Day 25 – Wednesday 29 January.
By Grant Chapman.
Oh dear. We were back in iffy winds of no more than 10 knots for most of the day. After the elation of discovering that we had achieved 165 nautical miles in the previous 24 hours our slow speed today was a real let down. We were also all pretty exhausted from last night’s sailing as although it had been great for getting some good distance under our belts it was not conducive to sleeping well with the boat heeling right over and perpetually being bullied by waves thumping into her windward side. Just when you thought you had gotten yourself into a comfortable position in bed you would be thrown over against either the lockers or the lee cloths on either side of you. It was very frustrating watching our boat speed hover around the 4-4.5 knot mark when we knew we needed at least 5 knots to finish the race on time. If ever there was a time when we would have been quite happy to be at sixes and sevens it was now.
Things didn’t seem like they could get any worse when they did. We very nearly had a fire on board. Grant was sitting at the chart table plotting the celestial fixes we had taken the previous evening when he announced that he could smell wood burning. He immediately switched everything off on the panels and set about disconnecting anything else that looked like it still had a live electrical connection. Together with Virgil he located the source of the smell to somewhere near the engine compartment and having removed the companionway steps to gain access to the engine had to escape for fresh air as billows of acrid smoke filled the saloon. Something was very obviously smouldering and about to catch alight at which time they yelled for Peter who was snoozing in the aft cabin to come and help locate the source before the whole boat caught on fire. Peter very methodically set about dismantling the engine’s battery compartment and quickly located the heavy duty live cable to the solenoid on the starter motor that had chafed between the bottom of the battery compartment and the earth plate, having now burnt through the insulation and was quietly burning a wooden joist. Both the cable and the earth plate were piping hot as they proceeded to short in the absence of any insulation between them. Re-insulating the cable and positioning it so it couldn’t chafe solved the problem but now the engine batteries had also drained totally and the engine wouldn’t start. Fortunately, switching the engine over to the separate house batteries managed to get it started and later in the day the solar panels had recharged the engine batteries to a level where the engine could start. We were very lucky that we had discovered the short while most of us were up and about as there could have been dire consequences if the smouldering had been left for longer, say at night while everyone in the saloon was asleep and those on watch in the cockpit may not have smelt the burning until a fire had started. Virgil reminded us though that he was a fireman after all so we were all in good hands.
We downloaded our e-mails and position report for the day and received a very nice e-mail from Paddy Milner, Provincial Commissioner of Scouts in the Western Cape, who offered us all the best under what he realized were difficult conditions and gave us some very kind words of encouragement which lifted everyone’s spirits and renewed our determination to see this race through to the best of our abilities in true scouting spirit.
For supper we had soy in an Ina Paarman sauce again accompanied by pasta, mixed veg and sweetcorn, followed by guavas in Ultramel custard. Once again it all tasted delicious but gave the same crew members that had experienced stomach gripes after exactly the same meal on a previous occasion the same discomfort, albeit not at severely. There were the usual comments from the others about the afflicted crew having delicate constitutions but it appeared that whatever it was that was upsetting their tummies they were getting more accustomed to it as there were no headlong rushes to the heads this time. Our quartermasters Virgil and Ashwyn spent a good amount of time doing a stock take of what food we had left for the next few days and we all agreed that it would be a good idea for everyone to compile a list of what they would like to have for the leg back to Cape Town and to work out what we had run out of so that extra supplies of those items could be procured. We also agreed that we needed to compile a mini-report on the dos and don’ts of provisioning the boat and the optimum use of the fridge on board in terms of cycling perishables through it as it emptied so that future crews on the boat didn’t have to go through the same learning curve that we had been through.
We received a welcome distraction from our woes when one of the reels started running out late in the evening just before most of us retired to bed. As we suspected from the somewhat measured pace at which the line was being dragged out we had caught another Snake Mackerel – this time a much smaller one than the previous fish and a slightly different looking model. It still had the distinctive prehistoric-looking head and jutting single big tooth in the front of its mouth but this fish had a lot more blue in it than the ones we caught in the waters close to Africa. Virgil rolled his eyes and said we should put the fish back in the water which Peter also thought was a good idea but Marcus said he wanted to braai it tomorrow for supper and that there was no way we were throwing back a fish that had broken our catching drought.
Things started to sound very promising up on deck during the graveyard shift as Lorraine and Chris steered the boat into a squall that came with a heavy downpour and winds gusting up to 20 knots for almost half an hour. Disturbingly though the rain was very warm which meant only one thing – there was going to be no wind behind the squall – without the chill factor of wind the rain hadn’t been cooled. Sure enough, the wind disappeared as quickly as it had come, as if someone had flicked a switch and we found ourselves bobbing in the ocean again with a boat speed of 0.2 knots and a lot of very unhappy campers on board. Surely we couldn’t be this unlucky. Thankfully though the windless cell was short lived and half an hour later we were on our way again with 10 knots of wind off our stern. Lorraine had managed to keep the boat on our course to steer and avoided having the spinnaker wrap itself around the forestay in the windless conditions while she was on watch, which was no mean feat. The next watch enjoyed several squalls passing overhead which brought cool rain and nice gusts of wind. The spinnaker briefly got itself hooked on the pulpit at the bow of the boat due to the spinnaker sheet not giving it enough slack but the problem was resolved before any damage was done to our faithful old kite.
Unlike racing machines like Maserati which had been in Rio for 2 weeks already as she could sail faster than the wind using the benefits of apparent wind (created by her forward speed) and thus choose her course to stay on the wind when it came, dear old Rotary Scout was a humble caravan of the seas that could only manage to sail at half the wind speed up to 15 knots with diminishing returns thereafter. This meant that we were subjected to all the various vagaries of the wind and had to contend with its cruel capriciousness as best we could without too much luxury in deciding when and where we were going to use it. We had to make decisions on our chosen course several days in advance as it took us that amount of time to get to any wind that we thought we might like, by which time it had often shifted elsewhere.