Cast loose your gun!
Level your gun!
Take our your tampion!
Run out your gun!
And with a last but perfectly timed tremendous broadside, Northern Child finished her practice before sailing into the night.
We have not reported to the Admiralty in the last couple of days because the situation has met our expectations. Big time! Fortunately, we were well prepared and this was already half the battle won already. However, experience can only be gained at battle, and for many of us it was not only a first time in the high seas, but also a baptism of fire in some serious weather.
Two days ago, Matt’s birthday eve was pinnacled with a crystal clear sky and a few clouds allowing him to take sights of many stars, several planets and the moon. The moon was almost full so you could still see the horizon and the temperature was mild, making this watch a very pleasant one. Most of the watch had a go at it. Par took a sight of Polaris, as his Viking ancestors did, and it was quite a little event for him. Cedric took a sight of a couple of stars as a reminiscence of his Pacific crossing. Bringing the star down offshore is what sailors do when they can’t bring Venus down ashore. It was an awesome watch, if not the best. The watch changed happened with Matt on the helm, and therefore stuck there until relieved. All the crew came on deck with the systematic cuppa tea or coffee and sang him a Happy Birthday. Initially a chocolate cake was planned but conditions had gotten a bit lumpy already to bake something. We therefore had birthday pizzas for lunch the next day, as it is a kind of cake…
Later the wind turned into our back until it reached an angle where it was not convenient anymore to have the main sail up. We therefore dropped it and kept going downwind, until the wind picked up as predicted in our weather files. In the early next morning increased to the high 20 knots and gusted 30, which was so far the highest level we had experienced on leg 1 and 2. Soon after we were in established 30 knots and eventually reached the top of the 30 scale. The sea started building up. And building up. And building up…. Neptune must have been kind of upset… The anemometer also kept creeping up, until we were settled with a little bit of canvas on our forestay and sailing downwind, dead on the route.
At dawn, we were deeply engaged in the fight and our guns were roaring…. The smell of black powder was omnipresent and the surgeon was busy in the hold..
It is very difficult to describe but it was pretty intense. Waves were coming from behind us but Northern Child outran most of them. A rare fast ones licked her transom and splashed the helmsman’s back but mostly we were lifted to the top of the wave before ripping down the face of it at high speed. Water was spraying on each side of the boat as Northern plowed through the water pushing ten tons of water per second on each side. Maybe even more as we sat low in the water giving our best profile before climbing up the back of the next wave to ride her face down again. We ended up sailing at high speed in solidly established 40 knots of wind, which is quite a lot if not handled properly. The view from the top of the waves went far away to the horizon and we could see down the wave into the troughs around us. Few seconds later the boat was on its way downhill again until we were ourselves surrounded again by waves higher than the mast itself. Cedric helmed through his watch non stop and Glen and Tristan relayed through the other, until the worst had passed us. Team work kicked in rapidly to feed the driver with information so he could take the wave at the ideal angle. As we screamed downhill, the apparent wind moved forward and we could adjust our course and making best way. Speed records were obviously broken, with a benchmark set by Tristan at 11.2 and later by 14.2knots, topped by David’s 14.6 knots of speed. Words cannot really describe the environment we were in. Some waves taken at a bit of an angle had the boat doing sort of hand brake turns with the toe rail in the water, white water at the edge of the cockpit and the additional sound of water being stirred at high velocity by our super duper sailing vessel. A few times we made relatively sharp turns or heeled quite a bit to stay on track and in control. The time we heeled the most, Dave saw the water line in the heads’ (boat toilets are called heads) completely change direction and slosh out of the bowl as he walked into this little cabin. Tristan was having a conversation with Par sitting at the chart table and was suddenly hanging off it. everything which was not secured went from one side of the boat to the other, such as books, jackets, boots, pillows…To prevent injuries, the skipper ordered to lash everything down before the blow and only keep the vital kit out. Northern Child really rocked it and it was very quickly clear to all that this was what she is made for. A no-nonsense boat mastering conditions like these with ease. The crew worked hard on each of their watches, as it is a real effort to stay warm, fed, hydrated. Main fuel was adrenaline. Although it was really tough stuff, many of us where totally exhilarated by the fact of living “the perfect storm” for the first time. Indeed, it was grins from ear to ear and “oh-my-god-look-at-this-one!” or “jesus-look-at-that-wall” pretty much all the time. Watch changes were swift so the relieved team could go right away to sneak into their sleeping bag and get some rest before the next 4 hours of heavy duty. Food was kept simple but stylish, as always on this yacht. Staffordshire Beef casserole with peeled potatoes. Pictures and movies will only partially represent what we were in and most certainly not transmit the size of the waves following us or the strength of the wind. But we have plenty of footage!
The night requested again the support of a co pilot to indicate the swell’s direction to the helmsman, and we kept doing awesome mileage. As the wind calmed down a little but still stayed in the top half 30ies, the swell started getting crossed and made it really difficult to negotiate the swell. From time to time a wave would spank the boat on the aft quarter or beam and suddenly fill the cockpit knee high. Matt had dried out and was greeted on watch with 20 gallons of sea down his neck and on his lap. These incidents really make you feel miserable, but he kept being cheerful and living the dream with us. Through both nights Cedric stayed with the watches on deck as support, back up and barista.
As our fair lady’s rudder worked harder than anyone else, we checked the rudder stock seal. This is one of Northern Child’s oldies but goodies: The rudder stock it the big metal pole which connects the rudder to the boat by going through the hull onto a quadrant. On this quadrant are lashed cables which are connected to the steering wheel. Through this system we can control our direction. In this present case, the seal had lifted and water came into the boat each time we were surfing, which we did most of the time. The water flows from the lazarette (the boat’s trunk/boot) to the aft bilges located in the aft cabin and from these bilges into the engine room’s bilges where it stacks up. The diagnosis was clear and very rapidly we split tasks to trouble shoot this immediately and not let the situation escalate. Dave and Par were pumping out the bilges while Cedric emptied the lazarette and passed the gear to Tristan who passed it to Dave who passed it down into the cabin. Remember we are still surrounded by huge swell and it is blowing 38 knots. Then Cedric went with half his body upside down into the laz with a head torch and a few tools. Matt fed him information about how it was looking on the opposite and therefore invisible to him side of the rudderstock, by looking through a little hatch in the aft cabin, and shining in with a torch. Promptly, the seal was back in its housing, and even deeper as it used to be when checked in the Azores, insuring so the waterproofness of our hull. We are keeping the laz empty to be able to crawl back in at anytime, but the conditions have gotten very much back to normal and no water ingress has been seen since the repair job.
We still haven’t raised the main sail as the swell is still consistently trying to push us to the side and we are rolling quite a bit. However we are doing decent speed on the straight line to home. The crew has really taken a toll in the last days as inside the boat it looks like the aftermath of a hard fought battle. Our gear is wet, we are tired and we are now getting more and more ready for the dirty beer in Portsmouth. Some guys sleep solidly through their off watch time, and maybe a little more as we are now running on our energy reserves and need to rest. Today’s boat was a calm boat and the faces showed the level of stamina we had left…
Today we are very close to the entrance of the English Channel and entering a heavy traffic zone with multiple Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS). The watches will need to be on their toes and look out at all times with all available means. A few minutes ago, a Russian vessel crossed our way and we had a bit of conversation with it’s captain. He asked us how we did in the last few days, gave us the weather forecast and he admired our trip calling us brave seamen, which indeed we are.
Tomorrow you will get more news from us. We are almost there, at about 231 miles from the Needles fairway buoy, which is the entrance door to the Solent. Yeepee!
This was Northern Child, best boat in the world – by far!