In the pitch black with the wind gusting 45 knots, we spotted Bishops Rock Lighthouse in the distance, exactly where we expected it, fine on the port bow.
What a welcoming sight, after sailing 1300 miles in 9 days we only had 120 miles to go to Plymouth!
For 2 days we had been waiting for the promised wind shift to the north, and expecting it to blow hard. Barry our barometer had fallen 19 millibars in the last 24 hours and 14 millibars in the 24 hours previous to that, dawn this morning we had been greeted by the most fantastic deep red skies that I have seen in ages – Red Sky in the morning– Sailors Warning!
The wind finally shifted 4 hours before sighting Bishops Rock and we were reaching along at 9 knots.
With everyone settled into the watch system, we took this ‘new wind’ in our stride. Reefed down to very small sails, togged up in warm clothes and oilskins, clipped on in the cockpit, we were prepared for whatever was to come. This was not Velvet Lady’s first storm, and as usual she behaved impeccably – taking the wind and waves in her stride. Only once did we fill the cockpit up with water, and set all the bilge alarms off.
The wind continued to howl right up to our arrival in Plymouth, only 5 miles from the breakwater did it finally give up, turning off like a switch and causing us to motor. We were safely alongside in Mayflower Marina 16 hours after passing Bishop Rock. What a trip.
So what is it like being at sea for such a long time. The first 2 days are unsettling as people try to get used to the motion of the boat and an unfamiliar sleep pattern. Day 3 the body is used to the unsettled sleep and starting to acclimatise, Day 5 onwards you are so used to the strange routine that you find it normal. Life seems to be one long round of sleep, eat, wash up, go on watch….
We work a staggered watch system which means there is always something going on and new faces up and about. It sounds very complicated to explain, but after 3 days the pattern becomes obvious. Each person does 6 hours on and 6 hours off during daylight hours, followed by 4 hours off and 4 hours on during night hours. One night you do two watches and the following night 1 watch. This system of dividing the day into 5 slots ensures that each day you do alternate times. The staggered watch is a bit harder to explain. Cabin 1 changes watch at 5 am for a 6 hour shift at the beginning of the 24 hour cycle, Cabin 2 changes watch at 7 am, and Cabin 3 changes watch at 9 am. It took me a whole day with an excel spreadsheet to work this one out, but the end result is that you spend time on watch with everyone on board apart from your ‘cabin mate’. This is good for the social aspect on board the boat – and as both Simon and Dave (cabin mates on this last trip)commented, this makes you feel like you have a cabin to yourself. It is great to have your own space for a while.
Kelly the kettle seems to be almost constantly on the boil, as each new watch member is greeted with a hot drink. Meal times are staggered, with a help yourself breakfast, lunch in the middle of the day, and dinner in the evenings. Drinks and snacks are also consumed constantly during the day and night.
Only when you have been sailing for such a long period do you start to notice how much the weather changes in short periods of time. No two watches are the same in wind strength, cloud cover, sunshine, moonshine, stars or rain.
We had bright sunny flat calm days during which we had to motor, bright sunny windy days, really dim dismal windy days and also very wet dismal calm days!! One night there was so much moonshine it was impossible to make out all the stars, the next night there was so much cloud there were no stars. In Dave’s words ‘When it is good it is very very good, and when it is bad it is horrid” Anything else would be rather more boring.
We had plenty of time and opportunity to talk, tell stories, read, listen to music, watch the radar, interpret weather maps, bake flapjacks and learn the sextant. We were totally separated from the ‘real world’. No mobile phones, news bulletins, pressures of business meetings to disturb us from our peaceful world of sleep, watch, sleep, watch etc. Countless times we were joined by dolphins playing in the bow wave, and escorted right into Plymouth bay by a very large pod of very lively dolphins. We found a squid and 2 Portuguese men of war on the deck, all were returned to the sea, and finally as we approached land we saw birds. Gulls were the most common, but these were joined by kittwakes, gannets and even a lone puffin.
We are now back in Plymouth having completed our winter season, sailing in the sunshine. After 6500 nm, Velvet Lady is in remarkably good shape, and our jobs list is relatively small so we, Lin and Richard are looking forward to a few days off and spending some time with their family.
Our annual code inspection is due next week, and everything is in hand to be ready. We will then scrub and clean, shop and stow, visit our lock up and swap all the charts and books with those for Iceland and get ready for our next adventure. We leave Plymouth on 17 May again bound for Isafjord in Iceland where the scenery is beautiful, the wildlife stunning and there is endless daylight to explore.