Two weeks

Position: 14.32N 047.20W
Wind: 15knts, ENE
Course: 270T
Day’s Run: 133M

We’ve been out here for two weeks now. Last night was petty trying with the wind very light and the ever present swell rolling the boat about and making the sails slap in a most disagreeable manner.

Daisy took her first solo night watch and was rewarded with a giant supertanker passing three miles astern during her stand. When I came up to relieve her the two of us gybed to take account of the wind suddenly backing 30 degrees to ENE. The breeze then firmed up to 15-18knots and we’ve had a really decent run since then. Fingers crossed that uncharacteristic vagueness in the trades is now over.

To celebrate the two week milestone a ration of F&M fruit cake was issued with afternoon tea in place of the usual ginger nut – thank you Sarah!


Ghosting Along

Position: 14.40N 045.02W
Wind: 10knts ESE
Course: 265T
Day’s Run: 132M

Wind remains very light and pretty much dead behind us. As running isn’t a strong point for ketches (the mizzen has to come off as it blankets the main) progress is frustratingly slow. That said, we’re heading in the right direction, we’ve got plenty of food and water and fifteen more books full of Sudokus to solve.

When we’re not snoring, guzzling or frowning at number grids we are probably reading. Dora is working though a multi volume epic about the life and times of various cat clans living in an enchanted forest (good grief), Daisy is deep into Ruby Redfort, the schoolgirl spy, while Pols tackles ‘Transcription’ a novel about a grown up spy.  

I’m about half way through Robert Macfarlane’s walking book ‘The Old Ways’ – but if we don’t get some puff from somewhere I could be on the enchanted rabbits before we get in…


Far from the Madding Crowd

Position: 15.03N 042.48W

Wind: E12-15knts

Course: 270T

Day’s Run: 130M

Piccadilly Circus it ain’t. We’re about a thousand miles East of the Islands and the same North of the Amazon delta, continuing to creep West propelled by light and fitful winds.

At about four thirty this morning, with Polly and the girls down below snoring like the town band and just before the dawn’s lightening of the Eastern horizon, I raised my head from m’book (Adam Nicholson’s ‘Sea Bird’s Cry’, five stars) and nearly jumped out of my skin to see a real ship’s light about ten miles off. This was the first visual of another craft we’ve had in a week. Out in the mid ocean dolphin visits have petered out entirely and all we have for company are the occasional tropic bird, flying fish and a couple of superior type pilot whales who, heading upwind, swam past without deigning to register our presence.

Anticipating our eventual return to civilisation the girls are mapping out where they want to visit in the Caribbean – Martinique, Dominica and Guadeloupe as a first course. As far as I’m concerned anywhere where I can secure a croissant for breakfast and a rum and lime to salute the setting sun will do just fine.


The floating school room

Position: 15 25’N. 040 36’ W.
Wind: E 15 knots
Course: 260
Distance Run: 134 nautical miles

The first Sunday since term began in earnest in the floating school room and time to reflect on how teachers and pupils are getting along. We always start the day with maths as it gets the brain in gear (including the teacher’s). The girls have a collection of workbooks to use and I flit between each child checking and helping out if they get stuck. Of course much of the time I am learning alongside them as the terminology and some of the concepts (identifying prime factors – anyone recall that from the O level syllabus?) are news to me, but hopefully they are taken in by my learned manner!

We’ve taken the opportunity to go off piste a little and Dora has been learning about the Transatlantic slave trade and comparing her own living conditions to those unfortunate enough to be sold into slavery and taken on the Middle Passage, which is the exact route we are following. Geography has naturally been geared towards studying plate tectonics and volcanoes and which are likely to remain a focus over the coming months – we will have an embarrassment of case studies from Lanzarote to St Pierre on Martinique to Montserrat and beyond.

We also have the ad hoc lessons out of school hours. Yesterday Tom gave an impromptu run down of US presidents and UK prime ministers since the Second World War. I’m hoping this will put them in good stead for their appearances on University Challenge in years to come.

We normally manage three lessons a day, which is surprisingly intense as there are no distractions. I actually find they get along better with a little light banter passing to and fro rather than sitting in eerily studious silence which sometimes happens. I trialled a PE lesson one day, getting them to put on their harnesses and do an assault course tour of the deck but with the boat all over the place, I had to pull that one on health and safety grounds.

Best be off now. Lessons to plan……

Cooking on the boat

Position. 15 20’N 038 19’W
Wind: E 10-15 knots
Course. 270
Daily run 142

As you can guess cooking a boat is completely different to cooking on land. Cooking on land is so much easier than cooking on a boat or at sea. There are very few advantages of cooking on a boat but there are a few challenges.
Here are a few:
. You re constantly being moved around
. There is very little space
. There is not a lot of creativity involved
. Meals tend to be very similar
. (A small advantage) All the meals are simple and easy to prepare
Despite this I really enjoy cooking on a boat. But the one thing I HATE is washing up. We don’t have a fancy dishwasher on board. We use a bucket of salt water and lots of fairy liquid. That’s about it so next time you’re asked to put something in the dishwasher. Don’t complain and think about having to wash EVERYTHING up by hand with a family of shrimps and plankton!


Half way house…

Position: 17.22N 035.58W

Wind: E 16-18kts

Course: 245T

Distance Run: 150M

We’re making good progress today over a blue, blue sea under a blue, blue sky as we pass the half way mark with fourteen hundred miles behind us and the same ahead. The wind has moderated a bit so we’ve got the full main up for the first time in a few days and poled out genoa – there’s still a decent swell running so we need plenty of power to avoid wallowing.

