Day 21 – Saturday 25 January.
By Grant Chapman.
The wind blew from the east for most of the morning, giving us a good start to the day with gusts up to 26 knots while we had the big bag up. We eventually took the bag down at lunch time when the wind became blustery and started coming from the north east, making the spinnaker uncontrollable, especially as we were running across the swell to maintain our position north of some less favourable winds to the south west of us.
We worked out that the big purple spinnaker had been up for a total of 53 hours. With the more northerly winds we sailed on white sails on a broad reach, getting 7 knots in 15 knot winds with the swell beam-on, making the ride somewhat uncomfortable until the wind petered out in the early evening when it veered to the south east. Lighter winds seemed to be the order of the day each evening as the reduction in solar energy at sunset made itself felt but pickied up again in the night when clouds started rolling in behind us. The sea was very warm at 270 C which enticed most of the crew into taking a swim, except that barreling along at 7 knots presented its own difficulties as one had to hang onto both the stern and one’s clothing at the same time, lest you lose either one of them.
We did our calculations again and determined that we needed to achieve an average of 6 knots for the rest of the voyage to get into Rio before the race cut-off time. With this somewhat sobering information we logged on to our satellite modem and received the news from the race committee that a race notice had been issued extending the race cut-off date to Saturday the 1st of February at 21:00UTC. This came as very welcome news as we certainly needed the extra time in case we experienced low winds any time in the next week because an average of 6 knots was going to be a very big ask of a cruising boat like Rotary Scout. We were managing to hold our own in our division and class, coming 3rd and 1st respectively but all this would be lost if we didn’t make the cut-off time as we would be disqualified from the race and considered to have retired. The race committee had obviously realized that this year’s race was proving to be a relatively slow one for everyone other than the remarkable racing machine Maserati and that having a good part of the fleet not finishing, especially the cruisers after so many of them had abandoned the race with damage after the first few days, din’t make much sense. It was remarkable to think how modern technology allows a person to make the journey from South Africa to Brazil by aeroplane in just over 12 hours and less than 50 years ago the only means was by boat that would take several weeks.
We managed to work out the error in the Local Hour Angles for our selected stars to do our celestial navigation and successfully sighted the stars and planets we needed at civil twilight. It was during this exercise that we witnessed a phenomenal sight. At an altitude of no more than 250 above the horizon off our starboard beam a meteorite must have entered earth’s atmosphere as there was this bright red glowing object streaking across the night sky at what must have been thousands of kilometers per hour with orange flares peeling off the back of it, extinguishing as they trailed behind the path of the piece of space debris hurtling along. After about 4 seconds of this extraordinary display the meteorite started burning white hot along its entire length which must have been several hundred meters, lighting up the night sky around it and dimming the stars with its brilliance until it broke into three separate pieces that chased each other across the ocean. The whole sequence of events must have taken about 7 seconds in all, which by all accounts was a very long time for such a phenomenon and had us wondering whether we had witnessed something very rare or if being in the middle of the ocean allowed one to witness such events that are a regular occurrence. Whatever the explanation it was certainly a sight to behold and we considered ourselves very privileged to have had the opportunity to see first-hand such a magnificent display of celestial activity that one usually only gets to see in computer-generated cinema graphic representations and which we were most likely never to see again in our lives.
For supper we had Ina Paarman’s roasted mushrooms pasta sauce with soya and country herb smash with baked beans, sweetcorn and mixed veg, followed by peaches and custard for pudding. Our meals had become a highlight in our day as each day seemed to run into each other with pretty much the same activities. The meal was as delicious as it sounded, although the presentation could have done with a bit more work, and we were all scraping the last few bits out of our plates. However most of the crew were reminded again of the meal about half an hour later as there was a constant procession to the heads, all with stomach gripes that were no doubt brought on by what we had just eaten, despite the protestations of the cooks who thought otherwise but suffered the same affliction.
We were now approaching Ilha da Trindade which was less than 100 miles away but as we would be leaving it approximately 60 miles north of us we wouldn’t be seeing it. However it was very comforting to know that we now had land within a day’s sail from our position after being out in the middle of the Atlantic ocean for a what a good two weeks and would continue to keep land off our starboard beam as we sailed into Rio over the next week. We had been at sea for 3 weeks today and were looking forward to reaching our destination with lots of conversations on the boat revolving around what we would be doing in Rio and whether the caiparinhos were going to be as good as everyone had been making them out to be.
Just before bed time for those not on shift there was a flutter of wings above Chris’ head while he was at the helm as a big brown seagull-looking bird tried to alight the solar panels on the jungle gym structure at the stern. We shone the floodlight onto our feathery visitor to see if it was maybe trying to snitch one of our fishing lures but we had them both still in the water far behind the boat. The strong beam of light didn’t seem to faze the bird at all as it circled around us and attempted several times to land on the panels. Maybe it had caught a whiff of what we had had for supper but we decided that it was better off not finding any leftovers considering the poor state of our respective guts at the time.