Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Xplore in the Drake Passage: 10 Feb 2009

How much can a Koala bear? This morning whilst I was hanging in my harness at the mast head 26 meters above sea level and being thrown around like a rag doll, I wondered how many more years I can take this crap. My hands were already frozen as the ascent had been a slow and tiring climb, Audrey and Serge were on deck managing the halyard which was my lifeline but their faces I couldn't see; my total focus was getting to the masthead and recovering the main halyard so we could rig and hoist the trysail, which is a replacement (very small) main sail. Yesterday had been a long and frustrating day, where the only words I could say to my crew Audrey -- who has been sharing the same watch -- was that I was fractious. I had just received news early in the morning from my father (who was meant to have joined us on this trip) that my stepmother was about to pass of cancer within the next few weeks. For 25 years she has been with my father, and I have spent time with them a few times in Darwin: a lovely lady who had come into my father's life at the right time for both of them. So yesterday, even though I knew we had to make sail changes and recover the halyard, I didn't have the emotional or physical energy to face it. The sea state had still been very lumpy, but maybe that was just me convincing myself that it was better to just sit out and wait for smoother seas and a little bit of personal energy. So back to the masthead: I know some crazy people who would pay for the experience at a masthead at sea, like in a carnival showgrounds ride: you pay 5 bucks and get the hell thrown out of you. The G-forces are quite extreme as the masthead whips from side to side and then back and forwards in such an unpredictable way, you just have to hang on for dear life like a Koala Bear !! With legs wrapped around the mast you can only slowly go from each spreader to spreader, a brief spell at each point to grab your breath; as any longer and you would lose your nerve and merely make the freezing process stretch out painfully longer. My biggest concern was that my hands weren't going to be able to be used to re-attach the halyard to a short strop connected to my harness so that I could drag in back down the mast on my descent. Another deep breath and I was ready to move down, the insides of my calf muscles were humming, the lactic acid from being clenched around the mast as my prime means of holding on while I attached the retrieval line. Audrey and Serge on deck weren't sure what I screamed to them, with blank faces they didn't know if needed to go higher, or was I in trouble ... for me I just wanted to get the hell off this sideshow ride! Down I needed and fast, but not too fast as each part of the descent I needed to un-attach the retrieval strop and pass it around the spreaders, then re-attach it and move on down. As I reached the deck, my body and face just slumped, I think a cardboard box full of cotton wool would have been perfect, my body ached and was so cold but we all had got the halyard down. Now it was time to warm up and plan for the next stage of manoeuvres. With an hour we were ready to go. We cleared the forepeak and prepared the trysail, new lines run and other modified to do the job, we changed over that pesky main halyard onto the head and up she went !! Woooo hooooo, a different flappy white thing -- haven't seen that one before. Next we prepared to change the No2 Yankee headsail for the larger No1, new sail flaked on deck, halyard ready to drop, we all crouched ready to receive the smaller sail onto the deck. Down she came and we all went at it like Rottweilers in a butcher shop. I had seen a cloud line on the horizon which could bring some not-needed extra wind which would only make the process much harder, but within 20 minutes we had switched headsails and were back on course. Now the waiting game could continue. We have all been so bored in waiting and watching the movement of this large low pressure system that now we were ready with our new armoury and a plan, we wanted it now, but no such luck as the winds within the centre of lows are weak, indecisive, and fickle (hence why I have the time to write this). The plan -- if it goes to plan -- is that we should get good fresh-to-strong winds from the SW as the low passes over us. This should give us good speeds in the desired direction of Cape Horn and then our entry into the Beagle Channel, but for now only time will tell when the winds will come. More news to come ~ Stephen

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