One thing I’ve learned about the ocean is that no two moments are the same. Even though, in theory, I’m doing the same thing every day, the changing weather and light and waves means that no two days are indistinguishable. Sometimes the difference is subtle – a shifting of some clouds or the brightening of the sun – sometimes the contrast is more stark. Yesterday morning I awoke to a pink dawn and a flat calm sea, so still that I could see Darien reflected in the water and at the same time watch the fish and the rays of light reaching down into the deep. There were two determined biggish fish, intent on hunting the little ones that had gathered around the barnacles on my rudder, and their bodies slapping the side of the boat as they pounced was the only sound I could hear. This morning I was greeted by the howl of strengthening wind, crashing waves, and the sharp impact of my elbow and shoulder with the cabin wall when I tried to sit up.
I’m now lying on sea anchor and expect to be here for two more days before I can row again. It feels a bit like I’m back in the earlier weeks of the row, with waves crashing over the boat and battering us from all sides, but at least I’m not cold. The hours in the middle of the day are hot and airless in the cabin, and I lay with a wet cloth of my forehead and my eyes closed, bracing myself at the impact of waves trying to let my head accustom itself to being thrown around so much again. Even with the sea anchor out I’m losing ground to the south – ground that I will have to make up again – but far less that I would be without it. Even after Friday, when the winds should calm down to a sensible level, the forecast doesn’t look good for the next week. Although I generally haven’t got headwinds, I have a lot of crosswinds and some complicated currents to navigate – still a few hundred miles of difficult rowing to go.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit about forecasts. I’m so much more aware of them out here, and I try to anticipate what is expected by rowing in a particular direction, or pushing myself extra hard while the winds hold. At home I’d generally look at if it was going to rain, how warm it was going to be or if the sun would shine. With the forecasts I’m receiving I never know to expect those things – I don’t have any idea if I should expect rain, or clouds, or sun, or warmth, or cold, but I do have a pretty accurate expectation of wind speed and direction. Along with currents and wave height, this is the only forecast I’m interested in, and the only change that makes a significant difference to my rowing, for better or for worse.
Finally, I just wanted to share a little triumph I had yesterday. I’m not particularly practised at DIY, and especially anything to do with electrics, so when I found my satphone earpiece not working my first reaction was that there would be nothing I could do. Things with lots of wires worry me, and I’ve never been excited about the idea of taking them apart and looking inside. The earpiece has been one of my favourite pieces of kit on the boat though – the satellite phone is plugged in right in the corner of the cabin, under my electronics panel, and the earpiece is extendable, meaning that I can lie back and speak on the phone rather than huddling into the corner with my head under the panel (I could unplug the phone, but the signal is not so clear unless I go outside, and I’d rather not risk the one thing that brings me messages, voices, emails and weather forecasts) Knowing how useful I find it, I decided to open it up and see if there was anything to be done (although I confess that I did put it off for about 12 hours before tackling it). I found one of the wires dangling free, having been pulled away from the spot it had been soldered to. Solder! Suddenly I was excited. Before I left, Steve had been keen that I add a soldering iron and some solder to my tool kit, just in case, and he’d found a portable one that plugged into the sockets I have in the cabin. This was my chance to use it. I lay everything out, using an empty expedition meal packet as a workstation and did my best not to burn my fingers or ruin the delicate wiring with the hot melted solder as the boat rocked and bobbed around. After waiting for it to cool down I tried it out – it worked! I know this probably sounds like a ludicrously little thing but it made my day, and I still feel a thrill of triumph every time I use it.