“British Soldier”, the Army Sailing Association’s Archambault 40-foot racer/cruiser, is taking part in the 25th Atlantic Rally for Cruisers (Royal Ocean Racing Club Racing Division), crossing the Atlantic Ocean from Gran Canaria to St Lucia in the Caribbean.
After a 2,000 mile delivery sail to Gran Canaria from Gosport, the crew are now underway on their voyage (expected to take approximately 16 days) and blogging here by using their satphone from the boat itself.
You can see chart their progress visually at http://live.adventuretracking.com/arc2010 – look for number 228!
Monday 6 December
At last! We have arrived in St Vincent, Cap Verde. 2,365 miles later…
Land was first sighted by the Starboard Watch at first light this morning and was silhouetted by the rising sun in the east. The cry ‘land ahoy’ brought the Port Watch out on deck in record time. In fact, I don’t think either watch has ever voluntarily got out of their bunks, especially when not on duty.
We were escorted the final miles by a school of Pilot Whales and a pod of Dolphins. The wind, as usual, was on the nose making the final approach a slow and tedious business. We decided to motor but had to anxiously monitor the fuel level in case we ran dry before reaching the marina. It was also strange to have to check the depth on entering the marina after sailing for a fortnight in 4000m of water.
The Cap Verdes are not the lush Caribbean islands we’ve been dreaming about earlier this trip but are very impressive – volcanic rocks rising 1800m out of the sea. However, thoughts in recent days have focussed on cool beer and steak dinners so the Cap Verde Islands do not disappoint. The skipper summed our arrival perfectly: although “British Soldier” hasn’t reached the Caribbean (yet) we have achieved our primary objective of having fun safely.
So the next few days are spent cleaning up,drying out the boat and preparing her for a month alongside. Following some repairs, the plan is to sail her 2000 miles across the Atlantic in Jan/Feb. Anyone interested?
Signing off for the final time!
Graham, Tim, Brian, Jamie, Roddy, Sarah, Dom, Simon, Gary and Becky
Sunday 5 December
2nd Lieutenant Dom Wiejak
Blog time – a welcome rest from the sweltering heat on deck. We now truly understand the “head south until the butter melts” passage plan used by most of the ARC Cruisers. The black non-slip deck has become too hot to walk on and is being washed down every 5 minutes to keep it cool enough to stand on. In true Brit style, we’ve gone from moaning about being too cold and wet last week, to too hot this week. However, the benefit of the heat, and lack of spray has meant that everyone’s kit is now being dried outside. British Soldier may look like a Chinese Laundry, but it no longer smells like a wet dog’s armpit!
Early this morning the wind died off, and following some “back of Brian’s empty fag packet” calculations it was decided to motor in the last of our miles into Cape Verdi. As I write the chart plotter shows 130-ish miles left to run, although the “time to run” estimation has now become banned from being mentioned, wildly flashing anywhere from 20 to 40 hours left!
In the galley, with chocolate melting and gas supplies beginning to run low, the boat has become a strange treasure trove of sweets and snacks, as each watch tries to cache as many bags as possible of Haribo and Rice Krispies Squares in preparation for their next night shift. The watch changeover brew has become a friction point too. Rather than having the offgoing watch prepare teas and coffees for the oncoming crew, a spate of lukewarm water, teabag-less mugfulls and in some cases even ‘too hot’ drinks has meant it’s now a case of every man for themselves. The stress of fighting over the last strawberry lace or Oreo biscuit has been particularly harsh on the smokers, who have finally run out of cigarettes, and are currently discussing whether suncream should be applied before or after their nicotine patches.
So before I go, I leave you with news that a straw poll on board says of everything land has to offer, the crew are most looking forward to a steak. On a real plate. That doesn’t slide about every time a wave hits.
Friday 3 December
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hill
Following yesterday’s damage to the inner shroud and our successful temporary repair, today has been spent close hauled on starboard tack (wind over the starbord side of the boat) making good 7 knots of boat speed towards our destination of Sao Vincente, the 2nd most northerly island of the 8 island group of Cape Verdes. Cape Verdes is almost 400 miles due east of Dakar (Senegal).
Despite the bitter disappointment at having to retire from the race, morale on board remains high. Whilst today has been reasonably breezy (up to 20 knots) with moderate seas, we haven’t yet had an opportunity to dry either the boat or ourselves out. At least we have wind, fortunately for once it is in the right direction although strictly speaking we’re not now going in the right direction!
So we press on with just over 400 miles to go. More to follow tomorrow.
