Day 31 Act III - the mixture of canned tuna, blackcurrant juice, caramel coffee and potato did not help - as it all came up again
This past several days we have been trapped. To declare that I am frustrated and deflated is an understatement. It is such - that an EGM of the South Atlantic Residents Association ended in apathy - as we enter our second month at sea - and talk of Cannibalism, Uruguay, and accidentally world famous school and rugby.
Its one extreme to another. We have been locked, seemingly., in a never-ending high pressure system. It was spread wide on either side and difficult to escape.
Instead we are catching snippets of wind here, there and everywhere to slowly and painfully make our way up along the coast of South America.Its been a bit like the Doldrums, coming early, on steroids.
Its busy. Lots to do. But motivation on board is at a low, to do anything, When on track, on course, in a breeze the world is the greatest. But it is at times like this you need all your staying power and mental strength to stay sane and focused.
I was also sick in my stomach - mind you the mixture of canned tuna, blackcurrant juice, caramel coffee and potato did not help - as it all came up again - what a waste. However we have plenty of supplies on board.
Seeking to avoid the high pressure, we are way out in the Atlantic - as we slowly creep North. Argentina is ahead - bordering Uruguay- where I first visited the Capital, Montevideo, which I remember clearly from 25 years ago. It was a fascinating privilege to stay at the Stella Maris School with a group of Irish Christian Brothers from Ireland through a friend's introduction. Their order established the school in 1955 and reported to Dublin.
With a large staff, the school was then run by about 8 Brothers at the time - though I understand this has scaled back considerably with less and less vocations. The school had over 700 students and educated the elite of this small country. For bizarre reasons the school had become accidentally world famous.
Ironically it was almost a victim of its own success. Driven by a wonderful idealism, the Order had come to Uruguay to bring the concept of Christianity back to society through education and were invited by local families. It had been lost through successive dictatorships and the banning of religion.
Stella Maris, named by the founder, Brother Patrick Kelly a devotee of the Virgin Mary, had become one of the best and most exclusive schools in the country - educating the families of top politicians and business people.
After a relatively turbulent history, Uruguay is the second smallest country in South America with a population of just over 3.4 million - with about half in Montevideo. In 2013 it was named as the " country of the year" by the Economist. Its laws are liberal from same-sex marriage to the legalizing of Cannabis and is one of the most socially developed countries in the region.
It ranked highly on global measures of personal rights and in economic freedom, growth, software, e-commerce, infrastructure investment. Nearly 95% of the countries electricity comes from renewable sources - mostly wind parks and hydroelectric.
The Stella Maris School has also led the way in developing the Rugby Union of Uruguay. And it was in 1972 that a school rugby team and supporters were flying on an Uruguayan Airforce plane. It crashed in the Andes and, after several days all hope was lost and the searching was stopped.
This is where the Cannibalism came in. Ultimately in a truly amazing story of survival. Only 16 survived after 72 days, of the 45 on the plane and they did it by eating the dead.
It became the subject of a book (ALIVE: The Story of the Andes Survivors) and a major film. And so concluding the log - in the world of survival and adventure there is a lot to be said for a Christian brothers education out here in the South Atlantic Ocean - where thinking and doing are equated. And on the fine words of Thomas Moore I quote:
"I've been told by learned Christians
That wishing and the crime are one
And Heaven punishes desires
As much as if the deed were done."
" If wishing damned us, you and I
Are damned to all our hearts content
Come, then, at least we may enjoy
Some pleasure for our punishment"
WE HAD a major event on board. The Skipper changed his socks.
Also one of the largest Cruise Ships in the World, the Island Princess out of Bermuda, turned around on our account, a deep sea trawler off Chile gave us a shock - we thought they were pirates - and most important, mainsail repairs have been completed. Now we have no need to stop at the Falklands and we are now slowly beating North into headwinds up the South Atlantic.
The sock change came after three weeks on the same feet, night and day. In fact I might almost say, they hardened up and walked themselves overboard cheered and encouraged by the Southern Ocean Residents Association. And while they gave good service, the sheer delight in wearing a fresh pair was almost erotic.
I have been wearing the same clothes all the time for warmth. Also I am also fairly certain the socks would not have qualified for the Souffle du Nord 'odd socks' charity fundraising campaign - so they were no loss when tossed over the side. Being biodegradable, the ocean will quickly absorb them.
This is unlike my other rubbish to date of the two refuse sacks - collected on board from living. This will be disposed and hopefully recycled on landfall.
