BECALMED

November 26, 2008

Becalmed. A windless sea is a sailor’s worst frustration. This is where we found ourselves; like men in a parched desert looking for an oasis we searched for wind only to find mirages under clouds.

The first day (November 21), we welcomed the lack of wind. The calm gave us rest from the weather we had. We soaked up the morning sun, enjoying fresh fish cooked in beer batter. By midday, the wind filled in and the boat was cruising at around 6 knots. Rested, we settled in as the evening approached, relieved that the wind had returned; but the wind was only playing a cheeky game with us. Early in the morning, the breeze had faded away to nothing. The sails whipped back and forth angrily in the long deep swells, cracking like whips. Curses of frustration from the man on watch were heard below while others tried but failed to sleep. In despair, the engine was turned back on, the iron sail pushing us forward.

Day 2 (November 22), the wind continued to hide from us and we motored on, eating up diesel. The crew makes the best of a situation we cannot control. Stuart took a shower in the rain and Doug G. reeled in another fish just in time for lunch, its bright metallic green blue quickly fading in death. However, the lack of wind and fuel consumption weighed heavily on everybody’s mind and the crew discussed whether we should stop at the Cape Verde Islands for fuel. Piracy, the headache of customs and time delays make us hesitate. As we talked, the engine died. Silent, we look at each other. Tank 1, 200 gallons, has run dry – one third of our supply. We had not anticipated the use of so much fuel so early, relying on the northeast trades, which have yet to show themselves. We need the fuel to punch through the doldrums at the equator. Cape Verde Islands now looms as the only option.

Day passes into a clear moonless night. Stars cover the sky from horizon to horizon. Far, far in the distance, the horizon would flash with light from the thunderstorms ranging over Africa. The ocean was calm as a sheltered bay. Seabeams glistened in the darkness, washing off the wake of the boat. A glow came off the rudder like a hot phosphoresce plasma trail from a jet engine. We motored through the night.

Day 3 (November 23) and the eastern sky glowed brighter, the sun rising a bright orange yellow fireball shining through the low flying clouds. In the west, a heavy bank of rain clouds burned light yellow at their tops, against the light blue morning sky. Lower, their colours changed to pinks then purples then grey as their bottoms met the sea. There was now a whisper of a breeze but we still motored on. As the morning sun rose in the sky so did the wind growing steadily, finally reaching 13 knots. Quickly we turned off the engine and sails set, the boat bucking with joy as the she pranced along at 6 knots.

It is now November 26 and we have been continually sailing, the winds having returned. It is not a strong wind at only 13 knots, sometimes dropping to 7 knots. We are still sailing hard on the SE wind waiting for the NE trades, but we will take it, happy the winds have returned, talk of stopping at the Cape Verde Islands has dissipated along with the sailor’s word frustration of being becalmed.

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