White describes the beauty of the Southern Ocean, and why despite his relief on escaping it, he can't wait to return
I have just spent the longest time just gazing out of my door looking at all that is around me. It won’t be long now and the Southern Ocean will be behind me, for a while at least, and I shall really miss it, it has been fantastic – bleak, desolate, isolated, powerful, all of those things, but immeasurably beautiful too, with undoubtably the best sailing in the world.
As I looked out there were three albatrosses: two older ones and a spotty brown young one. They are quite sweet really, he was flying round and round the boat, obviously curious and practising his slow flying at the same time. He was doing well, but hobby-horsing slightly on the really slow bits where as the adults just fly like they were on rails!
I am ready to leave the South though now; firstly before I break anything else more serious than the loo seat and the kettle handle, both casualties of the last blow, and secondly because then it will be nearer the time when I can come back better prepared and more knowledgeable.
And as much as I love my old boat, I would like to return in a faster one and keep up with the frontrunners. As such my thoughts are turning in earnest to looking for a sponsor to take us through to the 2012 Vendee Globe. It will be strange indeed to get back on that treadmill, but I think things will be different for us after this, and people will take us a bit more seriously. I always thought that I would want to do 2012 as well, but now I have experienced most of this race, I know I want to, and there is a big difference.
First, however, I have to get home, and whilst I am undoubtably a dreamer, I am very much in the here and now as the boat picks its way through a funny old sea state and gusty winds that seem to be getting worse rather than better as we get nearer the Horn. I was watching the waves earlier too, the main swell is from the south west, left over from that last blow, and the wind sea on top is from the west, which is where our wind is from at the moment.
The result is a sea state something akin to a bath that has a brick dropped in the middle of it – it is very messy! The boat doesn’t like it either, no sooner does it start to surf than it gets stopped by an odd wave or the breeze dies. You always seem to get funny weather in the vacuum left by a big blow, but it will stabilise eventually.
The breeze has constantly been ranging between 15 and 35 knots under some enormous cumulus clouds, which makes sail choices difficult, but we are moving, and I am grateful for that, and we have only two days to go to Cape Horn.
The blow we had did us some favours though, it was good fast sailing, downwind and then reaching in strong conditions with a good sea state, and the most wind we saw was about 48 knots, so not bad at all really and certainly not as bad as forecast, so we made some good time. We were much more fortunate than Dee, Cali and Brian who got hammered at the Horn by the same system which had really wound itself up by that point – not nice, but they are OK, which is the main thing.
After the worst of the weather had passed us by and I had just written an e-mail to Dee to that effect, I was drying out my swamp downstairs, bucket and sponge in hand, when there was a big hissing noise, then a thump, and the boat fell over. It seemed for the longest time like water just poured and poured over the boat, shutting out the light, but in reality it probably only lasted a few seconds.
I banged my cheekbone on something trying to hold onto a half full bucket of grubby bilge water! I remember thinking “Well that’ll teach you to speak too soon!” I don’t know if I have a bruise, the only mirror I have is just about good enough to check I haven’t chopped my ears off whilst shaving! (I asked Kim asked to bring some shaving oil to Les Sables when she comes out to the finish as I ran out ages ago, and when I told her I was using cooking oil instead she was horrified!)
She says she doesn’t want me coming home smelling, but the thing is, when I’ve had a shave I smell like tortellini, and that makes me hungry!
When I went outside all of my normally neatly bagged bits of string were streaming out behind the boat! Luckily the storm staysail in its bag in the cockpit was tied on. There was no sign of my big wave, it had just blended into the scenery and gone. I was glad I hadn’t been on deck…..
For the first time I am aware of how cold it is here. The sun is warm during the day when you see it, but it is cold when you can’t see it and bitter at night, and the water, well, that is pretty raw I can tell you. When I wash up in seawater it is very cold, and my fresh water, sitting in a jerry can next to the hull is a bit parky too – it makes my face washing even more brief than usual, but it does wake you up pretty quickly.
A session on deck makes my hands red, they don’t feel the cold but just change colour, and you can easily see why there is ice about, the ropes feel like icicles. There are some icebergs around the Horn, but I am more worried about Reid Stowe, the American ‘artist’ who is spending a thousand days at sea in a ferro-cement schooner, and who was last reported somewhere on the track I will take and that everyone before me has taken, so I will have to keep an eye open for him shortly, I think we’d come off worse if we hit him!
I have just done a tour of the deck before dark, in which time the breeze has gone from 19 to 36 knots, and back down to 23, but the sea state has magically sorted itself out, and we are now mooving smoothly and easily. Supper time now – soup and bread, freeze dried pasta and veg, then a pint of instant custard and fresh fruit in a sachet. Excellent!!