Wildlife leave their calling cards on Toe in the Water

This bit of the ocean is to all appearances as close to a desert as I would ever have thought it was possible to get. I don’t think I have ever sailed so far or for so long with the same sails up. The days are the same; the sunrises and sunsets are seemingly instant – they and very brightly coloured but only ever for a very few minutes; the afternoon squall clouds disappear after sundown to be replaced with the most staggering display from the stars which stretch uninterrupted from a finger above the horizon in all directions, the Milky Way visible clearly and the occasional shooting star topping off a spectacle that you can enjoy for hours whilst sitting in the cockpit in the warm, steady night time breeze, even in the early hours.

When the sun comes up the heat is switched back on instantly and it becomes an oven on deck and a sweatbox downstairs, making it difficult to eat or sleep. Then, after lunch the squalls develop and keep you occupied until dark. And so passes each day.

Other than the bird I saw a few days ago there have been no others, but I awoke yesterday morning to find a great many calling cards all over the deck which are now burnt on by the sun! I obviously had some company during the night from someone who was flying above and to windward of the boat and probably looking for flying fish. As I emerged from downstairs after dark last night and stood up by the hatch I was hit in the chest by something. I looked down and it was a little flying fish about two inches long – if you bear in mind he must have been over two and a half metres above the water to clear the topsides of the boat as we were quite well heeled over, that was not a bad feat for a little creature! I threw launched him over the side and he spread his fins and flew a short way before disappearing.

There is, I expect, a lot going on that I don’t see. Sometimes the water boils as things that eat flying fish coral?create a mass flypast. It is interesting to watch a large number all fly at once, some fly until they are almost out of sight, perhaps quarter of a mile, and others not so far. I thought to start with that natural selection must favour those that fly furthest, but then if you think about it they are a long way away from what was chasing them that is true, but they plop back into the water and…….no mates! They are alone, which must be a bit disconcerting for a creature who’s best chance is in a school. That would make an interesting study to occupy a lifetime for some bearded biologist, are long, short or average distance fliers most favoured by natural selection?

Talking of beards, I got rid of mine again yesterday, and in doing so looked in the mirror which is an unusual event for me either here or at home – I look like a real muppet as I am badly in need of a haircut! It is curling behind my ears like some bad 1980’s footballer and the top blows in my eyes too, something it hasn’t been long enough to do for over ten years, but I am forbidden by Kim from doing another DIY haircut after the last one, or I would get rid of the lot – it is pretty hot under here, but not through brain activity! I am under strict instructions to wear a hat upon my arrival!

I have finally run out of gas, so the bodged in gas stove has been replaced by my old faithful alcohol stove which takes ages to boil or cook anything, but makes the place smell homely, somewhat like the meths burning Mamod traction engine I had as a boy that my boys now play with, so I am happy about that.

There are lots of fishermen around here too, all heading east away from Brazil and gabbling constantly on channel 16 on the VHF – if there was an emergency you’d never get a word in edgeways! Talking to Brian I think they are after tuna, which they catch with simple rods with a fixed line on the end that stick out of rod holders all down he sides of the boat. I have seen them often off the coast of Portugal, usually doing nothing, but I did see one once that had got lucky; as the ship lay a-hull they were pulling in big tuna one after another, some of them nearly four feet long! There are evidently enough of some sort of creature out here to keep a lot of fishermen busy anyway.

Their boats are interesting – no AIS* even though some are quite large, and they are always appalling radar targets, often they have to be within four miles before my radar alarm goes off. The first one I saw was on a converging course with me – he showed up at under four miles on the radar on a collision course doing about ten knots and I couldn’t see his port or starboard lights. I called him by VHF and he altered for me instantly but without answering, and as he passed about half a mile away down my port side I could see he had no navigation lights, only running lights, and after three miles I couldn’t see his lights or see him properly on the radar and I wondered if he was smuggling something.

There are loads of vessels to be bought from the Customs auction in Gibraltar that have been confiscated for smuggling, there are two that I know of in Weymouth alone so it must be common, but we shall never know. Also, Santos is a place they warn you about because of piracy, so all in all I am glad to finally in the eleventh hour get the South East Trades this morning for the run up to the Equator and to be leaving Brazil behind me.

I am still battling with Michele Thomas in preparation for the glorious day when I make a fool of myself in two languages during my Radio Vacation with Andy from the Race Media Centre, but my deck speakers have blown up due to excessive Bob Marley (It keeps the whales away!), so now I have to learn downstairs as I boil – brilliant!! I wish I had kept my mouth shut! By the end of the trip I’ll be fluent, but only once the ambient temperature reaches more than 45 degrees……..