Last day at sea (probably)

It’s a quiet day on board CESARINA. 96nm to go (fist pump). The captain is asleep in the cockpit, dreaming (I am sure) of fresh French bread and cheese with some fresh tropical fruit. I am (day)dreaming about rum and a peaceful, uninterrupted (at least) 8 hours of sleep. Fresh fruit would obviously also be nice.

It’s 3pm, the sun is still high and it is 31.5°C outside (and 36°C in the sauna, sorry, I mean here at the chart table). We have 13 knots of wind and we are sailing under just the genoa at 6kts. We had the mainsail up too but the swell with its choppy little cross waves really made the sail flap and the rig bang, so we took it down again. It’s been like that all trip – sails up, sails down, change sails, pole out, pole in, jib on pole, genoa on pole, main up with 1, 2, 3 or no reefs and it has driven Dietmar in particular quite round the bend. (“echt zum Kotzen eehhh”) I mentioned this in my last blog post and have had several more people get in touch to say that they also pretty much set their sails in the Galapagos and didn’t change a thing until they pulled in to the Marquesas. For goodness’ sake

The sky is bright blue but dotted with fluffy white clouds, some of which are quite big. The cirrus (mare’s tail) clouds that I can see in the higher atmosphere suggest we will see a change in the weather quite soon. CESARINA would really like a little more wind, but we are nearly there now. It’s no good not being to get out of 3rd gear all the way and then having to pull a handbrake turn to stop on the last day, is it?

We have decided to change our course and sail to Fatu Hiva for the first night. This means we should arrive tomorrow (in theory). Officially this is not allowed as we cannot clear in on this island. But, every sailor we have spoken to has told us that the rules here are fairly relaxed, and this way we can make our first landfall in daylight without having to deliberately dawdle. It’s a really good feeling to know that we are now so close though it has struck me how long distance sailing can mess with your sense of perspective. We have 96nm to go and it’s less than 3% of this passage. Nearly there. Fingers crossed.

I know I echo the writings of many other sailors when I say that bluewater sailing will change your priorities, certainly for the duration of your trip and sometimes for the rest of your life. Perhaps because you have to do everything on board deliberately, and I mean with deliberation and carefully, therefore activities that we take for granted in our ‘normal’ lives take on a whole new aspect on a passage like this. Take, for example, a shower. We shower on deck on CESARINA in this heat as otherwise we would quickly have mildew in the shower room/head. Showering can be a bit of an (unwished for, soapy, slippery) excitement because, in these seas, you have to hold on. I can’t wash my hair and hold on at the same time so Dietmar comes to help me. I sit just behind the wheel in the cockpit and he stands behind me with the plant-watering attachment on the hose pipe and sprays me with (what feels like) freezing cold water. He wets me with the hose, then I shampoo my hair, then he rinses me, then I condition it and wash myself, then he rinses me again. This way we use the minimum amount of water and I don’t risk slithering helplessly out of the cockpit for an unexpected swim when the boat heels. By the way, if you think this sounds fun, try shaving your legs with a bucket and said hose pipe. Such glamour 😉

Cooking, as I mentioned before, should also be approached with maximum care. When the boat is seriously rolling, I use the strap in the galley (black webbing strap that clips at hip height across the galley behind me) to stay somewhere near the cooker. It’s a bit like trying to cook on a rollercoaster. The combination of needing to use up particular fresh items before they go off, plus the need to get out of the galley heat and movement as fast as possible means that occasionally I come up with concoctions that the captain finds quite – er – interesting. I made a version of onion chutney and Dietmar said it was “so very English” – he *said* he liked it, but he had never before had frankfurters, mustard, mashed potato and caramelised onions with raisins all together. We were both lucky it was all still on the damned plate 😉 He caught a wonderful 25lb tuna yesterday so I am now working my way through my tuna recipes repertoire. It’s a bit like Ready Steady Cook on board now. Your ingredients are: fresh tuna (a LOT), a can of strawberries, one yellow pepper, some well-aged cheese, an onion, chia seeds, balsamic vinegar and some cornflakes OK, so there are more ingredients than that remaining on board, but you get the idea.

