Chasing the Albatross

My adventure in search of a bird by David Lawson



0 Thursday 5th July

  • by David Lawson
  • 05-07-2018

We are making good speed on a cold, wet and very grey day. The sea is a mixture of dark grey and dark green and it’s all probably unlike anything you are experiencing at home.

Last night was very cloudy and cold. No moon and no stars to helm by. To give you an idea of what helming was like last night: firstly the wind is aft of the mast which means our main sail is outside of the boat at about 45 degrees on our port side and we have a spinnaker up. My routing instructions are for a course over ground (electronic reading) of 50 degrees, compass course between 55 and 60 degrees and wind angle no higher than 120 degrees. All that information and more is available from the instruments in front of me. Add to that the swell of the sea, which is moving the boat around, and shifting wind and current across the boat. So I make that 6 things to think about before I even think about breathing (and who says men can’t do more than one thing at a time!!) and of course it’s pitch black too. So this is going to be easy……haha..if only.

So in amongst all that you basically have to find a process that suits you. If I have my head down to follow the compass then I’m going to be all over the place and I’ll end up wrapping the spinnaker around the forestay….that’s a definite no no!! So for me it’s a mix of watching the movement of the spinnaker, glancing at the compass and course over ground numbers and wind angle, feeling the movement of the boat through my feet, feeling how the wind hits my face and feeling the water over the rudder through the wheel of the helm….well that’s in an ideal world. In the dark it’s tough and I feel like I’m going around in circles but somehow (and thank goodness Trevor is close by to pass on his experiences) I make it through 3 half hour sessions and the spinnaker is still intact. Result!

This morning from 4am to 8am it’s rinse and repeat and the instructions haven’t changed but one thing has…’s light. Halelullua!!  Okay so whilst it’s light, it’s grey and very overcast and there’s a lot of damp in the air. It’s amazing what light does to the brain and helming is so much easier. 3 more helming sessions which I really enjoy…boom! And good speed too….double boom!!

Oh and during the night session Jerry and I needed to add a second foreguy to the boom. Now a foreguy is a line which is secured to the end of the boom and this attaches to another line which routes via the front of the boat and back to a winch. The reason to attach the foreguy is to stop the boom rushing from one side of the boat to the other in the event of a crash gybe (where the wind gets on the wrong side of the sail and forces the sail and boom across the boat – very dangerous). In our case as the boat is heeled over from time to time the end of the boom is in the water and we want to stop it being forced back into the cockpit area of the boat.

So Jerry goes up to the bow to set up the second rope and works back towards the centre of the boat. I finish my helming session and go to help him. The first challenge us to get the rope which is already attached to the end of the boom unattached from the rope keeping it in place 2/3rds of the way along the boom. So Jerry and I are tethered on, on the low side of the boat standing on the guard rail to give us enough height to get the job done and with the boom bouncing in the water. All in a nights work. If you want to get an adrenaline rush…..this is it!!

Last night we also had a lot of bioluminescence in our wake lighting up the sea and every time the boom hit the water sparks of light would be thrown up. A fitting natural firework display for the 4th July celebrations for our American crew member, David Wilson.

With about 900 miles to go the bird life has started to change; fulmars, skuas and terns have joined the regular sheerwaters and petrels on this cruise across the ocean. As we speed along amongst them they leave it to the last minute to take avoiding action….a bit like pigeons on the road at home.

So with breakfast over I’ve now started on the biscuits…it must be the cold and damp making me hungry. I think the best option though is a nice warm sleeping bag. I don’t see us getting out of this gloomy weather today. Ho hum. Perhaps I’ll dream of a warm holiday to take…now there’s a thought!!!