Firefly, 9 December 2001: But wait! Sounds off! The gods of weather bring you Act 3 and a new character to the plot, a new arrow from their quiver of special effects; lightning

Firefly, 9 December 2001
18° 17 N 51° 24 W
Distance to St Lucia 605nm

The little Garmin 12XL hand-held GPS which has guided us thus far with great patience is now showing touching faith in our mere mortal abilities to guide Firefly through rain and squall to St Lucia. It is giving us an ETA. OK, so it varies between 65 and 100 hours as the speed changes but it actually thinks it will arrive!

So why are we navigating with hand held (actually one of three GPS on board) when we have an all-singing, all-dancing, top of the range Raytheon differential set (not that that makes any difference out here)? One that reads out to the Navtex, radar, chart plotter, VHF and, if I wanted, to this computer?

The answer seems to be either a basic design flaw in the transfer protocol as the incoming GPS signal is received and distributed or a lack of understanding of on board power management by the installers of my electrics and electronics.

Because I cannot get any GPS readout unless the radar/plotter is turned on and when it is turned on it draws something like 5 amps. Even the watermaker draws only twice that, and with our daily power consumption close to 100 amp hours we are in any event having to run the engine 3 hours a day. For the technical among you, we are running a 105 ah high output Balmar alternator via a Balmar smart 3-stage regulator to a 200 ah Elecsol service battery. Additionally there are 75ah dedicated batteries for engine start and windlass.

Compared to yesterday, things are quieter today. But in the context of our ARC 2001 quieter is a very relative word. The wind is now in the 20-28 knots bracket, the seas peak at only 4 metres and the average distance of fall from a wave has gone from a bone-crunching crash to a mere splintering thud. Not that Firefly seems to mind, because apart from a couple of very minor (yet still very irritating) window and chainplate leaks, she sounds and feels as solid as the day we left Lymington.

No, it is the frail bodies inside her that find it difficult to manage, falling and careering from one side of the boat to the other, collecting new bruises as we go. Even the breadmaker decided it would do a Tinkerbelle last night, failing miserably on first take-off and ending up swinging dejectedly from its power lead.

But wait! Sounds off! The gods of weather bring you Act 3 and a new character to the plot, a new arrow from their quiver of special effects; lightning, Thor’s sword, flickering around us for much of the night, luckily none too near to us but judging from the sched this morning not everyone was as lucky. No reports of hits, though.

As all the possibilities churned through my mind as I lay at the edge of sleep on my off watch, I only came up with three possible precautions.

  • 1. Set watches accurately to the second in case we lose all power and systems if struck and need to use the sextant
  • 2. Put GPS and Iridium phone in the oven (for a discussion of this see January YW, published 13 December)
  • 3. Wrap a chain between backstay and Hydrovane to provide a direct route from masthead to sea.

We still have CuNim and anvil heads visible on most sides but generally the weather seems slowly to be getting quieter. Who knows, by the time I report tomorrow we might be becalmed and bemoaning our lot.