Another catch up blog – find out how Annie and Mel are doing now they have less than 700 miles to go! As before I have put the most recent at the top so it stays in the same order as the rest of the blog. Find out about their frustration at not being able to pick up the trade winds, and what it is like to get really close to whales!
Annie & Mel: Sorry we have haven’t been in contact with you, we’ve been in an area of very bad satellite phone reception, but we are back in vague reception now and there has been lots going on. So here we go!
Blog 45 Monday 1st March: Going - good-to-firm
We are back to the conditions that Explore loves. Boats are like racehorses – there are conditions they love and conditions they don’t. Explore 101% loves a swell and the wind behind her and then she absolutely flies. I took the opportunity whilst swimming to see how she sat in the water, which is easier now that we are eating our way through the supplies, But sitting ‘in’ the water perhaps isn’t the right expression, more like ‘on’ the water as there were inches of the anti-foul hull above the waterline – which basically makes her a 25 foot long board and explains why she loves these downwind conditions. It also explains why we struggle with side winds as there is no resistance in the water to stop us going sideways and as people can probably see from our course we have been going sideways and backwards over the last week or so.
All’s good now though as we’re flying towards Antigua and those problems are in the dim and distant past.
Blog 44 Thursday 25th Feb: Going no-where. Fast.
I wrote this log on Wednesday but haven’t been able to phone it through as we have had no reception. I know since then we have posted our worst day ever in terms of mileage, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. After our talking to yesterday we tried absolutely everything. But as if to prove me wrong the weather has conspired against us. As the boat gets lighter it gets more and more susceptible to changes in conditions and with this change in weather Annie and I are constantly moving food around the boat to get her properly trimmed to take the conditions. We have it down to a fine art now!
We did that yet again and rowed hard west but the weather totally conspired against us sending us North East despite everything. Even though it’s our worst day it’s the best mileage of the boats around us, which is some reassurance. It doesn’t do anything for our record attempt though; it just means we have to work even harder for it! This isn’t known as one of world’s toughest endurance races for nothing!
So we spent Thursday night on the para-anchor. It obviously wasn’t what we wanted at all, very disheartening to yet again be stopped and actually drifting backwards. Sill we made the most of it, which is conducive to one of us being always on deck constantly monitoring the wind and the swell to see when we could set off and the other one was sleeping. It was a beautiful night, loads of stars out, nearly a full moon. We actually found a miniature of whiskey, so I had a lovely time sat on deck watching the stars, drinking my whiskey, listening to my iPod - one that I know I will remember. Its nights like that that are half of what this race is about.
Thursday morning and conditions had changed a bit and we set off again. We were making slow progress - but we were making progress - but conditions got steadily worse. And over Friday, Saturday, Sunday had some kind of horrendous ground hog day. It Involved rowing our hardest to get Explore to move in a positive direction, putting extra hours in so that we could row two up, extra hours in the sweltering heat, I think we actually got heat exhaustion, but despite trying as hard as we could we eventually got to a point where we couldn’t get any positive direction at all and were on anchor again. By the time that conditions had changed and we could lift the anchor we had drifted back all the miles that we had made the day before. And this happened on Friday, and on Saturday, and again on Sunday. We literally ended up back at the same degree of longitude, a bit further south, but the same degree from east to west as we started.
I can’t describe how soul destroying that was; we really did try our hardest to make that westerly progress and to have it all taken away from you in 12 hours on para-anchor and just have to go out and do it again, I guess is what this race is about. It’s about just getting on with it and saying there is no point getting demoralised by it, that won’t get us to Antigua any quicker let’s just get our heads down and get on with it. When we found out on Sunday that we posted 17 miles - it took every ounce of positive energy we’ve got left not to get demoralised. But we are not demoralised we are just plodding on. So having a fun day. We have had enough of this fighting west and so we decided to go straight south. I had avoided that up until now as I don’t want to end up south of Antigua. Winds are from the northeast in this area, now I know this isn’t a typical year but I know that it is very difficult to get north again if you end up south of Antigua. We had a policy that we wouldbn;t go below Antigua, but we decided that if rowed south all day on Sunday we wouldn’t actually yet be south of Antigua. We’d heard the wind was going to fill in so we hoped we’d get blown west before we reached the latitude of Antigua – and guess what…for once the weather p[layed ball and that did indeed happen.
