The steady South Easterlies and North running Guiana current have aided us in playing catch up since our delayed departure in Recife. Until now, the majority of our sailing has been downwind with an interchanging variety of gybes, sail area and use of poles.
The equator crossing fell in the middle of the day and there was a real feeling of excitement on board as we crossed back into the Northern hemisphere. Ordinarily a fiercely proud West Country English girl it was a really wonderful feeling to shift the context and feel a real sense of the northerner inside me. Whilst the equatorial crossing on the way down was significant as my first this represented a different sensation altogether with a feeling of comfort that I imagine the sailors of old may have felt in the knowledge of their imminent return to home waters.
For the ladies on board it was a time for painted faces and party hats and giving thanks to Neptune with a cold beer to celebrate which was a real tonic for all on board in the sweltering heat of the day.
Shortly after we passed back to the North so appeared our first squall. Naturally it was at night and it stealthily crept upon us during my watch. We had noted that the Stars were slowly being swallowed by a black expanse of sky that was gaining on us from behind and I decided to run a quick check on the radar on my way to the heads. As the screen whirred into life the large familiar red target of a squall appeared directly behind us and my plans of a toilet break were scuppered as I swiftly returned to the helm. At just the moment that I arrived back and Sarah had the wheel in her hands the skies opened and a torrent of rain began to fly at us almost horizontally from behind.
The instruments were reading at over 30 knots and we were carrying a full main with a gybe preventer and a full polled out Yankee headsail. I immediately asked Sarah if she would prefer that I take the helm and her response was unequivocal as she passed me the wheel. There was literally nothing but blackness around us and with the wind at our backs we hung on and took off on an exhilarating 20 minute sleigh ride into the night until the squall had passed and we were left wet through but elated with adrenalin having surfed the Atlantic swell at 15knkts through the water. Ordinarily this may not have been her greatest speed but Sea Dragon is wearing an impressive beard beneath her 50 tonnes which provides a significant drag through the water and when you are surrounded by only darkness these speeds feel exponentially faster!
The weather of the last few days suggests that we have been passing through the ITCZ once again. We are sailing with the wind on our beam and constantly adjusting our sail area as the breeze increases and decreases throughout the day and night. We need to ensure that we maintain enough speed over the ground to get to Guyana in good time whilst allowing time each afternoon to slow the boat down and facilitate the science which is significantly more on this leg than the last. We also need to try to keep the boat as comfortable as possible within these parameters as the ladies onboard continue to try to adjust to a life at sea alongside the relentless heat of the tropics.
Humour once again provides a lifeline when living conditions start to push individual buttons across the crew and there have been many hilarious moments already. Over half of the crew have at one time or another now been hit at night by a flying fish but none so amusing as a small incident last night. As our animated Italian Erica exchanged watch handover words with Shannon from Cornwall a particularly large flying fish arri ved in Shannon’s collar with a slap. The slippery little fella then ricocheted against her mouth and into the face of Erica from whom it then bounced back through the open aft hatch and down into the dark depths of the accommodation area. I hadn’t personally seen the creature at this stage despite being sat right next to the both of them as it was very dark and I was somewhat flabbergasted by what all of the screaming was about. Naturally when I finally got an explanation through the laughter and shrieks I proceeded below to ensure that our smelly little friend hadn’t flown its way into somebody’s bunk as this would not be something fun to wake up to.
Sure enough I found the intruder on the floor of the accommodation area and picked it up with the assistance of some kitchen towel and then broke into a comedy routine of trying to hang on to the flailing and very slippery creature whilst stumbling and swearing in the darkness alongside bunks that were occupied miraculously by crew that remained asleep throughout. Most will be glad to know that I was able to liberate this lucky individual back to the ocean before Diana could eye him up for a dissection.
The science becomes more efficient every day as our times for rigging and de-rigging the Manta Trawl get shorter. It has now become a daily moment of excitement to see what delights are present in the mesh end of the trawl when we recover it after half an hour skimming the ocean surface. Today we pulled in a very small jellyfish amongst plankton and other fascinating creatures that were then studied by Diana through the microscope as those of us that were able watched on via the screen in the saloon. There was a slight hitch in proceedings as Rachel was stung by one of the jellyfish tentacles that had remained in the mesh upon clearing it. Fortunately after some first aid from Imogen she seemed to recover well and it was just a minor sting.
It is humbling to think that currently 300nm to our west lies the mouth of the mighty Amazon River. We have not seen a great abundance of sea life at this stage but Marine Biologist Rachel tells us that many of the tropical species from the Caribbean can’t make it past the flow of the Amazon and as such the marine life to the North and South of the river differs remarkably. It will be fascinating to see if there is any difference from our perspective both visually from the boat and in what we see in the trawl each day. In the meantime we continue with our daily routine to which we now have the added task of dodging flying fish to keep us busy and entertained.
Emily Caruso – 1st mate, eXXpedition crew