea we are running low on water and we have no fresh milk. UHT should only be used in dire emergency, as it is really horrid! The Sun is shining and we can even feel it’s warmth – finally! We were just passing Cas Cais in Portugal so, Simon suggested we call in to fill our water tanks.
Good idea – we all wanted to feel that we could use more and scrimping on water was becoming a bore. Mark took us into the Marina and as we moored up with the four of us getting ropes ready and fenders – I did wonder how Mark and I will manage. Mark is really great at parking and did a super job. As s we filled up with water I went to the nearest shop and got milk, chocolate and salad!! I noticed that people were looking at me as I walked passed, as if I were an alien that had landed – then I realised I had my full sailing gear on, I had just got off the boat not even taking off my life jacket and harness – they were in their normal clothes and they looked as odd to me as I must have to them! May enjoyed running around on the grass for a bit and we had lunch while we were still.
I had a cracking headache when I awoke this morning – it felt like a hang over – which was impossible, as I have not had one sip of alcohol for five days. (I know that my friends reading this will not believe me on this one!!) I thought I was perhaps dehydrated so drank a lot of water but Mark thinks that as we have not had tea, coffee or alcohol for days it is a detox. It certainly has been a dramatic detox…
No booze, small portions of healthy food, no caffine, no news, Internet or email and lots of fresh air and exercise.
We made a delicious Sweet and Sour Chicken for supper and then Mark, Simon and I talked about plans for the future. He has the potential to really help people like us, new owners who need their experience of being on their boat to be better. Simon has been fantastic on the boat – he knows what is important on board and has made so many helpful suggestions for adaptations and where he can he has done the work himself. We are so happy he is going to be our Skipper for the Arc next November.
We are on our last chart! When we set out from Portsmouth Simon had a pile of 10 charts to help us navigate to Lagos and now we are on the last chart! I have one last watch to do tonight from 00.00 to 14.00 – then I am on tomorrow from 10.00 til 14.00
Our ETA into Lagos is just after lunch – we hope to get into the Marina, get all ship shape then sleep for a few hours before getting tidy and gong for cocktails ( oh yes oh yes oh yes) and then dinner out.
More about our arrival day soon – we are safe and happy and drinking beer in the Marina watching the sun go down behind the palm trees –
We did it