Thursday 2 December
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hill
DISASTER! At 0330 UTC today whilst close reaching in 12 knots of breeze, the port D2 inner shroud (the metal rod supporting the top section of the carbon mast) snapped at the uppermost root where it connects to the top spreader at the apex of the spreader/mast. Fortunately the rig remained intact and the mast upright. All crew safe and sound.
The skipper spoke to Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) by satphone to inform them of the situation and see whether there were any passing freighters that could be diverted to our position to offload some fuel. Falmouth MRCC informed us that there were no warships about and that there was one freighter (who would have to turn back) approx 31 hours away. The prospect of transferring 700 litres of diesel at sea didn’t bear thinking about in these rough seas and we had a certain duty not to put another mariner out of his way for a non-urgent situation.
We spoke to a rigging expert who believed we could fashion a jury (temporary solution) shroud using vectron/halyards etc. That’s what we have now done and it appears to be working well, although currently redundant because we’re on starboard tack. However, there’s no guarantee it’s going to hold and so there is an element of risk; the last thing we want to do is damage the rig further. To this end the skipper has made the difficult decision to retire from the race and divert to Cape Verdes.
So we’re en route to Cape Verdes which is approx 700 miles away. Landfall is expected on Wednesday morning. Yet again we’re bashing into 30 knots of southerly breeze and heading in a roughly eastwards direction. Morale remains high on board despite the setback.
Weather conditions this year have been unseasonal and we’ve had some bad luck! More to follow tomorrow.
Wednesday 1 December
We’ve spent the previous 24 hours becalmed but have made good use of the respite to recuperate and to make running repairs to the boat. Jamie has earned two gold stars because he has got us ‘going again’ in every sense of the word!
Firstly, he’s been up and down the mast in his Bosun’s harness making running repairs to the rigging and sails and then his second and most magnificent achievement, has been to unblock the heads (toilet). And what a relief to us all – the fall back solution was a bucket at the back of the boat next to the helm (person steering the boat). Having the heads back in action is very timely because our supply of fresh food is gradually dwindling and we will soon be relying on our high fibre Army ration packs…
Brian and Simon’s improvised fishing lure has attracted the attention of a pair of large Dorado fish. They both nibbled the bait but didn’t bite. The fishing lure looks a bit like a squid and has two felt tip pen eyes – I suspect the fish thought it was just too cute to eat!
The wind has now returned and is blowing in the perfect direction for St Lucia (only 1642 nm remaining). That said, we’ve sailed over 1500 miles through the water as this sailing lark doesn’t always mean you can sail directly towards your destination!
Tuesday 30 November
Major Gary Irwin
1679 nautical miles to run. The light airs have returned and we remain glued to the weather updates for the prospect of a good stiff breeze up the chuff aka stern. The gnarly bashing from the previous days have already been forgotten as a fast beat heeled over into wind seems much more appealing than being slowly basted like today. That said, we are once again spick and span thanks to the calmer seas and a fresh scoff is on this evening’s menu courtesy of Sarah the ‘Doc with the Wok’. The next day or so should see Mother Nature declare her hand; fingers and everything else crossable for a push to destination.
Ever enterprising, Brian and Simon have crafted a glistening fishing lure that pulsates (foil, split pins and netting) to attract some big game fish; after all we have been inundated with Marlin, Sailfish and Swordfish for company so it is just a matter of time I’m sure before we strike a catch…reeling it in is another matter entirely – I’m not holding my breath…
As I sign off we have another amazing warm sunset, pans bubbling on the stove and the prospect of a better sailing day tomorrow.
Still racing, laughing and with dry underwear things don’t get better mid-Atlantic!
Monday 29 November
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hill
Another heavy airs day saw “British Soldier” and her crew continue to beat into 20 – 30 knots of westerly wind. Sticking it out on Port tack for most of the day, our intention is to keep on this tack (making about 310 degrees heading) in search of a north westerly wind shift later on in the evening. Once that kicks in, we’ll tack onto starboard (turning the boat 90 degrees through the wind) which should give us favourable winds and direction for St Lucia. It’s been a tough 48 hours, all of it upwind with strong winds and big waves/swell (approx 8m high). We’ve found out that the 2 yachts to our north (Swan 45 and the X562) have both retired and are currently heading towards Gran Canaria and Cape Verde. Whilst we’re unsure why, we suspect that they’ve suffered some storm damage which is a shame. From our daily HF radio calls, we also understand that a lot of the cruising fleet have gone to Cape Verde to refuel (in our racing division we’re not allowed to use our engines) and wait for the north easterly trade winds to kick in. So far the trades are proving reasonably elusive…
Morale has steadily improved commensurate with the wind and seas easing off. Everything and everybody on board is damp and we’re hoping to dry off in the next coupleof days. Fresh cooking took a bit of a hit over the last couple of days and instead we’ve resorted to the far more simpler option of Army ‘boil in the bag’ rations. Whilst some of the crew may complain and grumble, they all get polished away with next to nothing left!
