2nd September 2016, by Meret:
At 4am the wind had died back sufficiently to set off. It was frigid, as we pulled up the anchor and let out our jib. As soon as we got out of the shelter of Fort Ross, the wind increased to over 30 knots. We were going pretty much dead downwind and doing over 7 knots. The waves and the swell also increased and by school time, Christina and most of the kids needed breaks to not feel too seasick. Fulmars have been accompanying us constantly since we left. Noé came up on deck every break he had and asked where the fulmars were or shouted to inform us he had spotted another two.
Early morning Sabine spotted an enormous ice berg. Since the words for ice berg and polar bear are very similar in Swiss German, add a ‘g’ to polar bear and you have ice berg, there were five minutes of confusion and people shouting down from deck and back up again. “Is it a polar bear or an ice berg?” – “An ice berg?” – “Yes, a polar bear!” – “Wait what a polar bear?” – “No! An ice berg!” – “Oh an ice berg!” – “What did they say ice berg or polar bear?” And so on and so forth. We got there in the end, admittedly all a little confused. It’s the biggest ice berg we’ve seen on our trip so far. It was stunning, the mixture of whites, grey and blues along sharp ridges. Dario says the size indicates it must have come from Greenland! That made us wonder what its journey was to get from Greenland all the way to here in the Gulf of Boothia. What animals and boats had it passed? How big was it when it broke off the glacier? How long had it been on its way?
Most of the times things go smoothly but once in a while things go wrong. Today seemed to be one of those days, where everything that could go wrong went wrong.
First, our compass was playing up and showing up to 140 degrees difference from the GPS heading. For a few minutes we were going backwards. To combat that we had to check our GPS track every 15 minutes to make sure we were still going in the right direction.
Then while we were having lunch, the wind changed. Dead downwind you hope that never happens and if it does, that you can react fast enough. For those of you who don’t sail if the wind shifts in the wrong direction when your going dead downwind, it can cause an accidental jibe. This basically means the wind fills your sails from the opposite side and can cause the whole boom to come crashing across your boat, with enough wind this can result in a broken mast, for example. That’s why you have a preventer, a rope to a cleat near the bow of the boat, that pulls the boom out and forward tightly. If the wind then fills your sail from the wrong side you hope the preventer will hold it back and you can react before the boom comes crashing across the boat. But really you don’t want to let it get that far, that you have to depend on the preventer.
So during lunch the wind changed and though we noticed instantly, we reacted to slowly. Everyone had their hands full and Dario tripped on his way to the helm and hurt his knee, he is limping now and in a lot of pain. Once we got to the helm the preventer was all that held our boom back. After getting a little speed we luckily managed to jibe back and as far as we can tell nothing is broken. But we were very lucky and with more wind it could have ended very differently.
Then we suddenly realized there wasn’t enough electricity anymore. Since there wasn’t a lot of wind the wind generators weren’t working and when we switched on the motor for the backup generator, that also wasn’t working. The problem with not having any electricity is simple, we can’t power our navigation laptop. Soon the laptop had crashed and our iPad was quickly running out of battery. Usually we have paper charts as a back up but here we could only get pictures of some, also on a laptop that needs electricity. So worst case scenario it can be fatal. At the start of the expedition in the year 2000, they had the same problem off the South of France, were they had no navigation or navigation lights. That’s why we have a hand held GPS that works off batteries on board. You don’t want it to get that far though.
Luckily, this time we could locate the problem quickly. There is a tiny light bulb that is crucial to the working of the alternator. This light bulb needs to create a resistance so that the alternator starts to produce electricity. The big waves had knocked the bulb out of its housing, so it could not generate the resistance needed and therefore we had no electricity. Thankfully, we had a replacement on board so Dario and Sabine could put it back in its place. To stop this from happening again, they fix it in its place so that it can’t fall out anymore. We always always have to make sure we have a replacement on board. It’s amazing how much value such a tiny light bulb can have.
Sabine also hurt her back while changing the sails. In general, we are all very tired and though we only just left this morning, could do with a full night’s rest. It’s probably a mixture of seasickness, the extra concentration of sailing in high winds and waves, getting back into the routine of the watch system and the constant cold. Plus we’ve been under way for a month now and though we’ve stopped a few times, the constant nagging urge to keep going and make it out of the passage in time during these stops means you can’t always enjoy them to the fullest. Was going towards the Fury and Hecla Strait the right decision? Let’s hope so.