Percy’s Progress

Steve Green

Six thirty am and the first tropical downpour of the day wakes me up. I am conscious of an unfilled promise to our rear commodore, Jim Swanston, to write an article for the newsletter and now, in the cool part of the day, seems like a good time to make a start.

This is the second time that I have taken Percy across the pond. The first time was in 1966 on board my Beneteau Oceanis 461 Kibito. That trip was an experiment to see if Moira and I could actually live together on a boat for an extended period but this time it is the start of what we hope will be a circumnavigation. We are sailing on our X 482 Excalibur, and we are already over 200 days into our journey. Our present location in St Georges in Grenada is our 54th port since leaving the UK on July 15th 2000.

Our firsts stop after slipping at the Hamble was the fuel dock and then Camaret which provided a convenient port of call to cruise in South Brittany, an area which I had not visited before. The crew comprised Moira and I, Mike Toon, an old racing friend, Dave Jennings and Bill Etherington. We had planned to spend a month or more in Brittany but we had an enforced delay to our planned departure, which meant a reduction in the time available to us. We did however spend three weeks in this delightful cruising ground but as it was the middle of July it was becoming crowded with boats on their annual summer cruise. It is a wonderful cruising area providing a wide variety of anchorages and harbours as well as some challenging navigation. The strong tides and rock-strewn coastline really do keep the navigator on his toes. That apart, it is a region which I would recommend to anyone with an interest in sailing with the caveat that it would be best to avoid late July and August. I was particularly impressed by Concarneau, Benodet where the tide is really fast and mooring becomes a challenge not to be undertaken lightly. My favourite spot was The Belon River, which owing to our 2.5 metres draught we could only enter at around high water but once inside we found a pool with over 17m. Our original intention was to cruise in the Morbihan but one look at the chart and seeing the shallow water soon put paid to that idea.

We left South Brittany after only 21/2 weeks largely because of the congestion and a favourable forecast, Northerlies, to cross Biscay. We set out from La Trinité and enjoyed, apart from the second night, a fast two-day crossing to Vivero on the Northern Spanish Coast. The second night was very uncomfortable a strong wind around 30 knots produced very big seas just at the point where we crossed the continental shelf. None of us were able to sleep. Vivero is one of the many Rias on the north and northwest coast of Spain and we found these all different but all very enjoyable. Each Ria has its own character and they are visited infrequently which means that they are never crowded. They are also all sufficiently close together to allow comfortable day sails between each one and they all provide excellent shelter in any wind conditions. This was just as well because we did experience some fresh sailing at times with winds gusting around 40 knots in the open sea. The sailing was exciting and the respite in the evening all the more welcome because of the contrast. As a destination for an extended summer cruise this area of Galician is without equal in my opinion. Bayona in the Ria de Vigo was our last port of call in Spain and we stayed here for some ten days to carry out work on the boat and allow Dave to spend time with his wife and family. We took the opportunity to visit Santiago di Campostela and to generally relax.

We then had a leisurely cruise down the Portuguese coast finding nowhere exciting but just day sailing. Each evening when we closed the coast we had local winds around 35 to 40 knots for the last few miles of the trip. At one point the wind blew steadily at around gale force from the South for nearly a week so we stayed put in the New Marina at Pavoa de Vazim. This is a good facility but the hinterland is not particularly exciting but it is convenient for a very cheap day trip by train into Porto where one can find the smelliest river, The Douro, that I think I have ever encountered.

From Cascais marina, where some of the crew spent a Sunday afternoon watching the motorcycle grand prix we left for Porto Santo some 500 miles to the South West. This gave us the best sailing thus far. With a reefed main and poled out genoa we were soon bowling along on a broad reach and regularly sustaining speeds well over 10 knots. We had the best part of a full moon at night and the big following seas produced regular surfing in spite of the excess weight, which we were carrying. When we reached 13.5 knots with Bill helming we put the second reef in the main and still maintained good speeds with more control. We arrived at Porto Santo in the dark having covered 510 miles in 54 hours.