That’s it until tomorrow,
Sunday 28 November
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hill
The last 36 hours has been a real bash and a slog for “British Soldier” and her crew, as we’ve experienced Gale Force 8 winds (45 knots +) and massive steep and confused seas. Everythig below decks is wet and damp, whilst on deck, the boat is contiually swept fore and aft by waves coming over the bow. And it’s pretty cold too! Suffice to say conditions are pretty grim and whilst morale isn’t particularly jolly at the moment, there is a steadfast resolve amongt the crew to get the job done. We can only dream of more favourable conditions to come…
At the time of typing we’ve got 1800 miles left to go having completed 900 miles, so 1/3 of the trip complete. More tomorrow when we hope to have more benign conditions.
Saturday 27 November
Major Gary Irwin
Yesterday’s bashing petered out by lunch into variable light airs and the respite from the pounding beat allowed the crew to get “British Soldier” and themselves sparkling again. With laundry hanging from every quarter it was inevitable that a few items would go seaward in the occasional gusts. So apologies to the rest of the fleet in our wake, but if Graham could have his Calvin Kleins back freshly ironed that would be simply smashing…
The sun has again taken its toll on our rations but the ever resourceful Becky has turned our bars of melted choc into filings for our copious amounts of plastic croissants (eat by 2021); voila pan au chocolate pour petit dejeurner!
An amazing sunset was followed by a quest for max boat speed, the theme throughout the dark hours, and every mile gained was fought for with numerous head sail changes and gentle trimming. Gingerly we have managed to pick away at our rhum line distance (the course line from start to finish) and we expect to dip under the magic ‘2000 miles to run’ later today. I suspect we will be celebrating with a hot choc, Pringles and Oreo chasers. Daybreak greeted us with a pleasant surprise, another boat for company (we are not alone?), in the guise of the Turkish boat “Gokova (ID No 209 – a Mills 40 foot yacht) heading 300 degrees; skip relished the chance for a chat about strategy and tactics (without revealing our plans too much) and to wish them well.
With masses of flying fish off the starboard beam, the wind has steadily climbed this morning to 14kts, we have 7.8 knots of boat speed and once again it feels great to be heeled over making steady progress towards our destination.
Friday 26 November
2nd Lieutenant Dom Wiejak
Once again, the “British Soldier” blog begins with a paragraph about weather. After taking yesterday’s upwind beating, the winds have calmed and the boat has moved onto a more comfortable reach, giving everyone a good, and well needed few hours of sleep last night. We’re still trucking along at 8 knots, with St Lucia well on the nose, although the all-hallowed GRIB files (computer weather) tell us to expect the winds to drop off later today and so to expect a quiet night.
Last night saw the crew dip into the compo rations for the first time, as preparing a chorizo stew while being smashed about the Atlantic was seen as a little ‘ninja’ for the Starboard Watch. Chicken and Dumplings/Ravioli/Goo in a silver bag went down well throughout the crew, especially those with washing-up duties. The only person who mumbled about supper was Jamie, who for some reason is looking forward to the gas running out, and leaving us to eat cold compo. Apparently that’s what ‘proper racers’ do!
This morning, in the words of Bob Marley “sun is shining, weather is sweet,” so both watches have a busy day ahead of them sorting out the boat from yesterday. The fruit net has been replaced with a fruit bin bag, which is presently stewing up in the bow. A race to eat our way through that before it goes funny has begun and so a challenge to see who can make the best smoothie is on. The boat hatches are all opened up too, trying to dry out the damp cushions down below, and if that wasn’t enough a search is on too for Brian ‘admin vortex’ C-B’s mug, which was last seen flying across the cabin.
Over breakfast, a couple of requests for some luxury items have been mentioned, so if anyone wants to send suggestions, or ideally has access to a couple of fat pigeons:
- Brian would appreciate some cold Irn Bru. In a new mug.
- Roddy’s after a massage, as Starboard Watch’s phys regime has taken its toll.
- Becky needs a washbucket (to replace the one she’s just dropped overboard).
- Gary is craving a breakfast of mint chocolate-chip ice cream and hash browns.
- Simon, having sold most of his tobacco onto certain members of starboard watch, could do with some Rizla papers.
