On adventure upon the high seas, part 4

Saturday 29th September, Bay of Biscay.
NNE force 4, 1009 mbar.

The rocking and rolling of the boat, the incessant creaking of the cabin walls, and being occasionally flung across my bunk do not make for a restful night’s sleep. The watch rota is three hours on, six hours off, so when given the opportunity to sleep at night it’s foolish to turn it down – even if actual sleep is harder to come by.

Back on deck for 9am to relieve Martin. A third day of waking up to nothing but the ocean on all sides. The sun is up already, it’s bright and warm, and the northerly-blown swell still rolls us around on its back, but we’re losing speed. In an effort to pick up more wind without changing direction, we all get ready to do some actual sailing under Michael’s guidance. Turning into the wind, we reef the mainsail down to just a duvet-sized sheet, and unfurl the genoa to it’s maximum extent. With the wind from behind us we hope that without the mainsail literally taking the wind out of it we will be pulled along faster. We’re not. The huge acreage of sail empties and fills as the wind gusts one way or another, whipping to and fro with a loud crack. We put everything back as it was, ropes flying around capstans and through our hands. While it was all for nothing in the end, it feels good to be playing a part in rigging the ship and trimming the sails – reminding us that it’s not all autopilot in these days of GPS and electronic terrain-following charts.

The race is on to get Charlotte to the airport in A Coruna in time for her 3pm flight on Sunday. Midway through the Bay of Biscay with just under 24 hours to go we’re looking good for distance but poor on speed. There’s nothing for it but to use the engine.

The day creeps by, the sun sweeps across the bow, and the crew graze their way through the provisions. Without a great deal of sailing to do – no tacking, no making ropes or mending sails or swabbing decks – I feel an tinge of cabin fever, the four of us in a cockpit perhaps 10 feet square. I read Breakfast at Tiffany’s and eat cereal bars and sip whisky to pass the time.

I also make a discovery – I’ve forgotten my passport, which means I will be illegally immigrating into Spain – sounds like fun. It’s impossible for every port to rigorously check every boat, so all borders are porous to a degree. But Michael and Salamander are heading south for Lisbon, Morocco, the Canaries and then St Lucia, so it’s getting back home that presents a more pressing problem.

I cook a final curry – Indian and brown rather than Thai and green this time – and we settle in for the final night at sea. On watch at 3am, the night is once again clear and the moon is finally full and wears a halo behind each passing cloud. It’s certainly a humbling experience to be out at sea, in more than 4,000 metres of the North Atlantic, on a little boat tossed around by the wind and waves. There’s plenty of time and space to think, listen to the waves. Too much, even.

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