We spent three days in Porto Santo, which is a complete contrast from its neighbour, Madeira. The latter is very green and fertile whereas Porto Santo is very arid. It does however have good beaches and a wonderful small town, which is both clean and friendly. Many of the boats on passage south for the ARC chose Porto Santo as their stop rather than the dirty and crowded anchorage or harbour at Funchal on Madeira. We visted both mainly because we needed a repair to our mainsail which we had ripped crossing from Portugal. Although the harbour in Funchal is not ideal in that it has very little room for visitors and the anchorage outside is quite rolly, Madeira is a truly beautiful island and well worth a visit if only to see the extent to which it has been cultivated and maintained. The scenery is breathtaking and everything lush and green.

Our own itinerary then took us to Lanzarote, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria where we were to spend several weeks fixing things and preparing for the transatlantic crossing with the ARC. Bill left us in Lanzarote as his pass from Margaret had already expired and he was beginning to push his luck. I secretly think he had been away long enough and was, himself, happy to fly back to his wife and dog, but not necessarily in that order.

We had quite an extensive work schedule in Las Palmas. Although we had been attending to many routine maintenance items en route there were certain repairs for which we needed spares and these could only be realistically carried out in a major harbour where the facilities were more widely available. I had become disillusioned by the extent of repair work but soon found that this was a common factor when long term cruising. A very experienced circumnavigator, whom we met in Lanzarote, summed it up with a simple definition. Long term cruising is simply fixing your boat in increasingly exotic locations.

We spent a total of ten weeks in Las Palmas and took the opportunity to fly home for a two-week period to see our children and grandchildren. We were soon keen to get back and returned at the end of October.

New crewmembers arrived for the ARC. In addition to Moira, me, Dave Jennings and Mike Toon we had Dave Berragan and Richard Hardy, both Barclays Bank Sailing Club members on board.

We left at the start of the ARC and enjoyed an uneventful crossing to St Lucia where we arrived after 161/2 days having sailed 3000 miles at an average speed of 7.4knots. It was all dead down wind and I lost count of the number of gybes each of which was followed by a wind shift back to dead astern. We carried our spinnaker for much of the time taking it down only when threatened by rainsqualls. The first three days were in very light winds, rarely above 8 knots and we were becoming frustrated at our lack of progress. We then decided to head south and soon picked up fresher trade winds and began to make better progress.

We spent some time fishing and caught Dorado and Tuna each time we put the rods out. I soon got sick of eating fish and banned fishing after three consecutive days of the stuff.

We did not always have to put lines out to catch fish. Flying fish hitting us in the middle of the night were not uncommon and one evening Moira had one land in her lap whilst sitting in the heads. She immediately suffered an involuntary bowel movement before running into the saloon in a state of mild panic. She did later admit that although she got a bit of a fright at the time it was the liveliest thing she had had between her legs since the start of the passage.

A transcript of my log is at the end of this report.

We arrived in St Lucia at three in the morning and were met on the dock with rum punches and fruit. These ere soon consumed and followed by an excessive amount of Scotch and whatever we could lay our hands on. Mike Toon lost a whole day of his life during the succeeding 24hours.

Our nine days in St Lucia were spent cleaning and partying and then we left to head north to the British Virgin Islands. Richard and Dave Jennings left the boat in St Lucia and the four remaining ARC crew plus Dave’s wife, Wendy, sailed up to St Lucia. This voyage of 340 miles was the worst of the entire journey. We had winds up to 42 knots on the beam. These produced a big beam sea and resulted in a very wet and uncomfortable ride. We all arrived in Tortola tired and ready for along sleep.

From early December to the middle of February we cruised around the Caribbean and gradually made our way south to Grenada. We did stop in St Lucia for a period of ten days to allow the boat to be lifted out and antifouled. The bottom was extremely dirty and we were losing as much as two knots off our boat speed. The anti fouling available in the UK is pretty useless as along term base for preventing the accumulation of weed. We were able to obtain more toxic paint in the Caribbean where the misguided views of a few mung bean eating ecologists have not yet taken hold. It has always seemed to me that to ban an effective product from private yachts, causing them to use more diesel to maintain boat speed and still permitting it for commercial vessels is both illogical counterproductive.