- Graham – well, as it isn’t after the watershed I’m not even going to mention what he’d like delivering!
- Sarah is, according to Roddy, going to need “a massive scalpel to sort out this boil.”
- Jamie wants a new seat for the toilet, as the current one is sliding about all over the place.
- Tim needs a turkey baster, having decided while becalmed on Wednesday that we might run out of food and have to eat one of the crew
- And I wouldn’t mind an ice pack, as this morning’s experiment to see if I can get a smiley-face tan mark on my leg using black electrical tape has done nothing except burn, and rip out my leg hairs!
As I write, the boat has just crossed the 2100 miles to run mark, so with a bit of luck tomorrow’s blog will be able to report we’re down below the 2000 mark.
Thursday 25 November
Major Sarah Raitt
Yesterday it was basting hot with no-one else on the horizon. Wind was negligible and a battle to chase but we got the promise we were all waiting for; “let’s swim”. Typically, the wind gods noticed once safety lines and fenders were prepped and the wind teasingly lifted to spoil our chance of a cool down and a first bath. However, we have been inadvertently ‘chumming’ the waters with the spoilt meat from our supplies but no fins have been spotted yet! I’m sure all were secretly relieved by the cancelled swim after chatting about ‘how do sharks actually attack?’, the best bits of Jaws and agreeing you wouldn’t see the shark that ate you; nervous laughter. Winds back down, line in the water, a quick scout for sharks and half of the BS crew are chillaxing in the deepest clear blue warm Atlantic water – well worth the wait – awesome!
Things couldn’t have been more different as port watch rose at 0600 hours for the 6 hour watch – the wind which was elusive yesterday had returned at 20 knots and moderate seas. So with British Soldier now heeled hard over, we are having our first taste of pounding through Atlantic waves. The spray over the bow is giving impromptu showers and despite all hatches closed, it has even soaked the keyboard as I type – luckily it is rubberised and better at staying in its place than the rest of us who are sliding about! Meanwhile the off watch are having dramas trying to sleep through all this commotion as they get thrown about; Roddy is starring in a new fly on the wall TV program “I’m a Squaddie, Get Me Out of Here.” Although it seemed ingenious at the time to keep the fruit hung in a net in the forepeak, unfortunately it has turned into a smoothie with all the pounding. Brian, valiantly cleaning up the fruity mess, emerged looking like he had endured a medieval punishment of being pelted by fruit in the stocks.
We’ve heard on the news that a Royal Navy type 45 Destroyer has broken down somewhere in the mid-Atlantic. Despite our best endeavours to raise them on the radios, the Senior Service are steadfastly ignoring our offers of assistance…
So as I finish my blog, we’ve sailed a total of 685 miles through the water, with a total of 2200 miles to go. All told we are making good speed and course now, so morale remains high.
Wednesday 24 November
At the time of writing we’ve sailed a total of 562 miles through the water, although we’ve only made 400 miles towards St Lucia. It’s funny how everyone has loads of news to email home when on watch, but can’t think of anything amusing to report for the blog – suddenly anything is more interesting. So, having cleaned the heads (the boat’s toilet!), galley, and scrubbed the deck, Starboard Watch have no option but to put pen to paper…
The excellent wind conditions we were enjoying yesterday afternoon have disappeared overnight, leaving us almost becalmed. The Port Watch spent a frustrating night chasing the breeze before changing the S4 spinnaker (heavy-duty downwind sail) for a much lighter S2 spinnaker at 0530 hours in an effort to maintain speed. However, the GPS is now predicting our time of arrival at St Lucia to be sometime in January – I don’t remember seeing Christmas turkey on the provisions list?! It’s becoming a race to eat the fresh food before it goes mouldy (not helped by the temperature ramping up with each mile sailed). Thankfully, we still had enough sausages in a passable condition for bangers and mash last night.
The Starboard Watch felt a bit despondent when we started our shift at 0600 because of the lack of wind and Port Watch getting all the fun of changing the spinnaker at night. Our spirits were soon lifted at first light when we noticed Dom had put his clothes on back-to-front; Port Watch hadn’t eaten all the Oreo biscuits and a large pod of dolphins were playing in our bow wave. We took turns to stand at the bow to get a closer look (despite looking like Kate Winslett on Titanic!)
In an effort to improve the monotony of night watches, Starboard Watch have introduced a strict regime of PT – press-ups and sit-ups every hour. I won’t say how many just yet but we hope it will have increased before St Lucia and that we’ll have physiques to match our suntans. In contrast, Port Watch are trying to improve their vocabularies with epic games of Scrabble. It remains to be seen which strategy will work best on the beaches of St Lucia!