Be that as it may, following the elation of rounding Cape Horn, it was back to work to execute repairs under almost ideal conditions. For almost two days we were becalmed off the coast Tierra del Fuego. The ocean was beautiful, rich in sealife and large clumps of drifting seaweed - that snarled around the keel and rudders. The weed was difficult to remove, however sailing the boat backwards helped.
And while not pretty, the mainsail repair looks solid. For one person it was demanding removing the sail from the boom and patching it. Effectively one of the broken battens, went out of control in the 40 knot squall when I was dropping the main and its sharp end punched two large holes and 8 small holes in the sail.
The damage fortunately was not structural to the sail and after sewing the heavy sail together I put on several patches secured on by Sycaflex, a powerful flexible adhesive.
It was another problem and another solution found.
Through friends of friends a kind introduction to the Harbourmaster in Port Stanley in the Falklands was made. Fortunately I managed to avoid stopping for repairs which has a different set of risks for a solo sailor in a 60 footer in a commercial port.
Also, within the "Spirit of the Vendee and finishing unofficially, I wanted if at all possible to remain self-contained and complete the repair onboard. Here a great thanks to Maxime Buoy and Pierre-Antoine Tesson for their excellent preparatory work.
Mind you; we did sail past the Falklands. For many other reasons it would have been great to visit and see how they are getting on since Argentina grabbed them in 1982 from the British. Then Margaret Thatcher mustered an invasion Task Force who fought and won the islands back two months later.
It's still enshrined in my memory. It was fascinating to follow at the time and perhaps the last great maritime and traditional war. It played out in slow motion as the massive task force was assembled over several weeks and sailing to the Falklands. And while Britain still holds the islands and the vast majority of the islanders wish to remain British, they Maldives as the Argentinians remain a source conflict between the two countries for almost 200 years.
Now 35 years later the islands are self-governed while Britain provide Defence and Foreign Office representation. In world ranking the Falklands have the 222nd smallest economy in the World out of 229 countries ranked. However their per capita annual income at $96,000 is the 5th highest in the world. So I guess it's a cool place to visit,
The islands developed most as a shipping base and repair centre, some 350 miles from Cape Horn, before the Panama Canal opened in 1914 and had been in decline until the Argentinian invasion. And now with fishing, sheep farming and the prospect of oil, the population is growing again.
Then as we sailed north, past the Falklands and up along the South American coastline, early in the morning my collision alarm sounded on board. On looking out in the distance a vessel was approaching and pointed straight at me.
With some tales of local Hispanic pirates I was alarmed. All I could do was start the auxiliary motor to avoid them and have flares ready, my only defence. Or should I be passive and not resist? Gradually it grew and grew on the horizon. What kind of vessel was it?
I need not have worried. It was a Chilean long-liner fishing boat which simply swept past. I guess it was simply boredom or curiosity and they came past to check us out! With a massive wave (of relief on my side) they were on the way. With language issues, radio contact, was futile.
And later that day, these being my first vessel encounters in almost a month since leaving New Zealand I had a totally different kind of visitor. It was a massive cruise ship, the Island Princess out of Bermuda. She is one of the largest in the World and I guessed had followed me a few days later around Cape Horn, being too big to go through Panama,
She actually went past and that was it. Or so I thought. Some 20 minutes later, while below deck, I looked up and saw the massive ship hovering above in the evening light. Clearly they had come back - a massive exercise for such a ship - and must have thought I could be in trouble. This was very embarrassing.
While in a little shock, I grabbed the hand-held VHF and called the ship on channel 16 and established quick contact and explained to the ship, the radio operator and I guess the Captain, that I was fine and really did not wish to cause any inconvenience and would have called if that was the case when passing. It seems that I had caused some excitement on board.
I was surprised that any passengers even noticed me. Or could it have been my socks?
They explained some passengers were watching and reported to the Bridge that they thought I might be in trouble. Therefore Captain felt obliged to turn around. They seemed relaxed about it and went on their way while I had a friendly chat with the ship. One of the officers said he would be in Paris April 9th so I invited him for a drink at O'Sullivan's Irish Pub - I guess the owner Tom St.John will oblige with a pint!!
So with that, in the comfort of fresh socks and as a tribute to Le Souffle du Nord's collection of odd socks I finish with a selection of two expressions.
"Sock it to me, Sock it to me, Sock it to me……"
"Enda, your're a Hard Man…
Hard as socks…."
In response to which I was never sure was this a compliment or an insult? Being positive as the voyage of our ship sails on, I opt for the former, though the latter may be more deserved.
