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Before the Mast

25th of March
We had the splicing kit out today. I was delighted to learn a few new skills and hopefully do something useful for the boat. We made a couple of soft shackles, wrapped in a Dyneema cover. I always wondered how they were made. The session was interrupted when James, upon inspection of the splice end of the jib sheets at the pole end with binoculars, decided that we had a problem that needed to be addressed. The cover on the sheets was starting to be wear through, due to chaffing with the pole end. The clew of the jib is too high off the deck to reach, when the jib is furled. Someone (James) would have to go up the foil in a bosuns chair, to remove the jib sheets. No easy task, on a rolling sea. We instead rigged a second sheet. Loaded it, so that we could ease and remove the actual sheets.
The pole end had chewed the rope cover up a bit, but after 2 Atlantic crossings and a good chunk of the Pacific behind us, some chaffing wasn't a surprise. The solution was to cover a good portion of it with the Dyneema cover that I was using to make the soft shackles. How much were we to cover? About 60 feet of it. This suggestion was met with the sneering derision that I felt it deserved. 'You're joking! That will never fit in there'. James appeared serious and determined. Dyneema doesn't stretch. So, the rope
needed to be compressed to fit in the cover. It was like stuffing a 60 foot sausage. It was slow and sweaty work, working it inch by inch as it was stretched the length of the boat. James then had the tricky task of trying to make an eye splice at the end of this monstrosity. He was having a frustrating time of it, much to my satisfaction after what he just put me through, when Linda noticed that the trade-wind sail was behaving weirdly. The lashing at the top of the furling cable had parted and the sail was slowly dropping. We needed to drop the sail and furling cable, and on the deck in order to fix it. Usually, before raising or lowering the sail, the furling mechanism is used to wrap the sail into a tight manageable tube. We
didn't have that luxury on this occasion. We had to lower the whole mess, fully open, without damaging the sail, which is huge, or kinking the foil. The foil had to snake it's way from the bow, all the way around the back of the boat and up the other side. The foil goes through a pocket up the center of the sail and had to be stuffed fully back into the sail and tensioned before a new lashing could be fitted. We all worked on a different parts of the sail to squeeze out any movement in order to work that confounded foil back in. Finally, got the head of the sail close enough to fit the lashing and tension the sail into place. The wind had risen to 20kts and it was starting to get dark, so there was no way that we'd attempt to hoist this complicated sail until the morning. We lashed it to the stanchions and slumped into the cockpit. There was one final task to perform on this exhausting day. We had to celebrate my birthday. I insisted! We had a delicious tagine made by James and a fruit crumble by Mary. I washed it down with my second Guinness of the trip and felt it's effects immediately.
We retired to bed, leaving James to return to his eye spice.
Log at midnight 2162 nautical miles.

26th of March
I woke at 1:00am to the whirr of the winches and furling motors and most outrageous rolling of the boat. If I hadn't been confined by my lee cloth, I'd have surely ended up on the cabin floor. When I eventually emerged on deck, the I found a slightly troubled James. A ship had appeared on the AIS. The first we'd seen in days. Then the radar started to pick up a line of boats. A new one would appear every few minutes, but other than the first ship, all were invisible to AIS. Of greater concern is that all were unlit and so we're completely invisible to us. He had to take evasive action earlier to avoid a boat less than a mile from us, which accounted for the earlier commotion. It's very likely that the ship was a factory fishing vessel and the smaller boats were long line fishing boats. What appears to be the same fleet was spotted by one of the other Oyster boats the following day. The lack of lights would suggest that it wasn't altogether legal fishing. Even 1000 miles away from the nearest piece of land is no refuge from a fleet like this. They go everywhere and take all they find. On another level, coming across these boats felt like an intrusion. We've
still a week or so of sailing ahead of us, but suddenly we feel like we're nearing something and emerging from the extreme desolation of the mid Pacific. We can start to sense the end of our voyage.
We had a close look at the gear for the trade-wind sail, before we relaunched it. There was chaffing on it's halyard with something near the top of the mast. James decided to swap out the halyard with a new one. To offer extra protection, we 'tipped' it, with the dynemma cover. 3 meters was deemed sufficient. Once slid onto the halyard, it is secured at the splice end with a whipping and is woven into the polyester cover underneath. I was keen to learn a new trick, so I offered to do this. I botched my first attempt, resulting in my fist effort being cut away as I had become impossibly knotted. My second attempt was a clean and tidy result. It took hours to complete as I stubbornly stuck to the task. It was dark and very late before I finished. The guys stayed in the cockpit with me until I finished the work. The company and the banter made the work much more agreeable.
Log at midnight 2338 nautical miles.

27th of March
It was mission 'relaunch the trade-wind sail' today. It was still lashed to the stanchions, in a huge snaking sausage, looking like a clumsy attempt to  hide a bunch of dead bodies.
It was a particularly hot day. The sea was dazzling and the sky blue, save for the small puffy trade-wind clouds. We first moused the old halyard out and the new one in. The trade-wind sail is quite huge and wide and isn't intended to be deployed unfurled. It is possible to fold the sail in half in order to sail it like a genoa. There are even velcro patches to help hold it with the genoa, or triangular sail shape. This we did. It was a considerable help to hoist it. Once up, we refurled it, dropped it on the deck to rig it correctly, rehoisted it and opened it. It was restored to it's former glory. It's an amazing sail. It looks like a giant manta ray, hung by it's tail. It's particularly effective when going straight down wind and light airs.
Other sails would have ceased to work properly in those conditions and would be slamming and banging in the windless rolly seas. The trade-wind sail keeps the boat moving along nicely. The hoist was delayed by the visit of two small whales. We HAD TO look at them. We couldn't identify them properly, but they were probably pilot whales. A pod of dolphins made an appearance a few hours later. They were
the first dolphins that Linda and I had seen throughout the entire trip. Significant creature visitations trumps most activities. Flying fish used to be rated as significant creatures, but after the morning deck clear up of their corpses (Mary flicked 36 of them overboard one morning) and the frequency of their sightings, they've lost their novelty value somewhat. They still give me a lift every time I see a flock of them (are they a 'flock' when airborne?) launch from a breaking wave, but you wouldn't interrupt a conversation if you saw, out of the corner of your eye, a squadron of them take to the air, even if it was a very boring conversation.

Mary and I spent the rest of the day practicing making soft shackles. The finishing diamond knot confounded me for longer than it should have. Mary ended up with a really neat shackle, which I very sportingly complimented. We're making more of these damn things tomorrow, until she yields to my superior soft shackle making skills, no matter how long it takes!
Log at midnight 2516 nautical miles.


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