This is a mega-post. Make yourself a cup of tea and settle back for the long-haul.
Today has been a bit of a crazy ride and as I lay on my bed two images came to mind. One was of being a passenger on a runaway train hurtling jerkily along the track and the other as clinging to the back of a frightened horse as it charged across the countryside. Although it is not actually possible to fall off Elinca (whilst you are on the inside of her anyway) it is possible to fall over a lot. This morning I was woken to what I though were screams of pain and I shot up so fast that I didn’t have time to dress properly. As I approached the source of the sound I saw two boots sticking out of the wet locker and realised to my relief that the sound was hysterical laughter. The floor around the chart table was covered in cornflakes and milk and poor Rachel who was upside-down in the wet locker was still holding her bowl (it still had about 5 corn flakes in). I snuck back to my bed before anyone noticed that I wasn’t dressed and left Jon and Gemma to pick Rachel up. This was the first sign of the wind building and it was 30-40 knots by lunchtime. That’s when the boat began to feel more like a runaway train-horse. I went to bed and listened to the woops of excitement from Nicks watch at the wheel and the shouts of 11 knots. In-between the shouts of excitement were curses and the sound of waves drenching watch members. As it was warm most were going for the either oilskin bottoms OR oilskin top option and this meant at least half of them was getting very wet… the other half was getting sweaty. Most people are no longer sea sick so lunch was nice with more freshly made bread rolls and coleslaw. Dinner was a bacon, leak and pasta mix. Then I came on watch again. Someone had put on the classical music, it was dark and the lightning had started. Between bursts of sound from the percussion section and flashes across the sky I heard Sarah admit that she was quite scared when she went to take the wheel. Luckily it was all drama and the actual sailing was fine, in fact it had started to calm down.
It’s now around midnight and we’re only 100 miles from our destination in Uruguay. The depth has just decreased from 1000 m to 100 m in about 20 miles and by the end of my watch at 2 am the depth will be 20 m and we will be in the mouth of the river plate ‘Rio de la Plata’. We’re on the look out for novelties like ships and lighthouses.
It was a dark and stormy night…well not that stormy, but full of drama as we hurtled through the darkness. The wind was fairly strong and the waves big and regularly crashing over the deck and the poor helmsperson. The dark was so impenetrable that you couldn’t see the helm just 5 meters away. To communicate it was necessary to risk a soaking and stick your head out of the shelter of phuket to yell into the the darkness over the maelstrom of hissing and roaring from the water rushing past and the growling of the wind through the sails. To add to the drama Beethoven’s 9th symphony was ringing out on the deck speakers over the sounds of the wind and water. Above us the stars were shining and we could see the milky way. The scene punctuated by flashes of lightning highlighting the dark clouds hanging on the horizon.
If this wasn’t enough atmosphere and beauty, the phosphorescence (little plankton that glow green when agitated) was the best I’ve ever seen it tonight. I went up to the foredeck to adjust some lines to be met by a little fairy-tale wonderland. As the waves crashed over the foredeck, the decks glittered with sparks of green. In the water ahead of the boat I could make out bright trails from a pair of dolphins swimming on our bow. To the side of us, brilliant streaks in the water gave away the positions of smaller fish racing along with us. Magical! I wondered whether my face was glittering too as the waves dripped of me. I also wondered whether a whale blow would glitter with phosphorescence on a night like tonight. A nice thought at least.
The only senses I haven’t talked about yet are touch, taste and smell. To complete the picture, of tonight I felt damp, could taste salt in my mouth from the water running down my face, and could smell the seaside. That’s not the normal smell when you’re out at sea, but might be due to our proximity to land (though it’s still 80 miles away) or the nutrients from the river plate rushing out of the estuary to sea.
Wow what a day!
This morning (wednesday) our watch was not on until 4am and it gets light around 5am. Today we’ll arrive in Uruguay at a little port called Piriapolis which is a seaside resort just to the west of our intended destination of Punta Del Este. We had been dissuaded from going there by a few sailors we met in South Georgia who said it was the Uruguayan equivalent of Monaco and it was also lacking in charm. In this blog I’ll also reflect a little on the past 24 hours.
It’s been an interesting crossing, on the whole it’s been very pleasant weather wise. We had some quite strong winds yesterday that got everyone excited, the same sort of excitement you get when you’re on a rollercoaster of being thrilled but knowing that it is relatively safe. You had to really pull on the wheel to keep her straight every time a big wave came over. I would liken it to having an arm wrestle with a 12 year old, easy to win every time but imagine you need to win each of those arm wrestles in 2 seconds and then the next wave or arm wrestle is in 5 seconds. I took the opportunity to fully enjoy the moment and the waves by just wearing my bottoms to feel the wind and the waves and they came over cockpit, the water and wind was warm and gave me a thorough soaking so much so life jacket light went off. I’m normally a bit oversensitive to salt but it was only 24 hours to port so I thought I could put up with it and I considered myself to be saturated with salt after a month. Then it started to rain horizontally which gave me another proper soaking and the first wash in a long time, such was the size frequency of the droplets, it was remarkably similar to those rain showers you get at home. I reluctantly gave the wheel over to our watch leader so I could eat dinner, I had to be careful to hold my spoon at the just the right tilt towards me as I had lost two previous spoonfuls to the wind. Come to think of it I don’t know why we were eating pasta with a spoon, we seem to eat most things with a spoon which it a bit strange when you consider, and i only found this out half way into the trip, that one of the spoons was used to shovel shit in the bucket when the pipe fell off the toilet and no one noticed so it was being pumped into next door. That thought sometimes crosses my mind when I eat but doesn’t induce any sort of sea sickness, Clare has programmed in Pesto Pasta in the first or second days meals at sea to ensure sea sickness is induced at the mere though of it. I think we use spoons just so we can shovel it in as quickly as possible. There was no such sea sickness yesterday or thoughts of dirty spoons, it was a lot of fun, it felt like a good way to finish the crossing from South Georgia and the trip as a whole. Things got even better after that.
I awoke this morning to an electrical storm in the pitch black and the flashes illuminated the sky. The wind is dying back and the clouds parted to reveal a beautiful sunrise of blue with a pastel pink outline on the clouds. As it became lighter I noticed an insect flying a round the cockpit, the first I had seen since South Georgia, it was a moth and with was fluttering around the ropes. I looked up and there were a few more flying around the sails. They must have been blown out to sea in the storm yesterday. It was an indication that we were close to land. Then, about 5 minutes later at 6am Uruguayan time, the smell began to change, (an hour ago as i write) it smelt warm but it was difficult to discern what it was. It caught all of our attentions because the smell was the same for the last month or so even on South Georgia. It smelt as though rock or wood was being heated much like the smell you get on a beach. A little later it smelt like pine wood, it smelt subtle but clearly there, You could smell the sap and almost imagine a gnarled and old pine branch lying on the beach in the sun being baked, releasing its odour. I’m sure the smell would have seemed a bit more pungent but rather much like eating a curry kills your heat receptors, I’m sure some of my smell receptors have died with the pungency of some of the people on the boat. Nevertheless it was a warming pine sap small and very clearly so, it was a beautiful end to the journey and I imagine by the time you read this we’ll be on Tierra Firma somewhere close to that beach being baked by the sun. Before you start getting too jealous of us on the beach we’ll probably be doing something unglamorous like queuing at immigration or scouting out the nearest WiFi or showers rather than eating steak and lying on the beach but that will most definitely be on the agenda.