WE lived on the edge through several enormous waves prior to rounding Cape Horn. The winds were a steady 40 knots and gusted up to 50 knots. It was turbulent and through our ships various violent gyrations in, around, and through the waves, I would like to say I was not afraid or nervous. But I was. And frightened - but there was no going back.
The Rounding at 2241hrs, 16th February, 2018, exceeded all expectations.
And then, as if by magic, it seemed like we had entered the garden of Eden - without Eve or any apple trees - not long after turning the corner. It warmed up, the winds became lighter, the seas were flatter in the lee of Tierra Del Fuego. Yet, down at the Horn, it was still howling. To boot, the South Atlantic Residents Association gave us an imaginary champagne reception and it was party time and eureka!
From this experience, it drove home to me the fame and reputation of Cape Horn. The Roaring 40ies, the Howling 50ies and the Screaming 60ies - are not age related (though in my case could be!). Rather they are bands of latitude around the bottom of our planet. Here the winds and oceans roll around the World from West to East almost uninterrupted.
These winds are exacerbated at the horn by the funneling effect of the Andes and the Antarctic peninsula. The waves also encounter an area of shallower water which has the effect of making them shorter and steeper - increasing the hazard to ships. Notorious also for rogue waves which can attain heights of 30 metres - 98 ft. And of course the ice hazards
The Cape was discovered and first rounded by the Dutchman Willem Schouten who named it Kaap Hoorn after the city of Hoorn in the Netherlands. (1615 - 16 voyage of the Eendracht) And Drakes Channel, South of the Horn, was discovered by accident in 1578 when Sir Thomas Drake was blown off course. He was on his way around the World trip through the Straights of Magellin - a passage further north through the bottom of Chile and Argentina.
And it was the Straights of Magellin that Joshua Slocum, the great American singlehanded circumnavigator, used. He was smart and I always recollect his narrative of anchoring at night in the Straights with no guard against the local Indians. Instead he used thumbtacks, his secret weapon. He described how he awoken suddenly in the middle of the night with screaming and roaring as the barefooted robbers discovered the hidden tacksů.
For decades Cape Horn was a major milestone in the Clipper route by which sailing ships carried trade around the world and for US ships going between coasts.
Traditionally a sailor who had rounded cape horn was entitled to wear a gold loop earring - in the left ear, the one which had faced the horn in a typical eastbound passage. He also earned the right to dine with one foot on the table. To boot, a sailor who had rounded the Cape of Good Hope could dine with both feet on the table!
The need for ships to round Cape Horn was massively reduced with the opening of the Panama canal in 1914 and with the opening of transcontinental railways However it remains one of the most elusive and is in Chilean territorial waters. The navy maintain a station close by and it is part of Antarctica Chilean province. There are no trees. It rains 270 days of the year and the average winds are close to gale force with 100 knot squalls.
One historic attempt immortalized in history in the attempt of the HMS bounty in 1788 and subsequent mutiny on the Bounty which was fictionalised. Bounty made only 85 miles of headway in 31 days of East to West sailing - before giving up and going around Africa instead!
Actually the first small boat to sail around the Horn was said to be 42 footer Saoirse, sailed by Limerick man Conor O Brien. With three crew, rounded it during his circumnavigation of the world between 1923 and 1925. The first to do it singlehanded was Argentine Vito Dumas in 1942 on his 33 footer.
And wrapping up this Log, the Horn for your Skipper was a very emotional turning point. It was euphoric after the tribulations of the vast pacific over the past year getting there. On land, it was the equivalent of a good night out, making love; being with friends, and helping someone make their world a better place, and a good meal and you name it..
Subsequently it was back to the reality of removing and repairing a massive mainsail. And getting this great ship, I have the honour to command, the 8,000 miles up the Atlantic to finish. Each one to count for Le Souffle du Nord - Project imagine. And of course the Atlantic Youth Trust. Home boys home.
And of the many stories of poets and adventurers, telling of hazardous journeys around this iconic landmark I quote:
"One sight of such a coast is enough
To make a landsman dream for a week
About shipwrecks, peril and death"
- Charles Darwin
" Cape Horn that tramples beauty into wreck
And crumples steel
And smites the strong man dumb"
- John Maesfield:
Dropping my main sail over and over, I feel a bit like a maniac - up, down, up, down. Now the main is down again for the 3rd time. It's a demanding exercise, manic stuff.
And for the past while; with only a headsail set, the wind has been steady at 25 to 30 knots from the west. And cold. We have been making good progress between 10 and 15 knots towards the elusive Cape Horn, which the Southern Ocean Residents Association seldom stop discussing; and our mystery visitor last night.