Talking about fishing, Dietmar hadn’t in fact caught anything since the wonderful swordfish (apart from one very tiddly tuna that doesn’t count), so a couple of nights ago, he decided to leave the line in after the sun had gone down. He had been warned by other sailors that night fishing in deep waters can leave you psychologically scarred for life as you perhaps don’t want to find out what monsters lurk and creep beneath your boat in the infinitely deep, dark waters of the largest ocean on this planet. Nevertheless, egged on via SSB that evening by John on SY LADOGA, but also fully prepared for all eventualities with a cross, garlic, silver stake, talisman and a rabbit’s foot, Dietmar girded his loins and let the sun set over his fishing tackle. Nothing happened for a long time. We adjusted the sails (for a change), ate supper, admired the stars and I went to sleep in the cockpit. Dietmar sat and waited. The moon was nearly full but the night was still dark. The brass ship’s clock chimed the watch hours 5 bells (10.30pm), 6, 7 bells (11.30pm). The swell shimmered silvery in the moonlight. As the witching hour approached, a cloud crossed the moon and all was dark. Suddenly the fishing reel began to whirr. Something grisly had taken the bait Dietmar leapt from his seat at this very chart table and bounded up the companionway and over me to the fishing rod. Brake on. With trepidation, he started to reel the line in.

(Meanwhile, I was vaguely aware of some activity in the cockpit near me but I was dreaming of drinking champagne and having my feet massaged and therefore probably chose not to wake up ;))

Lit only by his headlamp, and in (as usual) an uncomfortably rolling sea, Dietmar took a wide stance in the pushpit and worked hard to bring the catch in. He then began to understand why other sailors had warned him. He was hauling a gruesome creature from the deep towards our boat. Bravely, he hefted it onto the deck and soon wished he hadn’t. Half a metre long, black as the night and slippery as an eel, the Thing had inch-long teeth like needles: Needless to say, it was not the tasty morsel Dietmar had quietly hoped for. Quickly and gingerly he rescued his lure and slipped the Thing back into the inky waters of the Pacific before it had a chance to call its friends for help

The above is all true apart from the rabbit’s foot, cross, silver stake etc. Please forgive my ridiculous poetic licence. It’s been a long trip…

Nonsense aside, CESARINA is in fact wonderful. She is perfectly set up for long distance sailing… in the 1970s ;). I’m not sure she is that impressed at having female crew, but she feels super safe (touch wood) and was perhaps built for jolly chipper chaps with pipes and beards wearing Guernsey sweaters and navy blue beanie hats whose fathers were destroyer commanders in WW2. Any nationality, no matter. At 5’5″ I’m a bit small and I don’t drink stout (for our German friends, this is a heavy, dark ale loved by old men and hairy sailors). Also, there is a (not so secret) little part of me that misses having the modern comforts (ahhh washing machine) and perhaps a bit more light inside, but her beauty, the idiosyncracies of her kit, the gentle glow of her mahogany and the way you can make yourself comfortable even when she is rolling like a metronome, more than makes up for the inconvenience of having to do your washing in a bucket on deck (although thank God there is a laundry service in Hiva Oa!). Unlike some more modern boats, there’s always a handhold and there are no sharp edges. Her super heavy keel means that, however far we heel, she always quickly rights herself. This passage is a much bigger deal – and way more of an adventure – than doing this in a modern boat would be. So really, all I have to do is grow another 6″ in height and get myself a waxed moustache, change my name to Hector, and everything will be perfect 😉 (Am not sure this is quite what Dietmar had in mind)

PS. Dietmar is very happy that he now has confirmed crew for the remainder of the world circumnavigation while I go back to work and wait for him to bring CESARINA back to Europe next summer. Only three more months for me before I pass on my baton, and then it will be a lot of flights back and forth for me while Dietmar continues sailing.

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