Archive for July, 2009

The Home Stretch

Friday, July 31st, 2009

2015 UTC

We have 75 nm to go to the Old Head of Kinsale. The plan is to pull in to Kinsale for some sleep, showers, and a good meal. Then on Sunday morning we’ll sail the last 20nm or so to Cobh, to pass the Holy Ground and continue up in front of the town at about 15.00.

But first things first… When I last posted we were approaching the continental shelf, with a nasty forecast for the night ahead. The shelf brought the expected nasty seas, with mountainous seas rumbling past, but thankfully we got onto the area with less than 1,000m depth before the conditions really deteriorated. I don’t know whether it was related to the rapid reduction in depth or not, but the phosphorescence last night was the best we have seen to date. I know I must sound like a broken record with new tales each day of strange lights of varying origin visible by night, but last night we had a new one to top the lot! Phosphorescent dolphins!

Pod after pod of dolphins came to play around the bow of the boat after dark, and amazingly as they swam they disturbed the plankton causing it to glow. The result was that despite the night being pitch black you could perfectly make out the shape of each dolphin glowing under the water, and they left a glowing neon type trail for about 20ft behind them marking their tracks as they weaved through the waves. It reminded me of the movie “Tron”. Both myself and Andy sacrificed a lot of sleep to watch them in awe for hours, neither of us having seen such an amazing sight before. That’s the last of the nighttime illuminations stories I promise!

Later in the night the promised gale hit us as expected. It was a tough night given the windy conditions on top of the already huge swell. We got thrown around a lot, took a lot of waves into the cockpit, and the incessant rain made it very cold. Such conditions are much more bearable though when they are helping you reach your goal, and the fact that we were averaging over 10 kts towards Kinsale for the night meant that neither of us really complained. It was this afternoon before the gale blew itself out. One big last squall in torrential rain, and suddenly we could see blue sky! The breeze dropped back to a pedestrian 15knts, and we hung our oilskins out to dry in the welcome warmth of the sun just in time to enjoy our “100nm to go” beer!

That 15knts Westerly breeze is perfect for us to make easy fast progress tonight, and we’re due to reach Kinsale in time for breakfast. 1180nm from Horta to Kinsale in 7.5 days is no easy feat, and I’m looking forward to celebrating Andy’s first transat with him in the early hours of the morning. Of course it will mean the second full transat for myself and Dinah, but I think like any of these achievements it’s the first time that’s really important.

If any of you are around Cobh on Sunday then please come say hello on the seafront at 15.00. I honestly can’t wait for the big homecoming. It’s been a long time coming. For now, we are heading into the last evening on the water, coastal sailing with a clear sky and a good forecast, so it’s time to go on deck and enjoy one last sunset.

The Continental Shelf

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

30 July, 2100 hours…

Tonight we are 250nm SW of the Old Head of Kinsale. Overnight we will cross over the continental shelf, marking the edge of geographic Europe. Over the space of just a few hours the depth under our keel will go from over 4,500m to less than 500m. This can make for very confused seas in a SouthWesterly wind, as the action of the waves gets confused by the huge cliff face underwater. And what’s the forecast for tonight? A SouthWesterly gale of course!


Yesterday after the last significant weather system we had a good day. A little grey and cold, but easy sailing, and we took the opportunity to make sure everything was ship shape. Overnight the breeze died to just 10knts and we enjoyed one last night of clear skies and flat water. I was conscious that it would probably be the last pleasant night offshore of the trip, and I enjoyed sitting on deck alone with my thoughts in the dark under the stars. Sunrise was one of the best yet.


Today turned into another grey day, with low visibility. It’s also getting quite cold. A thermal base layer and boots are now mandatory to keep the cold at bay. We both found it very strange to put on boots for the first time, after having been barefoot for weeks!

We had a visit from some dolphins. Not the grumpy green brown ones we had seen further south, but the friendly jumpy playful grey and white dolphins we’re more used to in the British Isles. I really must read up on recognising different dolphin species before I do another trip like this. I’ve seen so many different types over the last three months, it’s a shame not to know more about them.

Tonight conditions will build steadily through the night from the 22knts of wind and 15ft waves we’re enjoying at the moment. But again, at least the inclement conditions expected will slingshot us towards home. This time tomorrow we will be back in coastal sailing mode for the first time since New York! At least the forecast is for slightly better conditions as we actually approach the shore.