Currently I feel very detached from the so-called world living in a small capsule, a bubble disconnected. However the support I am getting is really appreciated. There seems to b a ' head of steam' with Le Souffle du Nord and Project Imagine. Mile by mile, its very encouraging. Likewise in Ireland with school activities and promoting the Atlantic Youth Trust.
I pulled the main down in a 40 knot squall when the repaired 3rd batten had broken. Adding insult to injury, the broken batten, like an out of control swordsman, stabbed several holes in the sail - such was the violent flogging in the squall. Now it's a question of biding time, finding suitable weather to patch it. And away with the main again - hopefully. Happily in the strong westerlies; having no main does not seem to matter a hoot::
Previously I had had to drop the main when a halyard became loose. With a heavy locking device at the end, it proceeded to wrap itself around everything aloft, including the outriggers. It was simply safer to drop sail and climb up the mast and outrigger to solve it.
In many ways in heavy conditions, sailing without a mainsail is tedious. However it is much less stressful. There is no worry about involuntary gybes, damage or the boat going out of control. Instead you plonk along, Now its so easy for gybes and so forth, Generally with the main, we do not gybe over 20 knots, instead it means hardening up on the wind and doing s 360, often difficult in big seas, but safer and time rolls on.
And with time, getting jet lag on a boat happens in very slow motion. It takes so long,its akin to watching paint dry. Each day sailing east, the sun goes down earlier and I find it disorienting. From crossing the international dateline a few weeks back at the 180th we are now almost at a 100. So rather than keep a ' ships time ' I work off GMT which means in practice that it gets dark around 1430 and the sun rises around midnight !
It is supposedly Summer down here. If so, I would hate to be hear during Wintertime. The cold is penetrating, With three layers of thermals, the only way to stay together is to pile on clothes and be religious about wearing oilskins on deck. Regardless the damp and wet penetrates everywhere. And if its not coming externally, internal body perspiration during activities also make my clothes wet. Needless to say the inner layers do not come off, and when they do, you don't want to be near….
However it's the regularity of food, cat napping, routine maintenance work on board and dreaming that keeps me sane, or does it?
Such was the case last evening while in the middle of a review of the day with the Residents Association when we had an unexpected visitor. Probably in his late 20ies he was a British seaman who called himself Cape Horn Man who said he had fallen overboard on a passage and because his body was never found he is locked in perpetual eternity warning passing ship captains to take care:
And my final thoughts are summarized in the final stanza of Invictus by William Ernest Henley; the poem was kindly nominated by Bettina of the Project Imagine Team; who is in charge of the production of their films:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
WE were faced with a difficult choice. One was to go north over the top of a vicious looking low pressure system. Or south around the bottom. Either way it would be a slog since the wind was predominantly East and North East - our general direction of travel. Meanwhile Cape Horn is ever so slowly getting closer and there is harmony between the three Residents Association groups who have merged
Time will tell. It looks as if the southerly option taken will work since the low has moved faster and deeper than expected.Also being slower in the headwinds, allows it to run before us. Going south its also colder. My fingers freeze a little while punching out this log - which I do not feel like doing - but it's a regular discipline - as with running our ship. Again punters say this is madness - so be it - but its desperately disciplined and you need to be desperately sane to express ones madness.
Now starting our 3rd week at sea, I am never away from the 'edge'. Day after day, 24/7, - or even 35/8 - there is constant movement and risk. There is always work to be done on these incredibly sophisticated boats refined for one man to operate. Its most definitely a love / hate relationship. Its massively isolated, alone, but not lonely.
Progress has not been good. I found the boom had disconnected from the mast in a routine check. The swivel stainless fitting had unwound. It was two hours before dark and despite dropping the mainsail, darkness won in my struggle to get it fixed and the boom back in position. I was exhausted and went to bed - if you can call it that - crouched on the navigators seat.
And its amazing what rest and a new dawn brought. A new approach, unbolt the mast fitting, reconnect the stainless fitting - fortunately the screw thread was only damaged a little. Then a series of four sets of block and tackle gradually leveraging the boom goose neck into the right position and "hey bingo". Problem solved.
After that there was no wind for almost 24 hours. It was dark, the sails clattered and we rolled in the swell. Then, within 5 minutes it went suddenly to 35 knots - gale force - making it a struggle to get the boat under control without damage. This was accomplished, not without shock to my system, again on the edge - and we back in business and away.
