Isbjorn a Offshore: An Ocean Thick with Phosphorescence

28 May, 2017


I put too much hot sauce on my leftover rice & beans just now. 'Jack's Bay Pepper Sauce' from St. Croix. Really tasty, but runnier than anticipated out of the bottle, which I shook with a tad too much fervor. My lips are tingly.

Isbjorn is running down the miles on the home stretch. 300 miles to Horta. Under another dark black sky, just a few stars peaking out through some misty cloud cover, she veritably FLIES along, touching double-digit surfs and doing a steady 8.5 in the lulls. We bravely have the spinnaker up, 'Ol Whitey,' a recut chute from an old race boat that we got in time for the Caribbean 600 race back in February. It's a downwind A-sail, but we've got it rigged on the pole to windward like a symmetric sail. She's very stable, and the autopilot is managing the steering admirably. There's almost no sea to speak of. We keep the steaming light illuminated to see the trim, though we don't touch the sheets. Rather we gently steer the boat to a relative wind angle, simply adjusting the autopilot up and down a degree or two at a time. Conveniently, we're right on course.

Dolphins occasionally streak by the boat and we kill the steaming light, letting the darkness settle. The ocean is itself black under the black night sky, and the dolphins GLOW. No exaggeration. The phosphorescence is so thick in these parts that anything that stirs up the water leaves a fluorescent trail, exactly the same color as the luminous dials on a fancy diver's watch. Including Isbjorn - the comet's tail behind the boat is three feet thick and stretches for 100 yards in our wake. It's trippy. The dolphins come streaking past the stern quarter, breaching for air with an audible 'pfuuff', then streak towards the bow, sometimes making quick 90-degree turns, leaving behind kinks in their glowing wakes. Watching them in the darkness is emotional.

In the past three hours we've logged 26 miles.

This morning we sat becalmed. We knew the wind would shut down and it did, around 0800, and right in sync with the GRIB forecast. A big leftover swell rolled in from the northeast, slamming the boat around. We dropped all sail for a while and I went for a nap, grumpy.

I woke an hour later to the sound of winches turning. Mia and the crew had set the genoa on a light NW'ly. Our best course in the heavy swell was 020, 70 degrees off our intended course, but at least we were moving.

The wind quickly backed into the SW and we set the chute again (it was up earlier in an aborted attempted to carry the breeze). It's been there ever since, poled out to starboard since about 1400, so more than 12 hours. That leftover swell is gone, replaced by some friendly wind-driven waves from the WSW.

We hit a sunfish earlier today. I'm pretty sure. A glancing blow on the port bow, a THUD on the hull and a look astern at a giant flopping fin in our wake. Google 'ocean sunfish' - they're crazy, Dr. Suess-looking creatures with big floppy fins & bodies as big as a Volkswagen that hang at the surface and, well, sun. I've never seen one before in real life but hear often of other sailors spotting them offshore. I hope all we did was manage to concuss him, and that he'll be back sunning again tomorrow.

I'm sailing Isbjorn extra aggressive-like because we're neck & neck with the yacht 'Yoda,' and I'd like to beat her to Horta. In fairness, they're only double-handed, so doing a darn good job. We have 6 onboard! At noon today they were 1-mile closer to Horta than us, though some 40 miles to the south. After our calm spell, they were 12 miles in front, though we're not sure if they motored or not. We didn't. We MUST have gained on them since setting the chute. Aside from 'teamgeist' and 'Pure Elegance', both modern, 56-footers (an X-562 and a Dufour 560 respectively), I doubt anyone in the ARC Europe fleet can match our current pace. But I'm not competitive ;)

Speaking of running the engine, I almost forget what it sounds like. We haven't had the damn thing ON, let alone in gear, since overnight May 17/18, ten days & 1600 miles ago, immediately after exiting Town Cut in Bermuda. We sailed into a big high pressure right off the bat and motored NE overnight for 15 hours until we found some NW'ly zephyrs and were able to (barely) set sail. And the motor's been off ever since. I can't give a hearty enough endorsement to Wattsson, our Watt & Sea hydrogenerator. He's made ALL of our electricity this passage - as I type, our batteries are at 13.6 volts and 100% charged, and they've been that way at every single log entry, this with running the water maker at least 3 hours daily, and steering most of the time on autopilot. In fact, Wattsson sort of signals our biggest surfs - before the speedo ramps up, he goes into 'freewheel mode' above about 9 knots and makes a high-pitched whirring sound as Isbjorn blasts down the face of a wave. I can
  hear this from my bunk. It's a comforting sound, going fast!