22 Sept 2011

[Captains Blog] Bay of Biscay

Aboard 'Heartbeat IV' a Dufour 45, part way across the Bay of Biscay. The weather is sunny, the winds have dropped significantly, and we are motor sailing our merry way southwards towards the north coast of Spain.

It's been a funny old few days. Having had to join the boat at Weymouth instead of Dartmouth because the bad weather had precipitated (excuse the pun, but fully intended) a diversion into a comfortable berth alongside the town quay. I joined on Sunday, met the rest of the crew, had my briefing on the boat, reworked the passage plan to avoid going into Dartmouth altogether, dined aboard and we went off to the pub. Monday we set sail around noon and headed out past Portland Harbour and the Bill setting south for a good distance to avoid the Portland races. Having achieved that, we headed west straight into the wind and tide. Knowing we would be beating (tacking) up into the wind we didn't expect it to be easy, but after a couple of hours, the Portland Bill was still on our starboard side, even though we were making 6+ knots through the water.

Come Monday evening, we were still making heavy weather of the journey, coupled with some knotting of the foresail sheets which decided to recreate the Philosophers knot. Going forwards to clear this tangle, one of the crew that remained back in the cockpit took a heavy fall and injured his hip. Shortly afterwards,  another crew member got 'side-swiped' by the mainsheet and also feel in the cockpit. Who says going forwards on the boat is dangerous??? However, having exerted a lot of energy and focus in getting the bloody sheets untangled, I returned to the cockpit feeling rather queasy, and for only the second time in my life, I was seasick, and threw up at sea into the ship's bucket. A Ralph, Ruth and Huey later, I had cleared my system and promptly headed off to my bunk to get some sleep.

After a somewhat fragmented sleep on Monday night,Tuesday dawned much the same, except this time there was a liberal dosage of rain to add to our discomfort. Nevertheless, we continued on our way with one crew member unable to do much, slowly making our way westwards with the aim to reach The Lizard before bearing away south. In an attempt to roll out some additional headsail, the roller mechanism jammed. As we were trying desperately to free this off and drop the headsail down to the deck, a pod of dolphins swam alongside, obviously curious to see what was going on on the foredeck. They cavorted around the bow for the best part of 30 minutes or more while we struggled, then I suggested we diverted into Falmouth which was only 6 miles away to sort it out. Wrapping the headsail by hand, we eventually got it furled, tied it off, and headed for port. By the way, the water pump had also packed up, so we had no means of getting water out of the tanks to use. By the time we had sorted the boat out and had something to eat, no-one was in the frame of mind to go ashore, so we retired early absolutely knackered.

Next morning the sun shone. We hung our our oilies to dry, had a shower ashore, the riggers came out to sort the foresail reefing mechanism, the water pump issue appeared to be resolved and the crew were about to mutiny. We were not happy with the faults that we were constantly having to fix on a year-old boat that has obviously been thrashed by racing her regularly. Three of us went off for breakfast to think about the circumstances we found ourselves in, and Peter, the injured crew member went off to hospital to get his injury checked out. An hour or two later, the problems resolved, we reconvened aboard to decide whether to continue or not. Peter was to leave the boat on medical advice, and we were now a crew of four, which meant watch on, watch off. More tiring, and a case of sleep whenever you can, but we decided to continue.

At 2pm, we set sail and headed southwards towards Ushant. For once, the wind was brisk (around 20 -23 knots) and the swell was not hammering the boat so we made better progress. Creaming along through the water at a steady 8 knots, this boat showed her paces and we arrived of Ushant 2 hours earlier than expected. Crossing the traffic separation scheme in the middle of the Channel (effectively like a motorway for large boats and tankers), we had to dodge several commercial ships who kept to their course even though we were the stand-on vessel and had  'right of way'. I came off watch at 6am and hit my bunk like a lead weight. The wind dropped to below 10 knots during the night and we are now motoring at a steady 1600 rpm to maintain speed without consuming too much fuel. The boat is steady enough for me to type this, and I am going on deck to enjoy the sunshine.