Phosphorescence, dolphins, whales, hitch hiking birds.
And OMG the most incredible starlight.
Phosphorescence, dolphins, whales, hitch hiking birds.
And OMG the most incredible starlight.
‘We went this way, that way, forward and backwards ov’r Bay o’ Biscay. A bottle of rum to fill my tum, a sailors life for me!‘
The 3 long days we spent in Dournenez might as well as been a month for the way it felt. When we finally cast off the ropes after getting the insurance we were still reeling from the news that we could finally leave! The Captain didn’t waste any time in issuing the orders to leave. Irene was desperate to get moving after 3 aching days against the harbour wall. At points we thought she might rip free from the mooring lines the noise she was making against the fenders.
There was a thick mist across the harbour as we headed out in the murky night. I was on watch with Jamie and was sent immediately to bow watch. The visibility was not more than 100 metres so we needed to check for other vessels or the lights on the shoreline. The boat is 35 metres in length so we use walkie talkies to communicate between the bow and the helm. We slipped past the headland and headed out for the Bay of Biscay. By the end of my watch I was frozen through having not had time to grab my thermals and gloves. I quickly grabbed some of the supper Ville and I’d prepared earlier for the crew and jumped straight into my bunk. My next watch was at 2am.
I arrived back on watch to find us out at sea with our wake illuminated by phosphorescence and torpedoes of sparkling dolphins. They were dashing underneath playing in the water pressures and surfing forward on our bow waves. Earlier Damon, Antje and Ville had witnessed a pod of whales. The remainder of my watch zipped by in a waking trance between scanning the horizon for ships and helming Irene.
Following watch was at 2pm. We acquired a hitch hiker: a little ginger land bird which spends its time circling the stern and perching on the spreaders. We could hear it singing as it flew with us.
Jamie and Ramon spent the afternoon inventing nicknames for each other and the rest of the crew. Ramon has been nicknamed ‘Gaddafi’. It has evolved from ‘the General’ in light of his persistent bossy crankiness. Antoine is ‘El Guapo’. Ville has been renamed Mika, the fastest Finn on the circuit (we witnessed him in action in Dournenez – this guy is hot stuff when it comes to French girls). Laurance is ‘Captain Ricky Marmite’. Antje is ‘Snoopy’ and Martina is ‘Marge’. Jamie has 3 nicknames at present (Ritmo, Saint James and Diplomat) – none have really stuck though so we will have to keep mulling it over. And without any doubt whatsoever, Leslie is Captain Birdseye. Jamie and Laurance came up with Tweety pie for me in light of my persistent twittering and pointing at things. Hmmm.
In the night watch Martina accidentally killed one of the land birds on board (not our little ginger birdie though). It was snoozing on the deck and she stumbled on it while trimming the sails. Ramon gave it a seaman’s funeral. Later during the day on Sunday I watched horrified as my little ginger bird went for a little flight from the stern and couldn’t fly fast enough enough to get back on board. I watched as it made 3 failed attempts to get back onboard, falling exhausted into the waves until the finally it rapidly disappeared into the sea in our wake. I was heartbroken to lose our little singing friend who had travelled with us for 2.5 days from France.
Other highlights of crossing the Bay of Biscay were reading ‘The Last Grain Race’ and playing my flute. For the first time in month I could feel the tensions ebbing away. The run up to this voyage have been fraught. And the last few weeks on board have been tense as we have negotiated a relay of obstacles from regulators and insurers to getting boat ready. The last few years I’ve barely played my flute and it was a great joy to sit on my bunk learning old tunes. I also spent some time trying to decipher the notes on my Echo Harp, a beautiful gift for this voyage from my neighbour Gini. It is a double sided dual layer mouth harpsichord made in Germany by M Horner. The only thing I can play at the moment is ‘Glory glory hallelujah’ and not that well I might add. We have a large assortment of instruments on board. Jamie has a Clarinet, Ville has 3 flutes, Leslie has a french horn, Ramon has a guitar and I have a flute, 2 harpsichords, a slide whistle and a Ukelele. We may well have formed a band by Brazil.
The swell as we crossed Biscay was 4-5 metres with gentle rolling. We have got away very lightly. With conditions only worsening when we crossed from the abyssal plain back onto the continental plain as we approached Spain on Sunday evening. I was in my bunk at the time being thrown about trying to get some sleep before a dawn watch. Already it is significantly warmer on board – I found myself kicking of my bedding, socks and Guernsey in the night.
Antje woke me at 5:45 for my watch on Monday morning. I scrambled on deck to find myself immersed in starlight with not a cloud in the sky. A faint wisp of dawn was emerging on the horizon. The shoreline twinkling with the lights of an array of fishing towns on the northern coast of Spain just south of Cape Finisterre.
Antje and Ville remained on deck with Jamie, Damon and I to watch transfixed as the sky transformed from deep cobalt to cyan, orange pinks and deep red until sun emerged from behind a hill; a flaming white ball which rapidly doused the sea in glitter.
The northern spanish coastline is speckled with wind turbines.
I made eggy bread for breakfast and took over the helm for the remainder of my watch.
