Firefly, 1 December 2001: The forecast is predicting northeasterlies for this sea area and if that happens it’ll be straight down the line, afterburners on, for the Caribbean

Firefly, 1 December 2001
20° 55 N 30° 39 W
Course 224°, wind 20-25 knots E
Speed 7.8-8.8 knots
Distance to St Lucia 1,780 nm

I forgot to mention in previous reports that we have managed to jury rig the first reef so we are back up to full speed and we (Duncan) also found the log book. And with no more breakages in the last 24 hours and something approaching Trade Wind conditions life is pretty good on board.

The fresh food is holding out, the wine cellar looks healthy, we are slowly catching up on sleep and the Atlantic Ocean is a deep, deep blue black, dotted with white crests and the occasional skittering shoal of flying fish. We have also seen three other yachts in the last 12 hours so must be closing on the motorway to the west.

Once again the Azores High has built south of the islands so the winds, which started fresh to strong at the start have now continued that way for six days. We still have not hit the magic 200 mile day but are getting precious close to it; the last four days, fix to fix, have been 182, 183, 178 and, disappointingly, 160.

But we are still in search of the elusive NE Trades. Our optimum downwind sailing angle is 150 true at which point the JibBoom is working its magic and we make very good speed. I’m glancing at the speedo right now and it shows 9.4 as we surge down a wave. We know from the radio scheds that we are well up in the group ahead of ours so the tactic seems to me paying off.

Tonight, when we reach 20°N we’re going to gybe onto what will be the making gybe to St Lucia but on a course which will edge north again away from where we hope to find the northeasterlies. However, the forecast is predicting northeasterlies for this sea area and if that happens it’ll be straight down the line, afterburners on, for the Caribbean.

There is a downside to all of this. Last night for example – and here the nights last for 14 hours – two big squalls came through, the first gusting to nearly 30 knots with some rain, the second to well over this with a tropical downpour as well.

Stewart was on watch, playing organ stops with the clutches (he swears Firefly has more lines than any boat he’s sailed) as he took in the second reef and rolled in the genoa. He came below eventually, soaked to the skin and with nasty rope burns to one of his hands where the jib outhaul took off despite his having turns round the winch.

Apart from that there is the constant noise and motion. Firefly is tightly built like a drum and every noise, from the clipping on of a harness to water past the hull and the graunching of the electric winch echoes through the boat. But it’s the motion that is hardest and this, perhaps, is the penalty we pay for speed.

As she dips, rolls, surges and corkscrews around the only certainty about it is the uncertainty. All of us are nursing bruises and contusions from unexpected contact with one part of the boat or another. And the call of ‘big one, hold on!’ echoes down from the cockpit two or three times an hour. Still, it is warm and sunny.