A beautiful fish

We take turns holding the gaff, kneeling  on the aft cockpit bench with arms extended outboard between the backstay, tracking device, and the cords which tie down the sunshade.

The enormous fish thrashes about on the other end of the gaff, its head held  just above the water surface. It is a violent, intimate death. And it is protracted, taking perhaps 5 minutes to die from when it was gaffed.

Once we are sure it is dead, we loop a line around its midriff and hoist it with some difficulty into the cockpit. It is enormous, 1.9m in length (excluding the tail) and perhaps 40 or 50 kg. It is clearly too big for our needs. Marlin? Sailfish? Swordfish? We hazard guesses but none of us know for sure.

We send a picture to Jacques and ask him to  identify it. We also request him not to share the picture on social media yet.  The response comes back – swordfish, Sassi orange.

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We cut two huge fillets from the fish. Skin them, divide them and place them in four ziplock bags. It is enough fish for 5 or 6 big meals for the four of us. It is all we could possibly eat.

full-plates

The rest of the carcass is dropped over the side with some mumbled words. We are acutely aware of the waste. Something will eat the rest of it, we reassure each other.

We felt no elation, nor sense of achievement, in catching the swordfish. Instead we were all a little uncomfortable, possibly disturbed,  by the death of an incredible creature and the waste.

empty-plates-with-view

We had sashimi with our sundowners and swordfish steaks for dinner that night. Last night we had ceviche. We will eat well for days. The rod and reel have been stowed. Our fishing is over.

Harry

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Which way to Rio?

As I lie in my bunk I can hear Tom and Petri in the cockpit above me discussing the grib (weather) files and routing options to Rio. The routing decision has consumed us. All other topics of discussion have long since retreated to the bilges where they lurk with abandoned beanies and lost socks.

The primary issue is simply this: north now or later? The secondary issue is how far north? Rio lies about 2 degrees, or 120 miles, north of our current latitude. So we have to make some northward gains at some point to get to Rio.

Furthermore, the traditional route to Rio takes a much more northerly line, with boats usually approaching Rio from the north east to avoid the calms associated with the mid-Atlantic high pressure system.

The direction of the wind and swell makes it very difficult to sail directly towards our preferred way point. At present we can sail either due west, and thus potentially straight into the mid-Atlantic high where we could languish for days in light winds; or we can sail north of north west before heading west once more.

There are advantages to both approaches and some of us manage to simultaneously advocate for both strategies at the same time without blushing. Perhaps I should have included haloperidol (a strong injectable anti-psychotic) in the first aid kit after all.

The nuances of the discussion are far too detailed to be reproduced here. The massive oversimplification is as follows: if we go too far north we could miss the chance to take a gap through the high pressure zone should one appear; and if we go west we will remain close to Avanti (our main competition) and will be able to respond to their moves. The next day or two will likely lock in our overall race strategy.

If you have been following the race tracker, you may have noticed that we changed to a more northerly course at about 3am this morning. This however was not because we have come to a decision. Rather our AIS system alerted us to a very large tanker bearing down on us at more than 20kts. We had to gybe to get out of the way.

So the discussions continue this morning. And in case you have jumped to the conclusion that the discussions are acrimonious, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. The discussions are knitting the team together, allowing us to recognize each other’s strengths.

What is clear from the discussions though is that we have one of the best navigators in the fleet on board Sophie B, and two superb sailors with valuable tactical racing experience.

So what do I think, north or west? We still have a day or two to make a decision and should keep our options open for the time being. I am sure that with more grib files and great discussion that this remarkable team will come up with a winning strategy.

Best, Harry

Happy New Year!

The spinnaker pole repairs are pretty much complete. The product of Petri’s ingenuity and engineering has yet to be tested though as we are waiting for a patch of light downwind sailing to test it.

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If the pole lasts for an hour, it will likely last the rest of the race. In the interim our sail options are limited. We sail as hard and deep as we can with our last remaining downwind sail, an A3 spinnaker.

The need to preserve our last remaining downwind sail makes us perhaps overly conservative, furling it when the true wind climbs above a measly 20kts. The upside is that it allows us all to get a little more rest as we can sail with just one person on deck when we are not flying a spinnaker. And we do need the rest.

The daily position reports keep us motivated. We are doing well, perhaps even superbly well. Tom’s navigation has been spot on. We are well placed for the anticipated weather for the next few days and I would not willingly exchange our position for that of any other boat in the fleet.

Thanks to Ollie we are eating fantastically well. Thai green curry, chicken vindaloo, superb steak rolls. We will have fillet and champagne tonight to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Open bar. All welcome. Location: the Valdivia banks, where a seamount rises steeply 5000m out of the mid-Atlantic to just 23m below the surface.

While the sailing directions exhort skippers to keep a keen look out for fishing trawlers in the vicinity we have yet to see another vessel. Perhaps the fish are long gone.

Happy new year to all.

Harry

Slipping lines

Skipper’s log: T -18 hours

We are down to the final list: stow gear; take the stackpack,  extra fenders and mooring lines off he boat; find a replacement screwdriver for the one I dropped overboard yesterday; check the race notice board for any changes to the sailing instructions; obtain final race clearance forms from the race committee; and sign Sophie B out of RCYC,  destination Rio.

We will slip lines tomorrow at 11:30. I always find it a thrilling, slightly reckless act. I hope I will pause for a moment to watch the gap between the quay and boat slowly widen but I doubt I will. My concentration will be required elsewhere, firstly on guiding Sophie B respectably out of harbour, then preparing her for sea, raising sails, getting clearance from port control and making our way to the start line.

There are just 8 boats starting the race tomorrow, 5 monohulls on our start and 3 catamarans a few minutes later. So while the start line itself should not be too crowded,  jostling for position while ducking the spectator boats will certainly keep us busy. If the forecast models we use are correct, there will be too much wind (30kts) for us to fly a spinnaker at the start and the first night.

So it will likely take a day or two before I look out at the horizon, take a deep breath and let the deep peace of being at sea wash over me. But there is time. A sound boat, a fabulous team, and lots of time.

=-=

Tom, thanks for getting us to the start line.

Catherine, Rachel, Joseph and Emma I will miss you terribly. Thank you for the book of photos, pictures and poems you made for me. And thank you for the time you have given me to make this possible.