Video Journal: Days 9-11

Day 9, June 23, 2007 Sunday

Another day beating into the wind. In hopes of good news, when I did email today, I downloaded the latest Atlantic weather image. Bad idea. If you are ingnorant, there is always hope, but now we know. This wind system is set for a at least a week. The wind is coming directly from St. Helena and it's a total ocean system, being fed by huge storms in the south Atlantic. We crossed into the tropics today but it's still cold. Its like the southern winter is reaching up to keep us in its icy grip, and not even pushing us away with winds but hooking up against South America, turning right and blasting down from the northwest strait into us. Wow. Could be global warming, could be just a freak event, but according to our up to date wind charts it is not at all normal for this time of year. The system feeding it looks like one that developed two years ago into the first ever hurricane in the South Atlantic. Its far to the south with little chance of coming this way, but its effects are being felt throughout the sea south of the Equator. So my bunk has stopped being the rodeo ride that it was and and has become the sideways ride, as we slip into the eye of the wind, blowing down at us at 15 knots. This ship that Andre built can sail very very close to the wind. What that means is that if the wind is coming from the northwest, we can actually sail within 20-30 degrees of northwest (keeping in mind there is 360 degrees in the compass). We are opting for north-northwest and letting our leeway slip us along. With this strong wind we are able to make about 7 knots, which for a sailing ship is very good going indeed. The effect though is striking. The wall has almost become the floor. I am propped up in the cave of a pile of gear and pillows I have scrounged from the boat, effectively nested in the L between the wall and the bed. I still sleep well, since I am so tired. I sent my second edit of video and photos out today. I have been working 5 hours a day for the last 4 days on it. Hope you all get to see it soon. Today we caught our first ever fish! It was a very small Skip-Jack Tuna, very salty and very undersized so we sent him back to the deep. Who knows it may be a harbinger of better luck to come. At least we know there are regular fish as well as jellyfish still at large in the sea, albeit only a very small one. The wind howls in the sails above me. By our original plan, before the wind turned against us, we had hoped to be in St Helena today, now it looks much more like 4 or 5 days more at least. I have nowhere to be, but it would be nice to get there. I hear its beautiful, and I have some appointments to keep with some biologists who are working there.

Day 10, June 25, 2007 8:45 pm

Squalls, scattered clouds, wind on the port rear with very confused seas. Finally the wind changed direction, and sits where would we would like it the most. However the swell, which is about 4 to 6 meters, is running about 40 points off of our course. What this means is that we are careening down one side of these huge rollers, about 50 meters between crests, and then up the other side at an angle and then on the next one at the opposite angle. So we lurch drunkenly, bleeding speed as we sway deeply to one side and then the other. If you could imagine a drunk driver in 3D you might get my drift. The sea has been grey black and I spent the whole day on the top deck. They say that the sea colour is just a reflection of the sky. Today I believe it. Grey skies and grey sea…waves like the dunes of the Namibian desert stretching out forever. At one point about an hour ago, just before sun set, we were on top of this big wave and I looked down about 10 meters (30 feet) into the hole in the swell where we were next headed. It is alarming until you do this thousands of times, and you realize that (hopefully, gulp) you just get set back up the elevator to the next wave crest. On and on and on. The sea is so big, and with global warming and the possibility of having more of it, this trip is making me keenly aware that we should take very careful care of the little dry land we have on this planet. Unfortunately, we are all in agreeance on this boat, there are very few signs that this is happening. But I digress slightly. It struck me today as I just looked at all this water, it's amazing that I am dry. That we have not through some force of size and osmosis become just as wet as the miles of ocean around us. Maybe the wave action is getting to me. Fortunately it doesn't make me queasy any more. Thank the sea gods for that. We did not get a chance in this strong wave action to use email. That is always a spirit lifter, and with almost no sleep for anyone last night due to the weather, we could all use a bit of spirit lifting! We heard through the Satellite telephone that Cape Town has been smashed by a truly huge storm. Boats are being called in to port and a yacht was de-masted yesterday near Robben Island. We are way way past the point of no return to the Cape, and this huge swell hitting us is probably the vanguard of that low pressure front reaching up. We all have a feeling that more dirty weather could well be on the way. Much dirtier. We are still about 400 Miles from St Helena, when we should have been there yesterday or today according to the wind charts. At the 7 knots we are doing, that will put us there in about 60 hours, or 3 days. We could all do with some shore time after the wild ride we have been on. Even the other guys, both veterans of many crossings, are getting tired of the all night watches and changing weather conditions. They expected this to be the easy part of the trip. I saw one of the most perfect rainbows of my life this morning, I had time to see it and photo it just before we were almost knocked flat by a screaming squall.

Day 11, June 26, 2007 9:30 pm

Squalls, party sunny, wind at the rear blowing between 10 and 25 knots. Its been a great day for sailing. Finally we reached some good wind, (for now) and its blowing us strait to St Helena. We are about two days away, trusting the wind keep us at full steam ahead. There is a large following swell, big enough to rock the bridge of a truly massive Liquid Pressurized Gas (LPG) carrier we saw just before sunset coming up on our stern. These things are huge, with rounded carrying tanks, and are deemed enough of an explosion risk that they are barred from the major canals like the Suez and the Panama, or so I hear. It was probably coming from the Gulf of Cabinda on its way to the USA, or so we figure by its course. Cabinda is a nominal enclave of Angola, and mostly controlled by US and French oil companies, which are busy exploiting Angola's vast offshore oil and gas reserves. Only 200 miles or so from here there are oil rigs spouting towering flares big enough to create their own weather systems. Angola is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and its standard of living is amongst the worst, according to the World Bank, yet Uncle Sam and the US car drivers hand the Angolan government millions of dollars a month in the return for their oil. This is also a country that kills, intimidates and imprisons journalists regularly and has no political opposition or elections. They are not a member of OPEC, which makes their chummy relationship with Washington all that more important. I once spent a month on one of those oil platforms, just near the mouth of the Congo River. This might sound like a wild place in the public imagination, but in fact it is a land of fire, pollution, and outright greed. On any given night I counted 28 gas flares burning in the sky there, all around the drilling platforms which sprouting like black daisies from the ocean from the window of the helicopter when I flew in. I was there taking pictures, and when the rig I was on found oil, we spouted our own pillar of fire and the clouds that formed above this gout of flame created a rainstorm that dropped black rain back down on us. I cried. Most countries in the world outlawed flaring, but Angola is not one of them. It became clear to me then that it wasn't the oil companies or the governments doing this, they are just making something to sell and everyone knows most politicians are greedy and in the bed with them. The only people who can stop them is us, the consumers. Buy your petrol from BP, they insisted on financial transparency from the Angolan government before they pumped their oil. They lost their contracts, but they made a very clear point. Don't buy your oil from Chevron. They litter their compounds with landmines and operate at the very edge of decency and would do worse if they weren't so afraid of getting caught. But I digress from my trip. The rain hammered us a bit today but the wind has finally sent us on our way. Everyone's spirits are much higher, and outside the water is blasting by the hull (the very very thin hull). We are in a racing boat and she is showing us once again what she can do, even though loaded down for the trip. Its late now for the ocean and I am already in bed. Have to wake up for my midnight watch in a bit.