Having faced the ordeal of writing for the Blog I must now man up and face the worse terror of shaving and showering in cold sea water.
Tuesday 23 November
Great sailing conditions and high crew morale to report in the last 24 hours.
A mostly clear and moonlit night with a steady breeze of 15 knots from the north east allowed British Soldier to gently surf down 3 metre swell at an average speed of 9 knots. Smiles all round from the crew and her skipper, especially following a legendary spag bol and green salad prepared by Sarah!
Our first gybe (turning the boat away from the wind and on to the other tack) in the race took place at 0045 hours and was executed as if we had all sailed together before. Our new heading took us away from the Cape Verdes in search of more favourable wind and somewhere towards our tropical destination. As morning approached several yachts were sighted seeking some of our favourable wind direction and strength. It wasn’t long before they disappeared beyond the horizon (behind us!)
For those on Port Watch a few dolphins (apparently porpoise – thanks Brian) were swimming alongside during the early hours of the morning. For those on Starboard Watch several flying fish were seen and one squid made its way on deck. There has been plenty of good banter between the 2 watches, most of which cannot be repeated here. Of worthy note is a sighting of Gary in his ‘Hasselhof’ shorts, loving massaging sun cream (‘Hawaiian Tropic Factor 2) into his thighs – sun protection out here is a must!
At 1200 hours we put the clocks back an hour as we had just crossed a time zone as we headed westwards. “Great” went the cry “an extra hour in bed,” remarked one. “Fat chance!” was the reply from Brian, our firstmate.
Just after lunch (are we ever going to run out of plastic bread and salami?), the wind veered from the east to the south east and after another well executed gybe at 1500 hours,we remain on track for the blue waters, palm trees and ‘dark and stormy’ cocktails. 2407 miles to go out of this 2700 mile epic!
A very happy MOD civvie signing out.
Monday 22 November
Major Gary Irwin
I’ve just completed the first 24 hour log and it’s showing 1 mile short of the 200 mile mark, which isn’t bad considering the half ton of tonne of water, rations and spare kit we’re carrying for “British Soldier’s” 7 months away in the Caribbean and east coast of USA. We’ve been flying the kite now since the beginning of the race, sailing as deep as we can go in the ENE breeze, trying to gain as much westing as possible towards St Lucia. At the time of writing we’re approximately 110 miles off the coast of Sahara. A great wind shift has kicked in about 30 mins ago and now for the first time we’re sailing directly towards our destination which is great.
Weather is fantstic – plenty of sun and numerous flying fish and squid on the deck to keep the crew amused. Conditions on board are extremely comfortable – reasonably steady motion as we gently roll in the light winds. A little bit of excitement this morning as we had to carry out a quick kite halyard repair, but we were back in racing action moments later. Watches have settled into routine and the ‘minutes’ are really starting to fly by. Already thoughts are wandering to what the first drink will be when we
arrive in St Lucia. Full body washes are now being taken off the stern, not necessarily a pleasant sight, but nooks and crannies need attention. Those that are yet to cleanse are being monitored, along with those on the ‘jack’ brew list. The person with the least brews made buys the first round of Caribbean Rum when we hit land; winning so far with a tally of zero are Tim, Becky and Jamie. Pringles; check, Lucozade; check; Coco Pops; check, Morale; check!
Sunday 21 November
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hill
We’re off! The race started this afternoon for the racing class, at 1240 hours in 12 knots of north easterly breeze, with “British Soldier” reaching off the line with Jib top and full main doing about about 8 knots. With Roddy Simpson on the helm taking much delight in squeezing some bigger boats up towards the Spanish corvette “Vencedora” acting as the committee vessel, we passed 20m off her stern and out into open water. 20 minutes later the cruisers started, making an extremely impressive sight with the mix of colourful spinnakers to our stern. We’re currently tracking southwards, keeping Gran Canaria to starboard. Within 20 minutes of the start we peeled to the S4, our brand new spinnaker and have been holding it ever since. The sailing’s been great – at the time of writing we’ve covered 30 miles, top speed surfing down the waves in the early teens. The trick for now is not to get in stuck in the lee of the island to the south west.
Weather grib files indicate that the wind will slowly veer to the east overnight for which we’ll take the lift, remaining on port gybe. Maybe gybe later tomorrow.
Life on board is very comfortable. It’s shorts and T shirts weather and it’s only going to get warmer as we head south. And we’ve got Gary’s chicken fajitas to look forward to tonight!