We left Antigua at 1010 local time on 08 March. Preparation for the voyage had been uneventful, stores and water were loaded and the necessary paperwork completed. We have a full complement of 12 voyage crew, two volunteer watch leaders, Mate and Skipper.
In the first 24 hours we sailed to windward in an E or NE breeze of force 5-6. We covered 148 miles. The heeling took its toll on some crew members and we had sickness in both watches.
In the next 24 hours, more of the same: we covered 180 miles to the north with not much progress to the East.
On the third day we had stronger winds and sailed 176 miles but our course was west of north.
On the fourth day winds have eased and we managed only 125 miles.
Currently (1415 UTC on 12 March) we are becalmed and have not made any progress for the last eight hours.
The crew are working well together in two watches, sickness has now passed. Shipboard routine is well established.
Morale and health are good.
Voyage CO22 Antigua to Portsmouth Days 1-3
I hadn’t washed, eaten, been to the toilet or brushed my teeth in two days. I wasn’t the only one either – almost half the crew hadn’t done any of those things in the first three days since we set sail from Jolly Harbour. For some reason, though the seas were only moderate and the winds no more than fresh – almost all of us became as sick as dogs. It was probably the first certified case of contagious sea sickness as one became sick, one-by-one by one we all seemed to catch the contagion and started heaving the contents of our stomachs over the side of the Challenger 3 ‘Sara’ – smearing her lovely white hull with variegated forms of spaghetti bolognaise, stir fried pork and vegetables and breakfast cereal from Kelloggs cornflakes to Waitrose nutty muesli. For some of us not even water stayed down and for me, it came as a complete surprise – not having been queasy at all for well over ten years and now suffering the worst bout of seasickness I had ever had in conditions that were not even challenging by English Channel standards.
But as Iain pointed out in his first blog – the first we’ve been physically capable of posting – it didn’t prevent us from not only getting to know each other but bonding in Watches that saw dolphins torpedoing across our bows during the day, a whale surfacing alongside in the moonlight to lazily sigh at us then disappear below the waves and regular shooting stars in occasionally cloudless night skies. We’ve had a variety of rather unexpected weather though, which saw us wearing layers of clothing and our wet weather gear much earlier than we expected. Now that we’re in a calm – and hot – weather, we’re able to take showers, hold down a delicious chicken curry cooked up by our resident chef Andrew and finally… go to the heads and deposit bodily excretions that don’t just come out of our mouths. That’s sailing Challengers for you.
We are crossing an ocean, no small feat. So far we have sailed 666 nautical miles towards our first intended landfall – Horta in the Azores. We have sailed, not motored, which is the way it should be on an ocean going yacht, if at all possible. Sometimes we have sailed at over 8 knots for many hours and at others close to zero, average so far is 6.4 knots. We are a great team of people working happily together, eating well and looking out for one another. Personally I have found the past 18 hours difficult, sailing in an almost flat calm is a beautiful sight, but it’s very hot here at 27 degrees north of the equator and as a very light sleeper I miss the white noise of the prop spinning and a pleasant breeze when sailing at speed. At comfortable cruising speeds the conversation flows easily as we are relatively comfortable and at ease, at fast speeds in a built up sea concentration is more difficult and it’s noisier so we are quieter, then when the wind drops and the temperature rises our energy levels fall and the conversation seems to slow with the heat. So in time it would be possible to assess the wind speed and sea state by listening to the conversation of the crew, maybe.
The wind returned at about 1700 on Tuesday, from the SW so we had some challenging downwind sailing in NE direction. Thankfully towards our destination and without the dreaded heel. The respite was short-lived.
At midnight the wind veered West and then to the NE. We are currently on the port tack sailing hard on the wind again in a direction that is just south of East. Wind Force 6 and boat speed 9 knots. Despite being once more well heeled over the crew remain cheerful. We covered 127 miles on Day Five, a total of 778 so far. We have a sweepstake on date and time of arrival in Horta (Azores). Not before Friday 22 March I predict!