Until then…

—31 July, 0100 UTC

49 deg06.974N   12 deg06.383W

COG 042 SOG 7.9 DTG206  28knts breeze from 180.

Just crossed into Irish National waters according to my charts. Hurrah!

Two very different nights…

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

I realise I haven’t posted a blog in a few days, but things have been pretty busy here!

It’s the middle of the night and I’ve just finished a three hour watch on deck. I’ve climbed into the warm bunk vacated by Andy, while he takes my place on deck getting soaked by every fourth or so wave. Bless him. That said it’s a beautiful night out there, if a little cold and wet. The sky is clear, and the shooting stars of the Perseids are stunning.

The Perseids are so called as they appear to be mostly distributed around the constellation Perseus. The shooting stars are actually caused by particles emitted by the comet Swift-Tuttle. They are visible every year around this time, with activity peaking usually around the second week in August. Early navigators often recorded the event in their logs, and I believe records of the Perseids even go back to the time of Christ. If you’ve never seen it then get yourself outside somewhere dark any clear evening over the next few weeks and just wait a few minutes. Out here, away from any light pollution, the show is spectacular. Literally hundreds of shooting stars every night. I’d love to be out here during the peak activity one of these years to see it at its best.

It’s a very different night out there to the one we had last night. We had to deal with a full on North Atlantic storm. It got up to the mid 40knts for a few hours at its worst point, and lasted about 14hrs in total. The only good thing about the night was the phosphorescence in the water. As the storm churned up the water, the huge waves looked like walls of glowing green light, one breaking wave after another away off into the distance. An absolutely amazing sight, that will be another of those memories that won’t fade. To be lucky enough to be in such a plankton rich part of the ocean on such a dark night nearly made up for being unlucky enough to be battered by the storm for hour after hour.

The storm put huge strains on both Dinah and ourselves. Kevlar sail reinforcements chafed right through. A mainsail reef line snapped like string during a gybe. At one point I was working on the bow when a big wave washed through, and when the water dissipated again I was sprawled on the deck with only one shoe! I’ve no idea what forces must have been involved in removing the vagrant shoe, but I ended up barefoot on one side for the rest of the night! Myself and Andy had a good laugh at that. This morning just after dawn, the boat went into an involuntary gybe surfing in the low teens. Unfortunately I didn’t quite react quickly enough, and the mainsheet caught my arm as it flashed across the cockpit. My arm got smashed against the side of the cockpit, and I’m going to have some very pretty bruises for some time to come to remind me of the incident. Two of my fingers are still not right, so I have my left hand strapped up. It brings a whole new meaning to single-handed sailing! Still, I have a great first aid kit, and it’s not that bad really. It certainly won’t slow us down getting to Ireland…

Thanks to the storm accelerating us in the right direction, tonight we only have 500nm left to the Old Head of Kinsale. We should see it sometime on Saturday, and we may even have time to stop off for a shower, a beer, and a nap, before sailing into Cobh on Sunday afternoon. The next few days of sailing look straightforward, which should allow us recover from the nasty conditions. It looks like we may get one more proper blow as we approach the coast, but it’s a little too early to be sure. Fingers crossed we get through before it!


Underwater Disco Lights

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

When I last blogged we were in light drizzle and light breeze. As the night went on the breeze built and the rain got heavier. After a few hours we were both soaked and quite cold. It was the first time we’ve been cold on the whole trip though so we can’t complain! There was only one thing for it… A large helping of Andy’s patented “you’ll never be cold again” curry…


It was a very very dark night. No moon. No stars. The only light outside the boat was from another strange natural phenomenon. As we sailed through an enormous smack of jellyfish and disturbed them, pushing them out of the way, they glowed bright blue! It was a superb vision, all these dinner plate sized lights glowing neon blue in our wake. I had seen it happen once or twice before, but never to this extent.

The rain continued until after dawn, and the breeze gave one last squall which sent us scurrying to reduce the amount of sail being carried. But soon afterwards everything started to die down again. As the day went on the sun came out, the breeze dropped away, the waves died down,. and it started to get warm again. Another beautiful hot sunny afternoon on the water,  making great progress, and everything is warm and dry again. We’re looking forward to a drier, warmer, clearer night tonight. Although I’ll need to find a new excuse to get Andy to cook again!