All of the above I might add, was reported for consultation with the Executive of the Southern Ocean Residents Associations (SORA). Namely Adolf the Monkey, Paddy the Leprechaun and the Kiwi Spirited teddy Bear whose views and opinions were confusing.
It has been a lifetimes work for me bringing ideas, community projects, companies and people together. I am proud to have been able the manage (not always successfully !!!) the different personalities of the different groupings, beliefs, expectations and socio-economic backgrounds. Happily now all is running smoothly that the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South Pacific Residents Associations and have merged to one - SORA.
From here Cap Horn beckons. And as with the Atlantic meting the Indian around the Cape of Good Hope (renamed by a PR exercise - originally Cape of Storms) and then the transition to the Pacific south of New Zealand, change brings turbulence. So lets see what the next two weeks will bring - hopefully safely into home Atlantic waters but at least e have SORA together.
We're together again
We're here, We're here And Never
In the history of human endeavour
Has so much not been done
And a lot more to do
Day 11, Act III
TODAY, with the South Pacific Residents Association, we have celebrated Waitangi Day - February 6th. Our Chairman considered it fitting - in view of us being half-way between Chile, which hosts Cape Horn, some 2,500 miles ahead and New Zealand 2,500 miles astern.
And, as we make solid progress ^¨NB) the Chair also passed a motion that the Skipper should improve his French. Her reason is that many of our 'back ups' on board are in the French language and to run the boat, fulfil my duties, I need adequate French. And, also perhaps to support the great future plans and vision for Le Souffle du Nord where, when Sylvian and Francois get going, the pensioners will cast off their walking sticks aside and be dancing in the streets of Lille with joy.....
And to this day, at school, I regret being a bad boy and having to leave our French class. Instead bad students had to go to the commerce class !
Indeed, had Napoleon not gone East and his troops not frozen to death on route to Moscow, he might have come to Ireland. Then we would all suffer for superiority complexes, speak French and eat more cheese. Instead we speak English and are so well politically balanced that we have ' chips' on both shoulders.
And, central to today's celebration on board, is that we have had the benefit of a ritual Maoiri Blessing before departing Kiwiland. And we carry spiritual symbols of this with Ponunmu Stones for home. And with the stones " Roimata" or "Tears of Joy" with three lines
1) Focus, on where you want to go
2) Freedom, to be what you want to be
3) Fun, life is good.
And, on this day as we celebrate, there are few, if any, more remote spots on the planet. The closest islands being the tiny Picturns to the north and land land being the Antharthica some 1,000 miles south.
And so with the merging of our South Pacific with the Indian and South Atlantic Residents Association, Waitangi as a celebration Day seemed like a natural.
Worldwide this has become New Zealand Day. Not without its controversy, it marks the founding document of the country famous signing of the treaty between the British Crown and more than 40 Maori Chiefs at Waitangi, in the Bay of Island, north of Auckland on 6ht February 1840.
The day, very symbolic politicially, throughout New Zealand, has also been used as a beacon of protest concerning treaty injustice by Maori activists. This is a side of the country we do not see much of. And, from what I see, by contrast with other minorities in other parts of the world, the Maoiris have had a good deal though integration of societies presents a large problem up to today. ( Of course in Ireland we have a lot of experience here where we host some of the last remaining great white tribes of the world !)
Back in the nautical world, for many sailors, the Americas Cup is very symbolic as is the amazing achievement of winning it. And when in Auckland as guests of the Royal New Yacht Squadron, holders of the Cup - and New Zealand Yachting - we were horrified to learn that a Maoiri activist had gained access a while back and almost smashed the Cup to pieces. Happily it was rebuilt by the original jewellers from 1850 and security is like at ' fort knox ' and, having triggered the alarms, I know!
And on board in my real ' unreal' world, progress has been steady. We have been on the same tack and sail combination for several days. A steady westerly wind constantly between 15 and 20 knots. Each day merges through overcast skies and drizzle with solid progress and no drama. A routine on board is developing for this second week - following the trials, turbulations, damage and successful repairs in week one.
And to round off todays's Log, and Waitangi Day, the Skipper and entire Council of the residents association dined out at the best restaurant on board ship. I had a steak, medium rare on a stone with mushrooms, onions, fresh vegetables and, of course, chips.
And, if only, such was a wish were true. Fom the words of Thomas Moore, who was told by his clergyman that wishing and the crime are one - and Heaven punishes desires as much as if the deed were done to which he replied.
And, if wishing damns us, you and I
Are damned to all our heart's content:
Come, then, at least we may enjoy
Some pleasure for our punishment