Good progress: 187 miles in the past 24 hours (noon to noon).Mostly in an easterly direction or just south of east. We are now at 27 degrees 13 minutes North, 56 degrees 59 minutes West. We are sailing on a port tack with a NE breeze of Force 4-5 at about 6 knots. Weather is warm and sunny. Occasional rain showers. Everyone is happy and healthy. We have passed the 1000 mile mark,
We continue to make good progress. 168 miles in the past 24 hours, a total of 1142 so far. We are still sailing East at about 7 knots in a NW breeze of Force 4-5. The weather remains good, warm, some cloud and very occasional showers. We have about 1500 miles to go to Horta, we need to start to make some progress to the North. Life on board is comfortable and crew morale is high. The sea and sky are spectacular but there is very little to see in the way of wildlife. A single ship has passed us in the night heading south but otherwise this part of the Atlantic is a wildeness.
I woke at 3am, dressed and made my way on deck with the rest of my watch. The night was black as pitch with just the faintest of light showing at the binnacle, clouds hid the stars and unusually there was no phosphorescence to be seen in our wake, which tumbled aft at the rate of 7 knots. The sea must have been flat because challenger 3 bowled along at a moderate angle of heel without pitching. Our cheery hellos were met with silence from the opposite watch, I thought at first we were late on deck and they were annoyed with us and when I reached out from the companionway for someone to secure my lifeline no one came to my aid. This was childish. I stepped up into the cockpit expecting a helping hand, but again nothing, I reached out to steady myself in the usually cramped cockpit common at watch change and felt nothing except the hard edge of the seat. Thinking the crew must be aft or tending to a sail change I secured my lifeline and did the same for my watch mates. We sat in silence waiting for the previous watch to go below, but after some minutes no one appeared. A search around the deck revealed nothing, no crew! no one forward or aft and no helmsman, the boat was steering itself on a true course to the east. Someone, I can’t remember who, went below and searched the rest of the boat, but the result was the same, no crew.
We sat in silence neither talking or steering, each wondering what on earth had happened to the crew. It was inconceivable they had all gone overboard, but how could they just vanish like this. The ship sailed on and presently a star appeared here and there as the cloud so thick until now began to clear. Soon the clouds were gone completely with just a thin patch in the west and with the coming of a new day a ghostly light revealed strange shadows in the rigging. Upon each of the six cross tress sat perched a huge night owl, each squatting on it’s haunches and looking to the east. The figures were immobile, staring intently at the coming dawn. We studied these creatures as each small improvement in light revealed a new detail here and there, expecting at any moment the creatures to leap into the air and leave us. However, they remained stationary and in time we came to realise they were actually our missing crew, 6 sailors perched high and huddled down against the elements, seemingly unaware of our presence.
At 7am and the end of our watch we went below for breakfast and some much needed sleep. To our surprise set out on the table was a huge bowl of triffle, fully 3 feet in diameter. Six spoons surrounded the bowl, so we took up position and delighted in the tastes we met at each new layer within the delicious dessert. First came a thick layer of cream topped with colourful sprinkles, then fruits that included strawberries, raspberries and peach, then custard and finally sponge fingers soaked in brandy. Taking care to leave exactly half for our opposite watch, as is the custom at sea, we licked our lips and climbed into our bunks.
As the last log perfectly illustrates, bizarre dreams are a big part of a voyage like this and are often the topic of conversation between crew members at the start of every watch. Tonight, Mike had been trying to conceal a rancid iguana into a yoga retreat, India was running through a field of treacle and I was the victim of an assassination attempt by Jeremy Corbyn. They are often vivid and intense. We don’t try to interpret them for each other. We just describe them as best we can – if we can remember the detail. They provide a rich source of humour at often the most challenging part of the watch – the beginning – when you are facing four or six hours out on deck with your shipmates and silence is the last thing that helps the minutes tick over.