Bill Etherington re joined us in BVI and sailed all the way down to Grenada before finally flying back on February 14th. This being St valentines day and Bill being an old romantic it all seemed highly appropriate. In any event he had completed all the rebuilding work and much of the repair work whilst he was on board and he was anxious to get back and play with his own boat.

Eight thirty am and the third tropical downpour of the day. Breakfast is almost ready and the work schedule beckons. We are awaiting the arrival of Dick Bailey and Jock Niven together with Moira and once we are stocked up we will be on our way from here to Venezuela, San Blas, Panama Canal and on to New Zealand via Galapagos – oil spills permitting. Fixing the boat as we go of course.

Excalibur will be transiting the Panama canal at the end of March and is scheduled to reach the Marquesas at the beginning of May. Eta in New Zealand is expected at around the middle of October. Current plans include a period in New Zealand around two years with a return to the South pacific in between. The return home via Australia, Thailand and South Africa should begin in 2003. Excalibur can be contacted via e mail on or sat phone 762 209 475 prefixed by the appropriate international and Ocean region code availablr from the telephone directory. Moira and Steve will be delighted to hear from any RNYC members interested in a bit of sailing after they reach New Zealand.


19/11/00From Las Palmas Towards St Lucia
1200 Slipped Las Palmas motored to start. Log reading 0000. Lost bow roller when unscrewing Passarelle bow fitting.

1300 Good start 3rd or 4th over the line. White sail beam reach in 15/20 knots with a medium swell. Log reading 2.64. Visit from Pascal and Ruben in their RIB.

1651 Wind increased off Maspalomas and then disappeared totally for 20 minutes. Yachts further off shore carrying spinnakers with varying degrees of difficulty. Noticed Compass heading on Autohelm reading 180° out of true. Attempted recalibration would control unit would not accept new data.

2000 Very little wind, variable in direction causing rig to shake badly in a lumpy left over swell. Going round in circles for hours making no progress with 2640 miles to go too early to run engine. Bilge pump running almost continuously. Cannot find any obvious leak. Battery consumption higher than I would like. Dinner Mexican chicken and boiled rice.


0000 Wind filled in a bit and on the beam good boat speed 8-9 knots and comfortable.
0500 Genoa wrapped wrong way around forestay. Sorted out in half an hour. 10 knots wind in various directions.

0900 Wind NE between 8 and 18 knots. Spinnaker up and full main. Good sailing with 7 –10 knots boat speed. Overtaking other yachts. Nothing passing us. Ran generator 3 hours. Bilge pump still running a lot. Baked first bread of the crossing.

1200 Noon position 27.05N 16.45W Days run 155 miles. Bit slower than we would like.

1330 First radio sked. Relayed position for Jochen and Heidi on Datomex to group D net controller. Weather forecast NE 15/20 knots in North with clearer skies than South. Decide to stay north. Bilge pump float switch could be faulty so decide to run pump manually 5 minutes every 4 hours seems OK. Made water. Batteries discharging and seem to need 4/5 hours charging per day. Dinner Tortellini with bolognaise sauce.

0000 Decided to carry spinnaker all night. Good boat speed at times but variable owing to changing wind speed and direction and variations in helming quality. Wind 10/15 knots.
0800 Generator on and watermaker. Wind 10 knots ENE.
1200 Noon position 25.4N 19.56W days run 166 miles. Wind 050 10/12 knots. Caught our first fish 5lb Dorado. Filleted, cooked and eaten for lunch with salad and freshly baked bread. Radio sked puts us 3rd in our group behind X512 in racing division and Farr 50. Pretty good so far. Changed running spinnaker for asymmetric. Ran generator 5hours.