Drenched in sunshine we watched the rocky arid coastline drift by. By mid day the sun was scorching and most of us had changed and kicked off our boots, padding about in bare feet. Seriously I know I’ve said this before but WHAT IS UP WITH THE WEATHER? Great to be in shorts, t-shirt and bare feet but is this normal in February?
We glided into port and were greeted by the harbour master. The harbour is a tight feet for a boat the size of Irene so we needed to be nudged into our berth by 2 ribs. The skipper and Captain looked on anxiously as we passed close to a range of rather expensive looking power boats missing them by a whisker. Finally we leapt ashore.
Ramon is originally from Vigo and has negotiated access to the swimming baths, pool, sauna and turkish baths for us. After a week without showers and nearly 4 weeks on the boat with lukewarm (at best!) showers we are over the moon.
Our cargo arrives Thursday so we have a few days to relax in Vigo.
Got word at 5.15pm local time. Insurance agreed with underwriters! Woo hoo! Made fast to leave immediately. Good weather window for Biscay. Cast off in fog. I’m on bow watch. Further pigeons from Vigo.
*published by a London based supporter, the last two posts were requested to be published on Friday 24 February.
Sorry for the radio silence. A cat got my tongue. And the internet is switched off in this town for Mardi gras festival. Just back online now!
Before leaving Brest we got the news that the insurance doesn’t cover us to cross the Bay of Biscay. And we are unable to find out exactly where the bay starts and finishes in legal terms so we can avoid it. Which is currently stalling our passage.
WTF. You might ask. I did. WTF!!!!!!!
Without, at the very least, crew insurance we can’t sail. Half the crew are employees and the rest of us our trainees so technically this is a workplace and thus we must have insurance should the worst happen.
The issue is that the Bay of Biscay is a dangerous place and most insurers put clauses in their marine insurance for yachts and ships excluding passage in the Bay of Biscay during the winter months.
We left Brest 3 days ago. The crew agreed that if we were waiting to renegotiate insurance the least we could do in the meantime was go sailing and celebrate Mardi Gras. So we loaded a cargo of wine and set out into the sunshine to skirt the coast of Brittany and head for Douarnenez, a rowdy little fishing port 3 hours sailing south of Brest.
We hoisted the sails after rounding the headland. This time we learnt how to use the winch to hoist the mainsail. The winch was formally a winch from a mine shaft in wales and is very heavy duty. It has an iron handle either side of the mast. However it is painfully slow to operate and I think I prefer the group hoisting with the ropes and the pins.
We arrived in Douarnenez and moored up next to fishing boats and trawlers on the quayside. We had to keep checking the mooring lines to adjust the ropes with the tide. And our route off the boat was by a very narrow slippery ladder.
It took some work to find the festivities. We stumbled across some pink pigs and a couple of transvestites that pointed us in the right direction. The bars were filled with throngs of men dressed as women and women dressed as men along with a heavy dose of Pirates.
Cripes have I travelled back to Dalston I wondered?
I learnt a number of rousing french songs and danced a number of jigs. We finally stumbled back to the boat around 3am to find it was high tide and the boat was several metres out from the quay. Having to take a huge leaps to get back on board. Nothing like a fraction of mild peril at 3 in the morning.
The next day pretty much nothing happened. Spirits were at an all time low. No news about insurance. No idea whether we are going anywhere. Stranded in the doldrums…
Yesterday was not much different. I tried to find an internet cafe. Went for a walk. Moped around with Martina and Antje. Made some flapjacks.
We toasted to ‘low morale’ at lunch and did some work on the RIB (our inflatable safety boat).
At 6.30pm yesterday Laurance, our Captain, returned to the boat with news that the insurance may be sorted. We are waiting for a call…
So that is where we are at. Once again.
Not the end of our tale I hope.
Bating the mast – tallowing the wood…
According to the captain, bating the mast is a key role for all new trainees aboard ship. And first up is me. I was presented with some really delightful overalls and headed out on deck.
What a shocker! It was scorching sunshine. What happened to winter? I began to wonder if we had time travelled through the night and woken up in May.
Damon prepared a nice hot tub of tallow for me to apply to the mast by warming it up in an old tin can on the hob. I got into my overalls and harness and we made the swing seat ready. I was then gently hoisted to the top of the main mast section. My knees were trembling but I soon relaxed as the view was epic and it was really rather nice having a birds eye view of the harbour.
I set to work after taking a few snaps. Taking liberal chunks of tallow and rubbing them around the mast. I instantly shoved a massive splinter through my right middle thing which hurt like hell.
Tallowing the mast protects it from the elements and preserves the wood preventing it from splitting. Gradually I applied a thick layer around a metre high section of the mast swinging around to reach each side. The mast has a diameter of about 50 cm.
I went down below to wash the stuff off. On the way I passed the box. ‘Tallow – made from liver fat’. GRIM!
We were visited by the French port authorities who came to check our registration papers which we have finally received from the Cook islands. As far as I can tell they were happy with everything and we now have clearance to leave Brest.
The rest of the crew have been getting on with other maintenance tasks. Ville has spent the day varnishing. Antje has been apponted the exciting role of dishcloth monitor. A highly prized role. She spent the day washing cloths. A day in the life of a trainee is never dull.
We will depart tomorrow on the high tide (thank goodness – we wanna be sailing!). In the meantime we are off to sample some wine and collect some cargo.