Wednesday, June 29, 2011

I have the 9:00 P.M. to 1:00 A.M. watch tonight. We are crossing the Gulf of Carpenteria, the large body of water to the west of Cape York, it will take about 2 1/2 days to cross. At the end of the crossing we are going to go through a spot called Hole in the Wall. Great Slave Lake has one and I am pretty sure either Fiji or Vanuatu had one, but the name evokes visions of narrow openings surrounded by rocks. This particular Hole in the Wall is a fifty meter wide opening about a mile long, between two islands. It has up to a nine knot current running through it, so timing is vital. There are usually 2 high tides and 2 low tides per day, we want to pass through in day light hours on a flood tide, going from low tide to high tide in other words so we have to arrive between 1:00 P.M. and 7:00 P.M. tomorrow, June 29. At the moment we have to maintain 6 knots in order to get there on time. Glancing at the boat speed indicator we are doing well at 7.05 knots, that should make up for some 5.5 knot speeds earlier. If we don't think we are going to make it we have come up with an alternate anchorage at a nearby island,about 16 miles from the pass. Sailing to make a deadline like this is not particularly peaceful, you need optimize your sail set and get every last ounce of speed out of the boat. Barry has put the boat on automatic pilot instead of the wind vane in hopes that it will keep a straighter line and we will travel less distance. I was thinking earlier about poling out the staysail to add speed, but it is not practical at night.
When I came up on deck the stars were out in all their glory, I could see the Big Dipper and the Southern Cross in a turn of the head. I watched them slowly march their way across the sky over the course of the four hours. The boat is sailing itself, we are in the trade winds which means that the winds blow from a consistent direction although the speed does vary. This means that you set your sails and they remain in that configuration for days. The person on watch just has to monitor the instruments, the conditions and check for any boats that may pass in the night. To check, I stand up in the cockpit so that the lights from the instruments do not affect my vision and I scan the horizon. I do a slow 360 degree stare, making sure I peer around parts of the boat which may interfere so I see all the way around. I may see a freighter steaming toward us or the small winking light of another sailboat headed in the same direction or occasionally a cruise ship, lit up like a Christmas tree gliding past. Mostly all I see is the white of the waves as they careen of the boat and the sparkle of the phosphorescence the waves generate. Barry is on duty is a few minutes so I will get ready to put my head down for four hours and then get up to watch the wonder of another dawn, the first glimmers of light, the radiating colour of the promised sun, and the bright orange rising ball, the end of another night at sea.