Back in time, November
29th 2009, we are leaving Santa Cruz de Tenerife and have just set sail towards
Barbados. Before we left, Ulric has told us to update the log-book
hourly. Peter asked me "should we still write the log hourly, now we
are on course and underway?" "Yes", I told him, "this is normal ship's
routine, certainly for long and off-shore passages." In the case of an
emergency situation it maybe crucial to have available the last known
position, course, and speed as accurate as possible, particularly when
other intruments don't work anymore.
All sailing time is logged hour by hour in the ship's logbook (Hans)
--> have a look at Queenie's logbook!
Why I spend time with my sextant (one of Ulric's previous blog-entries)? For fun, hobby, I like sailing, I like astronomy. I like to understand the way people in the past worked, and work myself through similar problems. In the past, worked? To date, celestial navigation is still an important topic in the curriculum of becoming a professional sailor. Of course, working with a sextant is not as accurate and fast as reading the GPS. But remember what happened on our first leg after Tenerife: the non-electronic wind rudder and the electronic autopilot both disfunctioned and the boat was manually directed, using the magnetic compass because all the electronic navigation equipment was also out of order, except our second GPS that runs independently from the main instrument chain. It is just for that reason that our backup GPS didn't let us down, and we could continue with electronic navigation and didn't have to switch to complete old fashioned navigation methods, such as working with the sextant. In this Atlantic crossing we were as near as one still working GPS away from using this instrument for real. However, to use the sextant properly and accurately takes experience, and understanding. And that is an important reason why I practice myself: to be as independent as possible from the on-board electronics.
To my opinion, no cruiser should leave for the ocean without practical knowledege on celestial navigation. With or without sextant. In the Atlantic this doesn't have to be much, just be able to find the West and ship's noon as accurate as possible will be enough to find the New World.
--> sextant sight reduction manual (large file !!)
--> template for sight reduction
--> nautical almanac pages relevant for our crossing (large file !!)
The day before yesterday Ulric and I had a quick look at the hydraulic system of the autopilot: two hydraulic activators should work together and act on electric impulses from the course computer to change the rudder's angle to keep the boat on the course set on the control panel. One of them seems not to work properly, but neither Ulric nor I have enough understanding of the instrument to be sure. An email has been submitted to obtain technical information and maybe remote support. Can we leave it like this? Do we have to take precautions? The answers came yesterday: Ulric's man Peter (not our Peter) cannot judge if the pump should be working or not. Kai Brossman, who helped us a lot at Cape Verde, and tested the oil pumps separately when we were there, thinks that both pumps should be working. Additional information: the second hydraulic tiller system was mounted on the manufacturer's advice because one tiller is sufficient for boats up to 20 tons; Queen's Ransom III measures 25 tons. Good reason why the second tiller should be working also, I'd say.
Last afternoon and evening the autopilot switched automatically off with the message "drive off". This happened when we changed sails, first genoa down/gennaker up and at sunset vice versa. The boat is likely not immediately trimmed optimal, and the one tiller that is working has problems with compensating the boat to steer in direction ordered: it is not strong enough and the board computer shuts iit down before it gets damaged.
For us this means: sail conservative, don't push the tiller to the limit until we are sure what is the cause of, at this moment just annoying, problem. And take care in more extreme conditions: when we meet our first squall - every cruiser seems to have had a few on their crossings, we haven't had one to date. I think the system will shut down, and maybe we should shut it down already before it automatically shuts down and do the hard work in more extreme conditions ourselves.
The point where we are closer to the South American coast than to the Cape Verde Archipelago we have passed already two days ago. This point is on our route roughly 900 miles from Santo Antão and 900 miles from the coast of French Guyana. Whatever the case with the autopilot: South America is now closer than Africa, therefore, we will continue westwards!
I realise that the ocean is big. A thing that you don't notice if you fly over it. With our present speed it will take at least to the weekend before landfall at Barbados: a week! A week with ocean around us, and only in the last couple of hours visual sight on land. Just dark blue ocean. But a beautiful ocean. I can watch the waves and the clouds through the day. They don't bore me. Different shapes, different colours, and repeating one after another: timeless and into infinity.
Ha, I found a USB-cable that fits to the loudspeakers here: tomorrow I can connect them to my laptop. Poor Hans listening to the Swedish rock music? Poor Peter and Ulric listing to Einstürzende Neubauten: from their earlier works (Kollaps, ½-er Mensch, Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T.) to their more recent works. I can play it so loud; there are no neighbours to knock the walls ...
Or shall I be nice and play real swedish pop? ABBA ...
As I mentioned in a previous blog-entry: I like to watch the stars at night; in my nightshifts I like to be out in the cockpit or on the aft deck as much as possible! With a temperature of around 25 degrees this is not a punishment. When the moon is not there it is dark, and I mean dark: there is no light pollution in a radius of 900 nautical miles at our current location! The moon is in its final stage, and will come up early in the morning, between 5h and 6h I guess. It will be new moon December 16th if I remember well. Laying on the aft deck, just facing the stars while the boat rocks and rolls underneath, so now and then an eye on the horizon to see if there are no dark clouds bringing squalls. I saw pictures of these local phenomena and read stories about them: they seem not to be that dangerous as long as you recognize them in time and know how to behave (reef the sails and sail with the wind, is the common advise).
Furthermore, there may be other boats sailing around who don't show on the AIS system. To show up on the AIS a boat has to broadcast a VHF signal and needs a special transmitter. Not every pleasurecraft has that. An eye on the horizon is important to prevent nasty situations. The radar, which I shortly switch on so once every half hour, is a useful tool in that. It ranges several tens of nautical miles and, besides vessels, it detects rain. When a dark cloud (every cloud seems dark at night) catches up with us I use to check what happens underneath.
Sitting on the deck, watch the stars, the sea, the horizon, I can do that forever. Beside the stars (and the planets) I see a lot of "falling stars", meteors that burn in the earth's atmosphere. Yesterday night I counted over twenty in about four hours. That is pretty average I believe. Just watch at a dark place and long enough and they show up. There were faint ones and bright ones, but in fact they are all small particles: a fraction of a millimeter to a few millimeters.
"When you wish upon a star, it doesn't matter who you are, when you wish upon a star your dreams come true"
(Kate Bush - Lionheart:"In search for Peter Pan")
Here at sea, at the ocean, away from the duties and obligations of ordinary life, just confronted with nature. I wouldn't like to have missed this experience in my life! When I have the opportunity and a good boat available I will do this trip again: single handed.