0800 Ran with asymmetric all night. Very variable winds mainly light. Slow progress at times.

1200 Very light winds less than 10 knots. Direction varying from ENE to NE. Noon position 25.11N 22.42W Days run 154 miles-getting worse. Radio sked seems to indicate more wind further south but not much. ITCZ reported between 23N and 17N and our destination is 14N so we must pass through it. Decision is when? Cheese fresh b read, pickles and Mango for lunch.
1330 More wind reported further south and ahead. Weather forecast promises more wind everywhere so we’ll sit it out.
1600 Breeze filled in and we are moving again.
1700 Happy hour. Big mistake with music selection allowed Richard to choose. Coors and house music compilations-absolutely awful. Switched to “sentimental journey” collection more our era.
2000 Wind variable from 8 to 15 knots. Increased temporarily to 18 knots but back to 10 knots by morning. Experimented with pressure cooking. Coq au vin-delicious.
23/11/000800 Wind continuing ENE at 10knots.caught 2 Dorado (5lb and 3lb) Prepared for dinner.
1200 Very light winds-6 knots. Noon position 24.27N 25.25W days run 155m frustrating. E-mail working well.
1600 Wind 9 knots. Changed to running spinnaker. Radio sked shows most boats with more wind. Net chat mostly about fishing and broken water makers. Caught 3rd Dorado-4lbs. Loads of fish for dinner.
2100 Wind increasing and very squally. 25 knot gust and 11.6 knots boat speed. Kite down and ran under main only to see what the wind will do Very rolly. Uncomfortable night and very difficult to steer course.24/11/00
0800 Poled out half genoa. Boat more stable. Rolly motion in with 13/25 knots wind. Wind from East. Cannot make course most of the time. Bit fed up with fish so fishing banned for a time.
1200 Noon position 23.40N 2814W. days run 165 miles-getting better. Reefed main and gybed. Wind up to 30 knots in squalls. Some heavy rain and wind generally 20 knots from the east.
1700 Second reef in main and only one third genoa poled out. Steady 28 knots gusting 38. Very rolly motion but good course.
1800 Gas alarm sounding continuously. Vented boat, pumped bilges, checked everywhere for leaks no sign. Suspect electrical fault due to water in bilge. Found air intake pipe for generator very loose and letting water into lazarette. Fixed pipe, disconnected gas alarm and overrode cut off solenoid. Steak and casseroled vegetables for dinner. Very difficult to cook below because of violent motion. Moira deserves a medal.
0200 Vhf call from Sea Breeze a Bavaria 47 for a chat. They reported blowing out their spinnaker.
0900 Shook out both reefs. Wind down to 18 knots. Sunny morning- glorious.
1000 All change. Cloudy again with 25 knots wind with 38 knot gusts. Charging along with full sail. E-mail from Julie says ARC website shows we have moved up 30 places in 24 hours. Wind now from SE very unusual for this sea area. Had a shower. Great concentration needed to stay on seat in loo with a soapy bottom.
1200 Noon position 22.14N 31.00W days run 186 much better.
1400 Wind still 20knots and progress seem s good but very rolly. Dorado fish cakes for lunch.
1800 Wind going light again, rolly motion sails flogging very noisy. Full main and poled out genoa. Having to gybe down wind. Pleasant happy hour. Shepherds Pie for dinner.
2200 Wind maintaining 15kots but direction varies by 20/30 degrees.
1000 An awful night off watch. Very noisy with slatting sails. No sleep. Wind down to 10 knots. Pissed off. Hoisted running spinnaker. Difficult to maintain 5 knots. Some south in the wind-very unusual. Already very hot.
1200 Wind died almost completely-5knots. Very slow very hot. Noon position 21.05N 33.44W Days run 165 but only 65 in last 11h.
