From the sublime to the ridiculous, flat calm to 30 knots as the food gets experimental and the crew temperemental

Date: 9.06.03 UTC: 0930 Pstn: N 37.13, W 034.01 Track: 065T Current SOG: 7.5kn Wind: WNW 20-25kn Wx: Overcast Cloud: 70% Bar:1017 Air temp: 25C Sea temp: 21.3C 24hr run: 177nm Dist to go: 265nm Supplies remaining: 3 beers, 2 Heinz beans, 2 sweetcorn, mayo and tons of rice & pasta and 50 lit water.

Saturday 7.6.03

Last night’s supper of fried donkey sausage revved up with Jerk seasoning (apparently you’re supposed to add one teaspoon to every pound of meat, but I inadvertently lobbed in two tablespoons into our one sausage mix) has got everyone on edge. Just how good a job did we do on the plumbing? And can the pipes stand such a searing concoction of red-hot chillies without permanent damage?

At 0100 on Friday we were forced to start motoring again as the wind died completely. We were bang in the middle of the high-pressure system, which seemed to have the uncanny ability to know where we were headed and follow us. We have enough diesel for around 3-4 days motoring at just 1,500rpm, or around 4.5kn, but don’t want to use it all up then be drifting about some 20 or so miles from Horta.

We’re coming to the point now when we’ve done all we can to maintain Firefly with all the available spares on board, but some things – such as the sails, which are in need of a few stitches around the batten pockets etc, and engine oil changes, can only be done when we are in port.

Pootling along at 4kn, vaguely in the direction we want to go, whilst being stunk out by the exhaust fumes, which are hovering in a grey fug over the cockpit, one starts to think of getting home to a hot bath and simply popping one’s clothes into the washing machine, whilst selecting a crisp clean shirt from the wardrobe. Onboard Firefly things aren’t so simple. To start with a leaky plumbing joint, for which we have no spare, has forced us to keep the pressure pump off, otherwise our precious fresh water ends up in the bilges. And as an almost equal amount squirts out of the duff joint as dribbles from the end of the shower rose, washing is a question of holding on with one hand and applying water and soap with the other – all from a basin that has a mean habit of ‘popping’ its plug when you’re not paying attention.

The day is passed quietly, with much book devouring and visits to the pulpit for contemplation. Today we have been graced by two whale sightings, two schools of Dolphin and numerous odd-looking Portuguese Man-O-War jellyfish, with their strange, transparent, inflated sails. What we haven’t seen, though, is any fish on the end of our lines, so thoughts are yet again turning to food. It is with some regret that today we mourn the final passing of Mrs Beard 3’s delicious fruitcake, affectionately know as ‘The Ballast’. It will be sorely missed from our afternoon routine and Firefly is already noticeably more heeled as The Ballast no longer resides under the weather deck.

Things start to improve towards late afternoon. The engine is finally shut off as a gentle breeze picks up and by the evening we’re back into the old routine of scraping supper off the numerous galley surfaces – floor included – as the anenometer starts logging 26kn and the sea builds instantly out of nowhere.

Sunday 8.6.03

Since reaching 35N, Leg 1 of Firefly’s homeward journey from Antigua to the Azores has been building up to a crescendo of action. As winds built to 30kn on Sunday afternoon, Firefly was in her element, reaching speeds of up to 12.4kn whilst surfing down the long Atlantic rollers, her rig set wing-on-wing with a poled out headsail. As night fell, however, and Beard 2 attempted to cook, tempers started to fray. Juggling the pans on the ever-moving work surfaces and cooker proved almost too much for me – thank goodness our lack of provisions now means meals are considerably simpler, like last night’s chilli seasoned sausage with onions, peppers and rice.

With the wind now nudging gale force, the meal was downed in relative silence as we struggled to keep it from climbing out of the bowl and down our legs. Beard 1 appeared on deck fully clad in his oilies for first watch – the first time this has really been necessary so far and a third reef was dropped in Firefly’s mainsail for the first time this trip.

Up on deck Beard 1 seems completely impervious to the debris flying around below, although B3 is starting to have that ‘you can’t really be serious’ look on his face as I wake him amongst the chaos and inform him it’s time for his turn at the controls. By now, though, the worst is over and we settle in for a moderately uncomfortable night with the beamy stern (that’s Firefly’s not Ross’s) flipping off the tops of the building swell.

Monday 9.6.03

I am writing this whilst on watch at 0125. The wind has dropped a little to around 26kn, but the sea is still fairly rough and is tossing us around like a cork. We’re managing to keep up an average boat speed of 7.5kn or so, but to the detriment of life on board. In an attempt to sleep before my watch I fought gallantly with various flying objects as they hurtled over my lee cloth in an attempt to brain me. Beard 3 is currently cuddling the saloon table in the hope that it is well bolted down, but judging by his animalistic grunts this is not his ideal bed partner. Although it’s like living inside a giant industrial washing machine here, we have all agreed that we’ll put up with it if it gets us into Horta by Tuesday evening, in time for a good night’s sleep at rest. Only 266nm to go!