It took about two days for the boat to span the short expanse of the Atlantic between the Horn and Falkland Islands. While the passage was hastened by strong breeze, it made me count every moment of it. Well before the sunrise of on the 28th of January the boat suddenly spun out of control and unlike other times this was not a case of the autopilot going into standby mode. Winds suddenly shot up to 40 knots and more with gusts frequently crossing 55 and the boat went out of control thrice before I decided to go for a sail configuration I have never tried before- a heavily reefed mail with a part furled stay sail. It seemed to work well. All of a sudden she made light of the six and eight metre swell and generous breeze and became a well behaved lady all over again. In fact, below decks she was as steady as a rock and one could not tell the fury that raged outside. Ironically, I began to enjoy the day because the sun was still up and there was no trace of clouds in the sky. Despite the chill in the air, the sun gave out warmth and the thermometer began to register temperatures above 10 degrees in a long while.
In the afternoon the RT crackled and I could hear out someone calling out to “Indian sailing vessel”. It turned out to be a British C130 which flew out of its way to exchange customary pleasantries. They carried out three low level flypasts – one aircrew to another, one wing to another- and the beast displayed its low level flying skills and waggled wings to draw attention. The Mhadei in turn bobbed about in the free ocean in acknowledgement. As night settled I tried inching closer to land and sight Port Stanley before heading into the vastness of the Atlantic. Sadly, winds shifted and I was forced to shape a course that took me 60 miles west of Falklands.
|The boat from C 130 and vice versa|
Passing Falklands brought me memories of the short visit I had made to the islands to help Cdr Donde with his stopover during his solo circumnavigation. It is a topography of wind swept terrain whose trees have been blown away by gale after gale, a land whose population boasts more than 700,000 sheep, many varieties of penguins, seals, sealions, dolphins and various wildlife, where the soil of peat catches fire and is used as such in ovens as fuel, a place that is littered with road signs reminding motorists that penguins and sheep still had right of way. Its remoteness can only be gauged by the solitary LAN Chile flight in and out of the islands each week, a fact that led me to conclude that crime rate would peak on Fridays so that criminals could fly out on Saturdays. It was only when I visited Port Stanley that I came to know that crime was a word that was confined to dictionaries amongst its 3000 odd inhabitants. I did take time off to tour the Falkland Islands battlefield guided by a Captain from the Royal Army and after Cdr Donde’s departure I made use of the long wait for the next outbound flight to take off to Sea Lion Island for a day’s stay. Flying FIGAS (Falkland Island Government Air Service) was an experience in itself with a landing in an island called Bleaker and, thanks to the intervention of the governor’s wife, a sortie in co pilots seat of the Islander.
The 5th of February of 2010 was spent in the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, a day when the governor’s wife invited me home for tea. Two days later, I gifted myself a visit to Pablo Neruda’s home in Santiago, the La Chascona that was built for his secret lover Matilda Urrutia. In 2011, I was back in the South Atlantic celebrating the day on board the Mhadei on our way to Rio with a crew of four. Special on the menu was freeze dried ice cream dowsed with single malt followed by an excuse from middle watch. Then I was not the skipper yet. A week later I was in Rio on a tram to Corcavado to pay visit to the Redentor. Two years later, I was back in the South Atlantic celebrating my 34th birthday at 34 degrees West with another packet of freeze dry strawberry ice cream. It only got better this time because being the sole crew I had access to an Apricot crumble, fresh apples, kheer, halwa and many more delicacies in addition. The boat celebrated the day with a 24 hour noon to noon run of 205 miles and the sun stayed out for two days in a row travelling across a cloudless sky. Greetings came from all time zones of the world spread evenly between the 4th and 5th and many came in verse. Some wished me in their time zones, some in my own time zone and many mistakenly wished me on the 4th because of the time travel across the International Date Line.
|La Chascona and the Redentor|
|Fresh apples after 3 months at sea- courtesy Clea|
By the 9th of February, we had completed one hundred days of solitude at sea. The boat and I had sailed more than 15000 miles by that day, rounded two out of the three great capes and met the challeneges of all three oceans as well as, if not better than, any other boat or crew. Despite minor set backs and misadventures along the way, the boat and skipper are as lively as the sea. At the time of writing this blog, we are in such state of preservation that if the navy were to ask me to continue sailing eastward to the Horn for another rounding I would gladly accept the order as if it were a reward. But first I need to pop up north for a while to warmer seas and have my first shower in more than three fortnights.
Up Next- Three crossings of the Atlantic