The wind is likely to become a bit of a theme in next few days as the weather prophets suggest a big hole in the trades about 400M across opening up early next week between us and Martinique. We’re heading SW now to attempt to skirt round the bottom of the windless patch. Mind you, if we are becalmed a bit of ocean swimming might be a pleasant diversion- the water temperature is up to 27C (from 19C around the Canaries). It’s a spooky experience swimming about in water three miles deep, I always feel a strange sense of vertigo. Anyway the weather man might have got it all wrong – five days is a long time in more than just politics.

Perpetual motion

Position. 18 43’N. 033 33’W
Wind. E15-20 knots
Course. 265
Distance run. 172 nautical miles.

For me, the hardest part of these long distance passages is the perpetual motion. Which means that 24 hours a day, awake or asleep, you are never still.

It is particularly tiring on trade wind passages like this as we have wind of between 15 and 25 knots and waves about 12 feet high from right behind us. So we’re in a perpetual rhythm, wave comes up behind lifting Cherubino’s stern and she starts to surf down the wave. As we all know from watching Point Break, nobody surfs in a straight line, and Cherubino slews off to one side just like Keanu Reeves, tipping over as she goes. As the wave runs on past, she pops out the end, slumps in the trough, rolls back the other way and so the whole process starts again. Down below,in particular, this motion is exhausting as you don’t actually see the waves coming. Moving about requires careful planning and strategic lunges for the grab rails (which are not designed for Dora’s height as we have found out), or sideways shuffling, leaning against any immovable bulkhead, or locker. As you can imagine it all results in multiple bruises,stubbed toes and colourful language.

If you’re on land right now – stop and have a go (some imagination required!) – one hand must be free at all times to stabilise yourself and your floor is tipping to and fro and back and forth through 2-3 feet. Now think about making a cup of tea, cleaning your teeth, getting dressed crossing the room and don’t even get started on how to handle a pan of boiling pasta water.

Surely some respite from all this once you’re lying down? Well no, not really. It is most akin to lying on a bouncy castle, wedged in between pillow and wall with a couple of sumo wrestlers getting stuck into each other next to you.

But the relief of arriving and finally stepping on dry land in Martinique? Well, yes, it is my current daydream. But the reality is that on arrival we will be incapable of standing on a stable surface for a good few days and will stagger about like crazy drunkards until we acclimatise. Let’s hope our fellow sailors realise the cause and don’t assume Daisy and Dora have been at the rum.

Hard Yards

18.52N 030.29W
Wind NE25-28kts
Course. 265
Day’s run 163M

Its blowing pretty hard today with a heavy following sea, consequently we’re being thrown around a fair bit. After the excitement of getting going and then settling into shipboard life everyone’s feeling a bit jaded, aware that with a thousand miles behind us there are still two thousand to go.

At night Pols and I do two three hour watches each, Daisy joins the 6-9 sunset watch, while Dora tucks up for a 12h sleep as soon as it gets dark. Soon after the end of the sunrise watch we are all together for tea and ginger nuts before school starts for the girls (Headmistress; Polly, Janitor; your correspondent).

After the noon position is logged we wolf lunch and then it’s naps, books, sudoku until supper at five – we like to be fully cleared up before dark – and back into the watches.  No booze, simple food, lots of fresh air and sunshine – no wonder we’re longing for Martinique.

Water, water, everywhere

Position at noon: 19 14’ N. 027 30’W.

Wind. NNE 15 knots

Course. 270

Daily run. 143 miles

Every passage needs a drama or two and, apart from the girls’ sea sickness, we had been getting away with it so far. At lunch time, the sea imps caught up with us as rummaging through the lockers for some suitable morsels, I discovered we had about four inches of water swilling around our precious dry stores.

First reaction? Taste the water – if it’s salty you’re in real trouble. If it’s fresh, then it could be worse.

It was fresh and we quickly discovered that one of the water tanks had been seeping out of its inspection hatch and up into the bottom of the food locker each time we rolled. So we took all the cushions off the bunks, checked every inspection hatch to find the culprit, and realising the seal had gone, we improvised with a plastic bag laid carefully over the opening and screwed the lid back on.

To my delight this simple trick has so far held back our water supply for the next two weeks. Problem hopefully under control, we then started the clean up operation sending the food up on deck to the children to dry what was salvageable, and tackling the insides of the lockers below. Once mess cleared and order restored we celebrated the water left in the tank by treating ourselves to our first shower of the trip.

As a footnote to this, all our drinking water is kept in bottles separate from the main tanks , for this very eventuality – If we hadn’t been able to fix the problem we wouldn’t have died of thirst at least!

Done the South, now the West

Monday 4th

Noon Position 20N 25W

Day’s Run 180M

Wind NE 20-25 knots

After five days at sea we’re about 150 miles N of the Cape Verde Islands. Having made a good step SSW from the Canaries to pick up the trade winds we are now heading pretty much West directly toward Martinique. There is a new moon tomorrow so the nights are dark and the stars brilliant. We can see the Southern Cross shining to leeward while Polaris is still visible – if strangely low to North Sea eyes – off to windward.

We are about to change charts, from ‘Lisbon to Freetown’ to ‘North Atlantic, Southern Part’. The different scales (3.5m:1 on the former, 10m:1 on the latter) means our daily progress across the paper will fall from a handsome hand’s width to that of a meagre thumb nail or so – but none the less we have the sense that we are actually getting somewhere on this long passage.