1800 Very light winds. Very slow not even making course. Chicken curry for dinner.
2300 Wind died completely. Engine on- motoring. Hand steering because Autohelm will not work because of compass error.
0300 Motoring all night no wind.
0915 Little breeze. Hoisted sails. Full main and running spinnaker. Variable progress between 5 and 8knots boat speed. (more 5 than 8).
1200 Noon position 19.54N 35.20W. days run 129m very poor. Not even in the right direction. Throwing out rotting vegetables (indistinguishable from the crew at times). Weather forecast more wind coming possibly more than we would like but I wish it would hurry up.
1400 Breeze holding and building. Full main and spinnaker NE-ENE Making progress.
2000 Good happy hour breeze holding. Maintaining 6 to 8knots in the right direction. Chicken Provencal for dinner.
0100 Breeze variable but holding still moving in the right direction.
1200 Sunny day with 15/20knots ENE Running under full main and spinnaker making 8-9 knots sometimes 10. Noon Position 19.08N 38.02W Days run 164m in the right direction. This is better. Weather forecast indicates that this wind will hold for 36 hours. Other boats all reporting similar wind over a wide area. Motion of boat very rolly. Just over half way.
1600 Wind holding but direction now due East. Destination is dead down wind so we are back to gybing down wind. This makes the distance sailed greater than the straight-line distance to go. Decided to go further South so gybed. Mainsheet block separated from boom during the gybe. Jury-rigged a sheet from the boom end whilst proper sheet reattached with new shackle. Problem caused by second shackle used to reeve the preventer. Hole in spinnaker, which needed repair below decks. Rehoisted and split seam noted another repair below decks. Dropped, packed and re hoisted 3 times in the space of 45 minutes. Wind now building so running with main and poled out genoa. Laptop computer decided to become difficult. Will not work on the battery only on the mains when the generator is running.
2000 Very difficult helming. Wind oscillating and very uneven sea state. Boat does not feel balanced and will not track properly. Main further out and pole further aft improves balance but still not easy to steer. Cannot sail better than 255° against a requirement of 275°.
0800 Rolly night but wind averaging around 18knots. Difficult to sleep off watch.
0930 Caught yellow fin tuna around 5lbs. Difficult to land with rolly boat. Quite hazardous in reality and probably pretty silly.
1200 Wind now lighter but still from the East. Noon position 18.03N 40.43W Days run 177m. Forecast for the next 36 hours ENE 5/10 knots.
1300 Spinnaker and full main-better motion but course not so good. Straight-line distance to run 1170m.
2300 Wind getting up. Helming tricky again. Very fast but on the edge of control. Dropped spinnaker and got major wrap around forestay. Crew, especially Mike, did well to sort it out. (I was helming and desperately trying to keep a reasonable course, which sometimes needed to be by the lee in order to help unwind the spinnaker.) Tuna for dinner.
0200 Very squally with wind gusting up to 30/35 knots. Difficult to helm. Reef in main and genoa poled out to windward. Course required 275°, best we can do is 250° often 230°.
0930 Gybed. Genoa poled out to leeward. One reef in main and making course at a steady 8.5knots. Much better should have gybed sooner.
1200 ENE 18knots. Making good progress. Noon position 16.33N 43.14W Days run 179m. Distance to run 1033 so only 137m in the direction of St Lucia.
1400 Weather forecast for ENE 10/15 with 6/8ft seas for the next 36 hours. Weather system in NW quadrant of our next sea area at 50W could affect our progress in the next 24 hours by producing SW winds around force 7.
