Lia Ditton's latest report from out in the Atlantic as she sails 'Shockwave' home

Art student Lia Ditton completed the OSTAR in the summer on board the 34ft trimaran Shockwave. She is now sailing solo back from the US to the UK on the return passage. We’re following her progress on a daily basis and here’s her latest missive.

“Fish Fingers”

There is a splashing sound, somewhere near the cockpit. The simultaneous arrival of a pungent fishy smell tells me that I have an unexpected visitor. A flying fish. The splashing has stopped before I can home in with a flashlight. Either he made a successful leap for the sea (unlikely)! Or there will be scales to wash away in the morning. I resume my perch in the companionway and finish my granola bar, making out the constellations Orion and Cassiopeia in the night sky.

“It is hot in hell, but it is a dry heat!” was the joke among traveler when I was in India. Being “routed” safely south of predicted storm tracks, has taken me to the latitude of the Azores and Southern Spain. Hurricane Katrina, although causing evacuations of southern US states is still expected to spiral east into the Atlantic. Correspondingly, I have been instructed to stay below 40 degrees north. My wild downhill ride, ruled by unrelenting westerlies has therefore transpired into an upwind beat into 20-knot easterlies, sandwiched as I am between two stationary high-pressure systems. The wind it would appear is forever on the nose!

When the anchor-man on the television “weather channel” says that this “low pressure” system and “depression” is moving “safely offshore”, it has my friends no longer complacently flicking channels but to departing from the television altogether to anxiously scan through the latest weather updates from NOAA. Thanks to Yacht Control , “Shockwave” is also track-able on the Internet. In the meantime, day in, day out of glorious sunshine is certainly no cause for complaint. With a dry-bag full of fleece mid layers and Marks & Spencer thermals, rather than bikini tops and board shorts, it just makes it all a little more interesting in the dress department!

And “evening stroll” around “Shockwave”, in the eye of the dying sun, involves a trip to the bow. How is the gooseneck (or lack of) fairing with it’s lashing (my carbon fiber efforts lasted all of 24 hours).

I knew at some point a use would arise for a 1 meter by 0.5 meter piece of cow hide donated to the cause by Andy Dare. “Thanks!” I said. Amused at the time.

“Every racing trimaran needs a piece of this!”

Ironically, the boom end now sits on an anti-chafe bed of leather, lashed creatively within the confines of two bow shackles and a lot of line.

My next point of interest is the tear in jib luff tape. Has it exacerbated? I find the foil of the roller furler still in two pieces with the rod forestay baring it’s teeth in the middle.

Re-alignment of the two foil pieces, I have learnt, unavoidably involves dropping the sail. Releasing the halyard, as you would think, is not sufficient. Slacking off the Halyard causes the unhelpful bunching of the sail at the gap between the two foil sections, which in itself prevents their re-alignment.. To succeed without dropping the sail involves a mast climb with a dangerous belay down the furler foil on a second halyard. The purpose of this, being to hold the sail with one hand and realigning the foil with the other, while using the legs to hold on with (ha-ha). “IMPRACTICAL” and more importantly “DANGEROUS” are words that spring to mind.

Lets move back then to the option of dropping the sail. More than likely this method too would involve a mast climb. (I knew there was a reason why I should have purchased “The Claw” on special offer at Wal Mart. “The Claw” is a retractable arm on a stick like Park Cleaners use to pick up litter without bending over) how else is the top section of foil to be held still, while the bottom section is re-aligned (or visa-versa)?)

It is possible that the two pieces may “fall” or be shaken into place. Along with this potential plan of action, must come the consideration that the tip of the lower foil section may have become distorted (it having grated against the above section perhaps would sail up under load). In this case, the foil section may never re-align and dropping the sail therefore presents the danger of not being able to affect a re-hoist without again a mast climb (a dangerous belay down the furler foil on a second halyard) in order to feed the luff tape into the upper past of the foil. Nineteen hundred and twenty to Plymouth under main and storm jib alone would be an excruciating slog. Climbing the mast to do acrobatics down the forestay should not be entertained in north-east swell of six to eight feet height. Monitoring the situation is, today, all I can do.

As I return to the cockpit, a shark fin circles once off the port bow, the boat catches it’s breath, untimely between gusts, the sail collapsing in on themselves, as if it two is in awe. I reach inside the companionway for my joke plastic shark’s head on a stick. I push the base of the stick and out pops my toothbrush, through the shark’s head! I laugh, seemingly unafraid, but glance at the floats nervously all the same. glass-foam-glass sandwich. “Just a layer of Kit-Kat between me and the shark!” The breeze fills in again and we accelerate forward at 7.6 knots and I am left wondering what enticed the shark to surface.