November 17, 09.30
It’s 0930 and we’re sailing upwind again, making 8.5 knots and pointing for our destination. I didn’t think our crew would see any downwind sailing this passage, with all the forecasts showing week after week of headwinds. They had gotten used to life at an angle, and the “low side” was much better rested than the “high side”. But on the 15th of November we watched the cold front pass to the north west, taking extra-tropical storm ETA with it, and our week of persistent headwinds were replaced by broad reaching conditions, gifted to us by the east end of the next high pressure system. So, it should go without saying that the 16th was epic. The conditions were perfect for ICEBEAR to rip towards Antigua at 9 kts, topping out at 10.6 as she surfed the swell on her quarter. The seas built up enough for us to discuss how high they were, we think 1.5m, and the ship and her crew rolled merrily along.
In the afternoon, around 1500, Andy continued our education in celestial navigation. Crew peeled themselves off their bunks and gathered as students in the cockpit. We had worksheets and our sights from the previous evening, and Andy was equipped with his whiteboard and his “not yelling but projecting” teacher’s voice. As he led us through the worksheet, concepts we had heard the day before began to click. We made adjustments to our sextant reading based on our height of eye off the water, light refracting in the atmosphere and the diameter of the sun. We took turns paging through the almanac to figure out the sun’s ‘geographic position,’ it’s celestial lat long (called declination and GHA) when we took our sight. After an hour of squinting at tables and mental arithmetic, it was time for a nap. These celestial lessons have been a highlight of this trip for me. As the mate, I am always looking for guidance from the skipper. I learn so much from each skipper I work with and with each passage I make, helping me imagine myself filling that role in the future. So, getting to sit as a student in Andy’s celestial classroom was the ultimate learning experience. His enthusiasm and talent for explaining such classically elusive concepts feels contagious, and I hope I get it!
Yesterday evening brought our first set of squalls. To have come this far in a fall passage south without seeing a squall or feeling a drop of rain is remarkable. Our decks and salty skin were ready for it. When I got up for my 2200 watch I looked at the radar display at the nav station and immediately did an about-face to get my foulies. The screen looked like it had been sprayed by a paintball gun. Dennis was happy to be relieved after four hours of skirting by squalls and getting rained on, so I joined our on watch crew at the helm. Shook Ming and Scott Taylor seemed weary from hand steering through a sloppy sea and ever-changing breeze, but as always their attitude was positive and forward-looking. For the next hour and a half we continued navigating the wind shifts and enjoying the freshwater rinses as they came, and then it suddenly cleared. With a light and variable breeze, we ghosted out of the thick clouds and spitting rain, finding ourselves under the kind of night sky you can only see in Earth’s far reaches. The wind was filling in ahead of the beam and the radar was clear ahead, so we struck the stays’l and shook out the genoa, re-leading the sheet for our old friend, upwind sailing.
A little after 0000, Shook Ming and Scott disappeared below for a well-earned rest and, for the first time in a long while, I was alone on deck sailing through the night. The sea rushing by the hull convinced me there were dolphins jumping alongside. I looked, didn’t see any, and let myself believe they were there with me, playing in the starry sea. Soon after, Andy came up with coffee and we soaked in the feeling that hooked us to offshore sailing.
There’s bacon in the oven and the crew are starting to smell it and stir from sleep. Andy’s going to whip up his famous hurricane eggs this morning as we keep making way towards Antigua. Until next time.
As always, HOLD FAST