Svalen crew Jan Olssen adjusting sails in light winds
What do you do all day on the boat? This is a FAQ from non-ocean-sailors, and it is reasonable to ask it! I asked it of myself before starting on long voyages. Well, now I have the answer. But first a little preamble.
Now we are on a circular route from French Guyana in South America to the Azores. French Guyana is at about 5 degrees north of the equator, and the Azores is about 32 degrees north. The straight line distance (ignoring the complexities of chart projections) is about 2400 nautical miles, but the distance we have to sail is about 3000 nautical miles. This is because the winds are from the NE to start with and until about 25 degrees north of the equator. Then we reach the ‘variables’, so feared by sailors in the old days, before picking up the usual westerlies of the north Atlantic. Those that bring depressions to the UK.
We do an average of about 5 or 6 nautical miles an hour, which means that each day we cover about 120nm. This in turn means that the sail will take us about 24 days and nights non-stop. It is a lot of time to be “sitting on a boat”! So what IS the answer to my starting question?
First of all, we find we need between 6 and 8 hours sleep, and we are two persons on board. We divide the days and night into four hour segments called “watches”, and one of us is on deck in the cockpit during his or her watch, looking after the sails, steering etc. They may also be multitasking. The first watch after or around dawn starts at 0600. A cup of tea must be brewed. Then if everything is ok on the sailing/ steering front, the last watch person goes to get more sleep until breakfast, while first watch downloads the latest GRIB files (weather files) and weather forecasts and routeing advice from PredictWind. This comes via SSB Radio or the Iridium GO Satellite box. The files can be large on a passage like this, so it takes quite a lot of time, and several new connections, before this is finished, After that, the forecasts etc have to be examined and compared, and decisions taken about the route for the next few days in the light of wind and wave strength and direction, and gut instincts.
Both crew are now normally on deck and it is breakfast time. We like fruit and muesli, with coffee, and if we have some fresh bread (see below), some of that with marmalade and honey as well. In other words a good breakfast to set us up for the day, and usually with chat about our performance and plans.
Then it’s time to check emails and reply or send, perhaps to sources of spare parts, or to the next harbour, or to the blog, etc.
The rest of the morning is taken up by a range of work items, such as baking bread, washing clothes and dish cloths or towels, repairs, engine checks, charging batteries with the generator if they are low, making water if needed, and adjusting sails.
But you will ask, who is steering the boat while all this is going on? Well it’s “George” our favourite member of crew who does not eat or drink, use electricity or diesel, or cost anything after coming on board. George is a WindPilot wind vane steering device on the stern of the boat that, when correctly set, keeps the boat pointing at the correct angle to the wind for the course we are following. He is great, because he allows us to get on with all the other things day and night, sea mile after sea mile, and is usually reliable, at least if we have wind!
I have not yet mentioned cooking, except for baking bread, and assembling breakfast. We take cooking of the main evening meal very seriously, and try to make sure it is both varied and nutritious. We do not like pre-prepared food of any kind, although we do sometimes resort to packets and cans. On this trip the fridge and freezer are out of action for reasons we cannot fathom, and cannot fix until we get to the Azores. So some of our fresh food has not lasted well, and even had to be fed to the fishes. It makes it all more challenging. Staples are lentils, rice, pasta, dried meat, dried fish, tinned tomatoes, and onions and garlic which last quite well.
On this trip we have also been doing a little sewing – the Kapok filled cushions began to leak because of wear and tear. On other trips we have had sail repairs to do, which also means sewing.
Not to mention fishing, but so far most of the fish caught on the boat are flying fish, which really do fly, if close to the waves. They catch themselves by landing on the deck at night, and are unable to get off again. Sometimes we see birds catch them in mid air, or failing to catch them. This morning Jan saw a Tuna fish catch one by flying right out of the water and snatching it in mid flight. What a shock!
And, by the way, everything takes at least twice or three times as long on a small sailing boat because it is usually at an angle and jumping up and down, which means that you are often one handed, or tied on, which restricts maneuverability.
And so the day goes in, and we are usually tired when we turn in for our 4 hour spell of sleep. Too tired to read! Jan brought a guitar thinking he would start playing again, but he has only had it out twice. In the end, being self-sufficient in food, water, energy, transport, etc for about a month is hard work! But also fun! And you lose weight!
Skipper John. Thursday 18 April 2019