Firefly, 2 December 2001: The benefit, if one discounts bruises and rope burned hands, is that at the end of the first week we have covered nearly 1,200 miles

Firefly, 2 December 2001
28° 49 N 33° 49 W
Distance to St Lucia 1,604 NM

The fact that Stewart and Duncan are on deck tying in the third reef, the headsail is reefed to less than half size and Firefly is still sailing at between 7.5 and 8.5 knots sums up this first week of ARC 2001 very well; loads of wind but from the right-ish direction, a very confused cross sea up to 3 or 4 metres, a legacy perhaps of hurricane Olga and the other recent Atlantic storms, and fast sailing. Another indicator is that none of us has serious tans and right now, as another squall comes through, the sky is a uniform European winter grey.

The benefit, if one discounts bruises and rope burned hands, is that at the end of the first week we have covered nearly 1,200 miles, averaging 170 miles a day through the water and coincidentally, despite our meanderings as we gybe downwind, the same distance from Las Palmas, the extra distance accounted for by the west going current.

The confused seas have meant that to sail dead downwind risks an all-standing gybe which in 20-25 knots of wind could cause a lot of damage. Indeed we already have an ‘asymmetric’ pulpit when, sailing wing and wing the JibBoom gybed and the preventer bent it like a bit of plastic. So we are sailing at about 150 degrees, which suits the JibBoom fine as it stays fully powered to leeward.

Our gybe yesterday evening took us off the course that had been taking us southwest in search of the elusive Trades and back towards a more direct course to St Lucia. Initially we meandered up to 30 degrees off the direct course but in the last hour the wind has veered and the extra north in it means we can lay the course.

So far the magic 200-mile day has eluded us but if the present wind holds, and the forecast says it will, today we stand a good chance.

As for the crew, we seem to be standing up well, though still a bit short on sleep. Sail changes at night often demand more than one person on deck and the 3 on, 6 off watch system means solid sleep is often hard to come by. Both Stewart and Duncan have rope burns suffered when reefing down at night but neither is serious.

We eat well, in fact our last fresh meat goes into the oven tomorrow, weather permitting. And we still have enough fruit and veg for several days until we resort to tins. We are lucky having Duncan on board as an excellent cook and Mr Fixit whilst Stewart with his immense round the world practical experience so adds another dimension to what seems, touch wood, to be a crew well balanced in talent – the skipper apart that is who, apparently, always gets in the way and tries to interfere too much!

As for the week ahead, I am looking forward to more typical Trade Wind sailing with more comfortable seas and sun, Stewart cannot wait to start fishing once the fresh meat is finished and Duncan wants to be able to cook without half the contents finishing up on the cabin sole.

Best gear on board so far? A roll of white, bobbly non-skid matting which now liberally covers galley surfaces. The only disadvantage is that it works so well that whilst a mug of tea may not skid, sometimes its C. of G. goes over top dead centre – so do its contents.