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February 6, 2014

Some people at home ask me, How can you look at all that sea for so long? Ah! That sea is always changing, I tell them. And no more so than in the South Pacific Ocean, as we have seen these last two weeks since setting sails and leaving the Chatham Islands fading in to the mist. Here the weather systems move through and we have followed consistently an easterly course, not headed directly towards Cape Horn. We receive regular weather reports which are carefully analysed and plotted in the chart room. Keeping on the northerly side of the approaching depressions, gives us the best sailing wind. To date we have kept advancing eastwards. Our overall average speed has been 6 knots, with our best run of 182 miles on 6th January with a strong nor-wester giving 7.6 knots. The next tentative way point is 45S 100W, before bearing away south easterly for the Horn. That way point is 1,100 miles away and much can happen between now and then.

But what of the changing scene? Yesterday’s 12-4 afternoon watch is a good example. We started with Masefield’s ‘windy day with the white clouds flying’; not too much wind and some talked casually of sunbathing in a lee spot, while Paul was patiently waiting the meridian passage from which sun sight he would fix the ship’s latitude. The heavy rolling from a quartering swell is accepted now, not saying it is liked. In no time at all it all changed: dark clouds astern overtook an indigo sea, and showered us, reducing visibility. Lookouts in oilskins stood their stations through the squall, one on the starboard wing and one to port, while the helmsman wiped the rain from the compass to hold our course of 110. Gradually the wind increased, gusted to over 35 knots and we heard the wind in the rigging start to sing. In less than an hour it was over: again sun with white clouds flying.

Contrast this with the night watch opening starless with hint of setting moon to the northwest. Less wind than in the afternoon but still a steep swell and no comfortable course to be found. Talk was of squaring the main yard now with just five of the watch, better than waiting for more hands at the watch change we argued, not wanting to sacrifice precious sleeping time. The cloud thickened and brought with it rain, then as quick as it came it moved ahead, the cloud breaking to reveal a setting 12 day moon. In the sky appeared a clear silver lunar bow arcing across the sky, from north east to nearly south. We mused over what might lie at its foot before it disappeared as quickly as it came. With clearing cloud the Southern Cross appeared and to the west Orion on his back set to fade as dawn advanced.

How can you NOT spend time and look at all that sea and sky, I say.



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