1900 Winds getting lighter again. Steak and Eggs with baked beans for dinner. Superb.2000 Big wind shifts difficult helming.
0000 Wind light very rolly noisy rig slamming and sails slatting.
0500 Breeze filled in. Flying along in the right direction.
1000 Rainsqualls. Dropped spinnaker and reefed main ahead of major squall. Heavy rain but no wind increase.
1200 Gybed as wind shifted to ESE. Making course 275° under full main and spinnaker. Noon position 16.31N 46.17W. days run 183m. Forecast for lighter winds ahead but from SE. Roast chicken for lunch.
1400 Running under full main and spinnaker
2100 Pasta and meat sauce for dinner. Full main and spinnaker with inevitable wind shift again making course impossible. Moira had flying fish land on her whilst using the heads. Involuntary bowel movement ensued.
0100 Fast running conditions under main and spinnaker.
0800 30° off course. Dropped spinnaker and noticed chafe in the head where the eye is secured to the sail. Reefed main in 20/25 knots wind. Making course again for a time. Poled out genoa to leeward.1200 Noon position 15.21N 49.21W. Days run 207m-great. Wish it were all in the right direction. Forecast for Se 15/20 knots. I now find it difficult to believe anything, which I hear on the ARC weather forecast. If this forecast is correct then we have another gybe coming up. Heard on radio that Multicap Caraibes an open 50 has finished in a new ARC record time of 12d 18h. This is remarkable in what have been light airs conditions but these boats are fully powered up in no more than 15 knots of wind so perhaps this is hardly surprising. Very lively motion now but Moira still managed to bake bread and a birthday cake in honour of Dave’s daughter, Rebecca’s, 14th birthday. Ships clock changed to UTC – 2h.
0500 Happy hour. Birthday party for Rebecca in the cockpit. Good speed under genoa and main. Chilli for dinner.
1100 Wind light cannot make course. Where is the promised SE’ly? Down wind with a wind from due E makes course impossible. Progress slow again.
1200 Set spinnaker in 15knots. Better speed, best course 265° against 285° required. Noon position 15.19N 52.25W. Days run 188m.
1800 Kite down-needs repairs. Full main and poled out genoa. Wind 20knots and making course. Pork chops with apple sauce for dinner.
0000 Making course wind ESE 20knots. Good boat speed reefed main. Dave has announced that he will be leaving the boat in St Lucia. He is having some domestic pressure and trip not up to his expectations.1200 Making course – reef out. Full main and poled out genoa. Noon position 14.23N 55.21W Days run 191m.
1400 Breeze holding making course most of the time.
1800 Happy hour, good breeze. Chicken pie for diner.
0200 40knot squall. Double reef in main, one fifth genoa.
0600 Wind going lighter shook out one reef.
0900 Second reef out ¾ genoa.
1200 Noon position 13.58N 58.35W Days run 196m.
1400 Wind lighter down to 10 knots. Very frustrating. Do not wish to risk running spinnaker and wrong angle for asymmetric. Very hot. ETA varying between 0600 and 1300 tomorrow.
1700 Happy hour. Extended to 2 hours – demob happy. Good breeze. Full main and poled out genoa.2000 Dinner pork tenderloin with prunes in apple brandy. Gybed for St Lucia. I hope this is the last gybe of the trip.
0300 Approaching the finish. Now close hauled on port tack. After all this time we are beating. Two tacks needed to lay the finish line.
0316 Finished, sails down and stowed.
0345 Alongside Rodney Bay Marina.
0430 Pissed.
Total distance sailed 2926.26m
Average speed (water) 7.31knots
Average speed towards destination 6.68 knots.