Why are strange and bizarre dreams such a feature of the voyage? Anxiety perhaps? If so, dreams are not a bad way of dealing with such. Thinking and talking about dreams – whether or not they make any sense or can be interpreted as metaphors for our anxieties about the voyage provides us all with opportunities to reflect and to link – subconsciously? – with other topics of conversation.
For example, my dream about being lured on to a deserted patch of waste ground in East London by the Labour Leader, only for him to give a signal for a hired assassin to drive a pink Bentley (yes, a pink Bentley) at high speed towards me, led on to long and interesting conversations about why Corbyn’s politics has apparently made such an appeal to young people in recent years, why there are no ‘patches of waster ground’ to be found anywhere in London anymore and of course, how the reference to a ‘pink Bentley’ triggered memories of favourite children’s television programmes from the 1970s through to the present day for everyone on the watch.
The point about all of this of course, is the way conversation leads to revelations about our attitudes and opinions, about our likes and preferences and then to the way we bond and develop closer relationships with each other, and even friendships.
It’s difficult to write this as we are tearing along at 10 knots well-heeled over to the right. Wind is Force 6 from the north.
It’s been another good day, 180 miles in the 24 hours none to noon and 100 miles in the past 12 hours. We have covered a total of 1384 miles and are now at 30 degrees 10 minutes N, 50 degrees 13 minutes W. We are now also making progress north, 27 miles in the past four hours. Crew are all happy and healthy.
Sometimes the night watches are very hard. They can be chilly, damp and everyone is invariably tired. But tonight was different. The weather earlier in the day had been wonderful – clear and very sunny with light breezes that meant we could all get back into t-shirts and shorts and though the wind died off in the evening, we came back on deck at 0200 UT to find it still very mild. Now though, with an almost clear sky and an almost full moon, the light on deck was so bright it was easy to see the reds of jackets, the yellows of the sail bags and believe it or not, even the start of the blue spectrum in the night sky. Only sailing offers you the opportunity to see the night sky like this – devoid of any light pollution – I could see the sharpness of the horizon against the sky almost well enough to take a moon sighting with a sextant. In fact, the light so saturated the deck, I got out my book and could see – just – the words on the page. I sat staring at the view and felt entirely happy and satisfied. Then Taylor topped it all off by making hot drinks for everyone and bringing on deck slices of freshly baked chocolate orange brownies. A blissful night.
Day 2. 1200 UTC Friday 29 March to 1200 UTC Saturday 30 March.
The wind strengthened overnight, with 30 knots from the NE. We sailed close hauled with two reefs in the main and the smallest headsail. Total 183 miles. Very wet and uncomfortable.
Day 3. 1200 UTC Saturday 30 March to 1200 UTC Sunday 31 March
More of the same. Wind from the NE gusting to 40 knots. Close hauled with reduced sail, heading south of East. 180 miles. Crew morale dipping.
Day 4. 1200 UTC Sunday 31 March to 1200 UTC Monday 01 April
Wind still from the NE around 30 knots but sea less rough. Generally everyone happier. 175 miles.
Day 5. 1200 UTC Monday 01 April to 1200 UTC Tuesday 02 April
Wind easing and more from the north so that able to improve our course to the north. 167 miles. Change of destination, now Falmouth, 580 miles distant, EDA Friday 05 April.
Day 6. 1200 UTC Tuesday 02 April to 1200 UTC Wednesday 03 April
182 miles. Wind 25-30 knots, more from the north so able to make a better course to our destination. Crew optimistic.
Day 7. 1200 UTC Wednesday 03 April to 1200 UTC Thursday 04 April
Wind dropped overnight so only made 159 miles. However wind now more from the west so the boat is upright and we can move around much more easily. Engine on from 0600 but sea state is limiting our speed to about 5 knots so with about 260 miles to Falmouth, EDA is now Saturday. Cold and wet on deck.