Adventurer Andrew Halcrow celebrated Christmas this year well below the Equator this year.
His yacht Elsi Arrub was about 10 degrees south and 31 degrees west on Wednesday morning, only a couple of hundred miles from the Brazilian coast.
But before he opened his sock on Christmas morning, Andrew had to reef in the mainsail as the wind picked up in the 45th day into his epic voyage.
“It was a fine starry night for all that and we were still making a good course and speed. While I was up I gave Alyson a ring in NZ. The weather was warm and they were out having a picnic and had been swimming in the river,” he wrote in his online diary (http://www.elsiarrub.co.uk).
“In the morning I opened a stack of presents, which family and friends had put onboard before we left. There were new books to read, new music to listen to, sweet stuff to savour at leisure, wine to drink and clean fresh socks and T-shirts to wear.
“Elsi was decorated with cards and a few novelties to add to the Christmas flavour. The day actually turned out to be a near perfect sailing day. The wind eased down and I shook out the reef I’d pulled in earlier. The sky was blue and the warm trade wind blew us easily across an equally blue and warm ocean.
“I put on some music. The lilt of Kevin Henderson playing Christmas Day ida Morning fitted in surprisingly well with Elsi’s motion as we rolled comfortably along. It could almost have been composed on a ship rolling down the trades. There are always a few moments of any trip that when they happen you know you will always remember them vividly. This was one of those times today.”
It was the first Christmas Andrew had spent entirely on his own and he called his wife Alyson again later and rang the rest of the family to see how their day was going.
On Christmas Eve he saw the rare sight of boat lights, possibly a fishing boat. Spotless blue skies gave him a good chance to get the washing out. The Elsi Arrub was now heading into the zone of South Atlantic magnetic variance that means adjustments to readings must continuously be made, or the vessel may be on the wrong bearing entirely.
He had crossed the equator early last Friday morning – 40 days out from Falmouth on his epic solo round the world journey – averaging 87.5 nautical miles per day.
The night before Christmas Eve, Andrew enjoyed a brilliantly clear sky and the sight of new constellations like the Toucan, the Crane and the Dolphin coming into view as the Pole Star disappeared and the Plough grew low in the sky. “It takes a bit of time to try and recognize them all,” he wrote in his online log.
With the Elsi Arrub opposite the knuckle of South America Andrew was hoping to benefit from the split current, the lower half of which follows the coastline in a south westerly direction. The same day he spotted the tanker Cape Bastia, bound for Singapore, a marker buoy and a Portuguese man o’ war jellyfish before tucking into some delicious home-baked bread, canned mackerel and red wine.
The previous evening Elsi was making good speed before the south-east trades and Andrew had to drop the Genoa and up the jib wearing oilskins in 30 degree heat. The yacht made about 150nm between noon positions. However, satellite contacts for sending emails were diminishing and connection with Shetland Radio Club by signal was diminishing the further south the yacht went.
On the 21st, the winter solstice, the sun was still south of Elsi Arrub’s position and would remain so until January, Andrew wrote. There was little evidence of wildlife that far off the coast, apart from a few flying fish.
He added: “For something to mark our passage across the equator I got my two Burra Bear crewmen Tirval o’ da School and Andrew o’ Fuglaness, which the Hamnavoe Primary School and my sister put onboard, out on deck.
“We wrote out a message, stuck it in an empty wine bottle, wrote ‘Open Me!’ on the side and threw it overboard. The winds and currents should carry it to the north coast of South America or the Caribbean but who knows where it will end up.”
Earlier the previous day the yacht had crossed the Equator and Andrew wrote: “So far everything has been going very well really. I haven’t had to do any sail repairs yet. The mainsheet horse developed a crack and one of the headsail leads broke off but apart from that it’s all been fine.”
However, his plans to celebrate crossing the Equator with one of two Spanish hams supplied by his wife Alyson were put on hold when he found they had gone damp. Instead, he tucked into a relatively disappointing tin of tuna salad.
Andrew was looking forward to the south-east trade winds to help blow him to the southward, but recalled that the north-east trades had proved fickle, so would not be taking anything for granted.
In the proceeding days he had to deal with burning hot sun and a persistent bad smell from the saltwater pump which required shutting off the seacock, removing the pump and pouring bleach down the length of the line.
The reality of finite stores was also setting in. “But maybe when you can only have one can of beer or one Mars bar a week then you enjoy it all the more and savour every mouthful. When I get back I’ll either be a complete convert to rationing or else pig out for a week,” Andrew wrote.
Prior to that the Elsi Arrub had been pitching around like a house suspended from a giant bungy cord in a F5-6 wind. Cooking was possible, just, as was eating, though “you have the fun of trying to eat it without ending up wearing it”.