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Indian Ocean Update

By Kate “Bob” Addison

November 17th, 2014

22 days out of Bali and all is well aboard Picton Castle as we make a fine passage across the Indian Ocean. It’s a long way from Bali to Cape Town and there’s almost nothing in between except blue sky, blue swell and a little white barque impudently dancing her way over the ocean, white sails filled with the sweet trade winds, and helped along her way by a fair ocean current.

The Pacific Ocean is bigger than the Indian Ocean, but it’s all scattered with islands, and west of Pitcairn the longest passage we ever make is only a couple of weeks. So it’s a rare treat to get a full month at sea, and we are enjoying it very much.

There are inconveniences of course: we ran out of bananas after two weeks at sea, and now fresh provisions are down to potatoes, onions, garlic and pumpkin. But we still have tins of fruit, frozen vegetables and juice concentrate, so we should be safe from the dreaded scurvy.

We’re conserving water more than usual at the moment because of a leaking seal in one of the water-makers which means we can still make water, but not as fast as usual. Our tanks are huge, and pressed-up full at the moment so there would be enough for all hands for drinking and cooking for 2-3 months if we were to move to strict rationing, but for now we’re just asking people to use as little fresh water as possible in their showers, go easy on the laundry and to wash dishes in salt water, with just the final rinse in fresh. The crowd took the news cheerfully, most seeing it as all part of the adventure.

The Indian Ocean swell is famously big and can be steep too, as the trade winds blow consistent and uninterrupted across this large expanse of water, building the ocean up into big blue waves rolling one behind the other all the way down to Africa. The swell has only been a meter or two in height for most of this passage, which is quite easy to live with aboard a ship the size of Picton Castle, though even that would be plenty of movement in a yacht. It got up to four meters a couple of days ago and that was less fun. Anything unlashed took flight, and there were heaps of annoying noises to track down and fix as the roll made anything move that could: things hanging on hooks bashed into their bulkheads; plates and cleaning supplies clattered from side to side in the racks and lockers of the scullery; and doors that were latched open slammed impatiently against their latches until wedged with rags or lashed tightly enough to stop any movement. It’s tiring just walking around when your whole world is prancing about, and even sleeping is tricky – you have to figure out how to wedge yourself in without rolling around too much. Sometimes it’s a curse to have such big, comfortable bunks!

But the swell has eased off now, and the downsides of a life at sea seem pretty trivial compared to how wonderful it is just to be here, crossing this great ocean with a gang of cheerful sailors in a strong and well found ship.

The scenery here is magnificent, if mostly blue. On a sunny day (and it’s only rained twice in the last three weeks), the sea is an intense, bright blue that sparkles on the tips of the ripples with cut-glass brilliance against the backcloth of rippling ultramarine silk.

The trades winds have been blowing strong and sweet and consistent for more or less the whole passage, filling our sails happily from a couple days out of Bali and ever since. When it gets up past a force four or so the wind is strong enough to make the little wavelets break on top of the rollers, and the white caps sprinkled about the waves look like flowers scattered by the handful, smudged across the sapphire seas.

The sky has been blue ever since Bali too, the shade varying from blue to blue. Most days it’s a pale, clear watercolour wash, dotted with the whitest fluffiest clouds like a child’s interpretation of a sunny day at the beach. Some days the clouds are stretched out into the gauzy streaks of cirrus that mean fair weather, and then the sky’s colour is a little stronger. Occasionally they build into a greyish sheet, sucking the colour out of the sky until it becomes whitish, like snow is coming. It might be November, but we’re not actually expecting snow here any time soon – the temperature has been between 25 and 30 degrees Celsius, (or in the 80s Fahrenheit) since forever.

Twilight is short here in the tropics, night and day both seem impatient to follow each other, but the gold and pink of sunrise and sunset is always lovely. Then at night, the blue sky intensifies and darkens until it’s black or almost black, with the stars hanging above, majestic and infinite seeming. The horizon is an unbroken circle all around, the great dome of the skies arching up overhead. We could be in a planetarium watching the constellations as they make their familiar tracks night after night. The only interruptions are the occasional cloud scudding along and the great black blocks of the square sails arcing slowly back and forth. The masts and spars look like the sticks controlling a shadow-puppet-barque pivoting her way across a grand open-air theatre.

And the days seem to roll along with the waves, following one behind the other in a mellow cycle of work, rest, food and sleep. It all gets so routine after a while that you have to make a conscious effort to look up, take it all in, and remember how rare it is to do what we do everyday.

Perfect trade wind sailing

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