Blog 43 Monday 22nd Feb- Having a 'whale' of a time
We have waited 50 days for it but it’s finally happened. We have had an up close and personal marine experience - with whales and not just once but 3 times. Annie was on deck the first time on the pre dawn watch, it was very dark as the moon had set and she woke me up to put the deck lights on. She sounded worried so I wondered what had happened: another fish down her cleavage? Nope - a whale had exhaled so close to the boat she had got wet! Sadly it was so dark we couldn’t actually see it but Annie heard it around for another 20 minutes.
And a few hours later on the next watch I was merrily going along iPod blaring when out of the corner of my eye, I saw some waves breaking near the boat. This was odd as it was fairly flat. I did a double take and realised they were breaking over the back of an enormous whale about 15ft from the boat! I shouted to Annie but by the time she was on deck it had over-taken us but we watched it head off into the distance on a mission to go somewhere. I don’t know what sort he was sadly but it had a very small dorsal fin and about 20 ft long, for anyone who can help.
The lasting impression I will have is the noise of it moving through the water. I could tell he was huge from that, it was graceful but was obviously constantly moving huge amounts of water. I have seen whales before but this was by far the best as we are so close to the water - about a foot, it was just at the end of my blade.
I was on the blades for the third sighting, yes Annie is very jealous! It was dark but the moon was out and bright and out of the corner of my eye in exactly the same place I saw a black shape - two in fact. I looked again and saw the hump of one and the tail of another and it dived – amazing. Again sadly Annie missed it.
To see so many in one day is unbelievable, it makes me think we are on a migratory route. Whatever the reason I feel very privileged to see them in their environment.
We have given ourselves a bit of a talking to on Explore: we are not happy with our recent performance - in fact I would go so far as to say we are embarrassed that so many crews have overtaken us. And we think we know what the problem is; we think it might be us. Ok, the weather and the fact that most of our competitors are boys are factors but we are beginning to wonder whether we are trying hard enough or could we do more. When lots of other crews overtake you and do more miles than you, these are the sort of questions that enter your mind.
It sounds odd to say this, but I think we have it a bit easy so far. We had a cracking start aided I think by the fact that our learning curve wasn’t as steep as some crews, and we were off. To be fair we maintained a very competitive pace and it wasn’t too difficult. Yes, we had the nights when got knocked off our seats and the sweltering days rowing through treacle but we took them in our stride.
The World record changed to the British record, but were always records. Getting to the trade winds latitude and finding them non existent has been our biggest test so far and at the moment we don’t think we have come up trumps. We plodded along, hoping they will fill in where other crews have obviously just been there and are making good miles. We’ve now got to do the same, the trade winds may never fill in!
We want that British record and we’ve got to go and get it. This isn’t a record breaking year because of the unusual weather. The 12 man crew didn’t make their speed record but Charlie did make his and we have got to give ours our absolute all and funnily enough since our talking to we have posted a much more respectable set of figures on the website.
We have been rowing at a steady, maintainable pace, after all we have to do it 12 hours a day for 70 plus days but we have upped the pace now. We have no idea if we can maintain it but we won’t know if we don’t try. And I would rather arrive in Antigua, physically broken but mentally knowing I could not have done more than physically ok but have to mentally deal with the fact that I had missed out on the record because I didn’t given it absolutely everything.
We have done the figures we know how many miles a day we have to do – 40 and what speed that requires. We now have to show what we are made of. Watch this space……..