Oceans and islands Part three
Sea, sails and sketchbook – Rapa Nui to Falklands via Cape Horn
When I was a child I had a globe. I’ve always loved maps and as we moved every few years it was good to spin the globe and see where our next home was going to be. Usually I kept it with the Pacific Ocean facing outwards because I liked the fact that it was all blue with a bit of land around the edges and a few tiny dots across the middle. Planet Ocean, not Planet Earth. A ship like Tecla travels at an average speed of 5-6 knots (5.5 – 7mph). Sometimes we did up to 11 knots, sometimes much less, so when you’re travelling across just a small part of this half-a-planet-full of ocean at what is often little more than walking speed, you truly get to understand the enormity of it.
You have to stop counting the days (are we nearly there yet? No!) because they become meaningless and the only way to cope is to be in the moment. One watch at a time and every one different in many tiny ways. Different conversations, weather, sea state, mind state; flurries of activity that had you stripping off layers (reefing sail, shaking out reefs, changing jibs, gybing, tacking) or hours of cold or driving rain that left you chilled to the bone. Hours of hilarity, hours of contemplation, times when you wouldn’t have changed places with anyone in the world, and times when you really, really wished you were somewhere else. Glorious sunsets, perfect winds; constant rain and a shrieking wind.
We made it round Cape Horn eventually (becalmed for a while within ten miles of the iconic headland and then sent hurtling off towards Antarctica by a furious headwind for a day or so). The Southern Ocean is as beautiful and ever changing as I expected it to be, and thanks to modern weather information and our captain’s skill, we managed to avoid all potentially damaging storms. Thanks to good advice from knowledgeable friends about how to keep warm, I kept my merino thermals on the whole time and coped with the cold reasonably well. The fact that Tecla has heating below decks made a huge difference! Ruffy tuffy sailor? Not me. Off watch I took my sea boots off and put my slippers on!
I finally got into my stride with the daily sketchbook, and had no trouble finding things to include every day – helped by suggestions from shipmates, snatches of conversation or details that I noticed. It became not just a page full of drawings but a way of telling a story and making thoughts visible. As it became colder I would start a sketch on deck and then finish it off at the saloon table later, as long as the motion of the ship was not too bouncy.
It took 27 days from Rapa Nui to Port Stanley in the Falklands , and we sailed 3700 miles in total. We made a detour to latitude 50 degrees south just north of Falkland to satisfy the conditions of the Association of Cape Horners, who state that a proper ‘rounding of the Horn’ should include a continuous voyage under sail of at least 3000 nautical miles and go from latitude 50 in one ocean to latitude 50 in the other. The last 100 miles in many ways were the hardest as we were becalmed and it took a frustrating two days to cover a distance that we could have done in 12 hours with a good wind.
Sailing, as in life, is full of ‘if only’… but crossing that 50 degree line was the proudest moment of all, and celebrated in proper style with a tot of whisky to all hands. Centrally heated and slipper wearing sailors can still feel proud of a challenging achievement!
Thanks to Jet and Gijs Sluik (and their mum Jannette, organising everything back home behind the scenes) and to the good ship Tecla for an unforgettable experience (www.tecla-sailing.com). And thanks to www.classicsailing.co.uk for telling me about it and urging me to go for it.