Monday March 13 - Day 8
This morning, the wind was straight up the chuffer. We poled out the two head sails and ran with it. Easy going, but again, we were rocking like we were at a Grinspoon concert (Grinspoon have just reunited for a 20th anniversary tour, in case y'all haven't heard). With the weather and the wacked out watch roster, the crew were starting to show signs of fatigue. So we had a meeting in the wheelhouse and suggested a few different options. We figured if we do three night hours each, part solo and part with company, we’d get a lot more rest. Only thing was, when you were on solo, you had to be onto it, especially if the sails were up. Hold your course and keep a keen eye on the wind speed and direction.
Not long after we had the sails set, I was enjoying a coffee on the aft deck and noticed that the lure on the end of the fishing rod looked like a whopper. Interested, I asked Brio “What lure have you got on today mate?” “The big dog” he replied. “Im going for a Marlin today”. “Cool” I said as Brio came aft to have a closer look. “Ah, fucker” he said, “there’s a big chunk of seaweed on the lure again”. He’d been having issues with an abundance of weed that was floating by and getting tangled in his line and lures. But as the clump of seaweed got closer, it started glinting in the sun. Brio was on! Without too much of a fight, all of a sudden, we had a 7kg Mahi Mahi on the aft deck. The poor fella must’ve been on the hook for some time. Looks like Mahi Mahi steaks for dinner.
“Lads!!! We’ve got a bit of a ‘situation’ here!!!” Mick yells with panic in his voice. The lads quickly ran down to the engine room to see what all the commotion was about. “The bilges are filling with water” he said. Wow, they really were. And fast too. Heavy. ‘Where’s it coming from?’ I wondered… I had a look up forward wondering if we’d hit something, while Toothy and Brio rigged up the portable electric bilge pump to assist the 24V pumps. I couldn't see any water ingress up forward apart from the usual dank moisture in the anchor locker. By the time I got back to the engine room, Mick had found the source of the water. A valve had been left open on the fire pump which we’d used earlier to wash the fish guts off the aft deck. The open valve had created a syphon effect, and water was pouring into the ship from the sea cock (through hull fitting) faster than the bilge pumps could pump it out. We closed the sea cock and let the bilge pumps pump the unwanted water overboard where it belonged. Crisis averted. But hey, what an eye opener. Such a small oversight that could've been a catastrophe. To add a bit more concern to the situation, we were approaching the halfway point of the voyage, we were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the middle of nowhere and hadn't spotted another ship for days.
So, the bilges are all good. They had an unwanted rinse of salt water, but all timber boats leak a bit. Its the nature of timber. Anyway, a bit of salt water in the bilge is a good thing apparently… so the salty old sea dogs like Charlie and Goldsmith say anyway. “Seaman’s gravy its called lads” they would tell us. The salt water stops the growth of bacteria and parasites that live in dank fresh water, helping to preserve the timber.
We finally cleared up the tools and bilge pumps thinking that we were in for a relaxed afternoon only to return to the wheelhouse to see our Genoa sail flogging like a seaman who’d been at sea for a little too long. The sail was torn right up near the head so we got it down quick smart. Another one for the in house seamstress. Wow, what a day. With the sun setting and the sails unbalanced in the absence of the Genoa sail, we had no choice but to stow the remaining sails and run the Gardner engine for the night.
Tuesday March 14 - Day 9
With the flap of wings that sounded distinctly like a humming bird, Brio’s night watch had been rudely interrupted by a slightly disorientated Flying fish. The silly little bugger had ended up taking flight straight into the ships wheelhouse and onto the lap of the ships ‘head of fishing’. “Easiest piece of bait I’ve ever come across” Brio reckons.
Tuesday morning saw calm winds and a small but confused swell. We thought today would be a good day to try out the big main sail. With a massive sail area and a heavy boom, the main sail on Starlight must be set with caution. But setting the sail is the easy part… Once hoisted, the main is quiet a sight. A big tan coloured sail hovering overhead with a shinny timber boom. But sure enough, no sooner had the sail reached full hoist, the wind started blowing like a sailor full up on baked beans. The main mast was heeling over in its deck mounted bracket and had a healthy flex in it from boom to gaff. With the engine off and the main as the only sail up, 2.7kts was all Starlights could manage. I think Mick and I both said at the same time, “Get it down”. It wasn't worth the stress. Stowing this sail in a rocky sea is pretty hairy. You need a man aloft on the wheelhouse roof (harnessed on of course) and at least 2 men on the halliards. You then turn up into the wind to take the power out of the sail, then simply drop the sail, easy… Yeah right. Maybe on a modern boat… So with Mick aloft, down came the sail. With the sheet (the rope that secures the boom) winched in tight, the 250kg boom was still swinging in the wind like a wrecking ball ready to take out the wheelhouse. “Just catch it Mick” Brio and I suggested helpfully. We watched on as Mick tried to guide the boom into its seat with all his strength, but without success. “I think I might’ve busted a hernia” he later confessed after the struggle he had aloft. Finally, the boom was seated. Next job, was to control the ascending sail. As it spilled its wind and fell to the wheelhouse roof, Mick jumped on it like Steve Irwin used to do when wrestling wild reptiles, limbs flying everywhere. We chucked the sail ties on and decided to forget about that sail for now.
We cooked up a mean, Popeye style, brunch of eggs and spinach and talked about the next sail configuration. We were determined to have it dialled in by the end of the day, and we did.
We got up 4 sails that balanced the boat perfectly. I wont even try to explain it, just check the pic. But lets just say, we were going the fastest we had all trip, breaking the Starlight speed record at a crushing 6kts. This sail configuration was aptly named the “Halfway Configuration”. Could we keep this up? Only time will tell. In the meantime, we had a party to arrange.
Starlight and her crew had just hit the halfway mark of the Atlantic crossing. To celebrate, we were going to have a BBQ and maybe 2 beers each. With steaks and snags on the Magma BBQ, we enjoyed a couple of cold ones and acknowledged the milestone of now being over the hump. It was all down hill from here, so to speak. Or maybe we were just trying to ignore the fact that we were now at the furthest point from rescue that you could possibly be in the Atlantic Ocean. Either way, the beer tasted good. The beers aptly had pirates on the tin and once we had our 2 each, Toothy surprised us all with one of the best tasting Pina Colada’s anyone’s ever had in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Needless to say, we were all pretty stoked to reach this point.