Galapagos to Marquesas

We weighed anchor at 0930 hrs. on the 17th April from Academy Bay Santa Cruz bound for Fatu Hiva, a distance of 2952 nautical miles. Reports on the radio net, from yachts already on passage, suggested light winds ahead so we decided to sail south in the hope of picking up the steady SE’lys. However, having motored all day, we picked up a steady 10-knot breeze in the evening, which enabled us to average seven knots under plain sail. We had decided that, if Autohelm and conditions allowed, we would operate two-hour single man watches. This allowed for four watches of two hours on and six off, with Moira drawing the ‘short straw’ of cooking, cleaning, bread making and maintaining discipline over the rest of the crew. The wind persisted from the SE and the following morning we set the asymmetric spinnaker, which gave us an extra knot of boat-speed. By the early evening the wind had increased to 20 knots, which provided exciting sailing but was beyond the capabilities of the Autohelm and would have been a severe test for the single-person night watches! We handed the spinnaker and took a reef in the main, sacrificing speed for a relaxed happy hour and a civilized dinner around the saloon table.

A major problem of tropical sailing in Excalibur is the lack of a ‘Bimini’. This is an item of nautical equipment rarely seen on the North East coast of England, consisting of a canvas-covered framework over the aft end of the cockpit, which provides the helmsman with some protection from the noonday sun. Without such protection, the day watches could become something of a trial. We had tried various arrangements with boathooks, broomsticks and bed-sheets, none of which provided a permanent
solution. In the Galapagos we managed to track down and purchase a garden umbrella, this we clamped on the stainless-steel binnacle frame. Although this was hardly proper equipment for a boat flying the Blue Ensign, it provided useful shade for the helmsman. The system worked well, provided you remembered to dismantle it before you gybed!

During the next couple of days we experienced light to moderate SE’lys, which allowed us to settle down to the routine of ocean passage-making and enabled Mike Toon time to recover from a stomach bug which was sufficiently serious to keep him off the beer for two days. Our ‘days runs’ varied between 160 and 175 nm. and the daily radio net indicated that we were beginning to catch some of the boats, which had started ahead of us. By the 21st the wind was blowing a steady 20-25 knots and, while this gave good boat-speed of 8.5 to 9knots, the Autohelm was having some difficulty coping with the quartering seas and we were obliged to revert to two-man night watches. The positive side of this was that we began posting our first 200+ ‘days runs’.

In spite of a fully operative water-maker, the skipper remained somewhat paranoid regarding the amount of water being used for showers. This led to the introduction of the ‘Norman Horsman Prize’ for the person who could shower in the least amount of water. This led to endless debate as Mike rightly pointed out that his bulk placed him at a real disadvantage – having the ‘greatest area to wet’. In true Horsman tradition, this could only be resolved by the introduction of a handicap system – however, no decision could be made as we could not agree over the relative merits of a ‘performance’ or a ‘measurement’ system. By the 25th of April, we had reached the halfway stage and had an extended happy hour in celebration of the event. At this point the Autohelm was becoming increasingly erratic. It seemed to have a will of its own, and for no apparent reason it would lock the helm; unless the watch-keeper could hit the standby button immediately the only way to disengage the infernal thing was to switch it off at the main instrument panel. As can be imagined, this added considerable spice to the night watches as, even without the benefit of the spinnaker, involuntary gybes in big seas at 2am did little for the confidence of the watch-keeper. In fact the night watches were increasingly eventful as, for two nights running, we experienced close encounters with large fishing boats. This was a quite unnerving experience as no matter what evasive action was taken they simply steered directly towards us. When they got to about 100 metres they blinded us with a massive searchlight – and I mean us, as by then everyone was on deck clearing away the life raft and loading the very pistol.

The Autohelm continued to cause problems as can be seen from this extract from the narrative log for 30/04/01…

“0900: Hoisted spinnaker. Full main in 15/20knots from E. sat phone contact re-established. Regular Autohelm malfunction. Bloody nuisance.”

By noon on May 1st. we had 366 miles to reach our landfall in Fatu Hiva. We were determined to make our land fall on the 3rd as this would give us a sixteen day passage and, what is more important, it would give a landfall on the skipper’s birthday. As usual, at this point the wind began to fall light and a daylight arrival on the third was looking increasingly unlikely. By happy hour we decided that the only chance of making our deadline was to carry the spinnaker all night and revert to two-man

This we did for two nights, ‘though on the second night we chose to hand the spinnaker in the early hours as, with the sea rising and the wind gusting over 30 knots, it was decided we could make it quite comfortably and more safely with a poled out genoa!
Land was sighted appropriately by the lynx-eyed Moira at 0915 on the third of May, and the following log reading brought the passage to an end…

“1400: Anchored Hanavave Bay Fatu Hiva. Stunning landfall and anchorage. Smoked salmon and Glenlivet for lunch”

Overall, we had a fast, and largely uneventful passage. We averaged 7.56 knots, never had the wind forward of the beam and, with the exception of the first day, and never needed the engine. A notable failure was our inability to catch any fish. In spite of investing in all the best equipment – rods, rod holders, reels, wire traces and a variety of lures – we only had three ‘strikes’ the whole trip and on each occasion ‘the big one got away’. All the other boats on the radio net were reporting regular catches of
Marlin, Tuna, Kingfish and Wahoo; we consoled ourselves with the thought that we must have been sailing too fast for the fish!