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My chat with King Neptune: A note from Susanne Huber-Curphy

by Daria Blackwell 12 Aug 00:25 PDT 12 August 2018
King Neptune © Daria Blackwell

  • 710 miles Northeast of Rio De Janeiro, 26.07.2018
  • Latitude 17º 01' South
  • Longitude 032º 42' West
  • Seven weeks at sea, 5.904 nautical miles since Maine

On the 18th of July, Day 34 of this journey, Nehaj bumped across the equator in a moonless night at the longitude of 23º 17' West at 0330h. Sailing across King Neptune's home district!

He is the monarch of the oceans and we know each other for years. Our friendship has grown during my ten journeys across his equatorial line. Nope, also on this seventh time alone with King Neptune I cannot tell you how he really entertains solo female sailors.... The newbie customs of smearing a concoction of vanilla pudding and mustard into the hair, other sticky substances rubbed onto the newcomer's body and chopping off a good bunch of hair – we don't need all this any more.

After my royal greetings King Neptune asked me why I'm visiting him already: "Isn't it just over a year ago that Nehaj was digging her keel through my Pacific vegetable garden before heading for the top of the world?"

Then he remarked on our recent track: "I've observed it well, since leaving the US of A you've mastered the most elegant curve in your track. Our common friend 'Gulfy' helped you along, then you scraped the Azores High and finally made that tack to the SW at 5 degrees North. Well done indeed".

I told him about the 'Longue Route' and about the 'Golden Globe Race'. "You must be kidding, Suzanne, another 50 mad solo sailors will be here soon? Well, let's see, not everyone will make it".

"Thanks for the good sip of Pastis for crossing my line, very fitting for you now being a French participant. Its incredible, really, you are sailing in a pack!. It's been a while but I do remember Bernard Moitessier stopping by a few times, a terrific sailor but even crazier than all of you mad single-handers".

After a bit more chit-chat he sent me off with twinkle in the eye: "Now get out of here, Suzanne, rush off and stay out of my garden for a while! I'll give you a wind shift to the SE so you have a better chance of reaching the island of Trinidade. And take good care down South, there's no kidding with the Southern Ocean, especially now, still in winter".

Neptune's brief description was right, we had a great run through five clime zones. During four of those five weeks we clocked over 1,000 miles each, we were very lucky.

First the rush East along the 40th parallel with 4 days in the Gulf Stream in the zone of the 'Westerlies'.

Then the 'Horse Latitudes' with only a few really calm days just South of the High pressure area. We kept the Azores islands 390 miles to the Northeast, but we could have arrived in Horta in only two weeks since Maine!

Next came a beautiful stretch of seven days in the 'Northeast Trade Winds'. Every day was filled with happy sailing and everything was a true blue in blue. A beam reach and mostly under full sails.

Well, the 'Doldrums' never are fun. This was my fourth time heading for the South Atlantic and not surprisingly it was the worst of them all. In mid summer (northern hemisphere) the area of convection with calms and shifting wind, with rain and thunder is lying furthest to the North, followed by an obnoxious wide band of head winds from the South. Nevertheless, we got the water tanks filled and after I was done with myself Nehaj got a thorough scrubbing of her decks. It took us 12 days with strenuous 1,350 miles, that's exactly 50% longer than the direct line of 15º North to the equator would be.

From there the course to Cape Town is exactly against the 'Southeast Trade Winds' which started fresh and quite suddenly at latitude 5º North. That's why it is sailing hard on the wind in a wide curve for about 25 degrees of latitude, well over one thousand miles! If you're not careful, current and wind will push you close to the Brazilian coast and possibly even towards the Caribbean Islands. In this case there is no turning back, you will have to sail the big loop towards the Azores Islands once again!

The Genoa was below decks, in fact most of the time we were pounding into a Force 6 to 7 under the small canvas of the third reef in the mainsail and small head sails. The expected wind shift to the ESE never occurred. Watching the positions of my tracker during the last 5 days on a course to the SW, you might have thought that we decided for a stop in Rio De Janeiro, not so.

You probably know, that the 'Longue Route 2018' is called a 'Pilgrimage in the spirit of Bernard Moitessier'. He is the great French sailor who decided to waive the glory of winning the 'Golden Globe Race 1968', by carrying on another half time round the world to Tahiti on his steel ketch 'Joshua'. Moitessier left the official title of being 'the first and fastest man to sail around the world solo and non-stop' to Sir Robin Knox Johnston, who arrived back in the UK on his 32' 'Suhaili' after 10 months at sea. Of course, by then 'Joshua's' wake had long crossed itself off South Africa, but the rules stated the return journey back into the Northern hemisphere. The other seven competitors had given up, beaten by storms, losing their boat or even their life during this historic sailing event.

All this happened 50 years ago, at a time when I was still in kindergarten.

My early start in the US was fueled by my fear of the North Atlantic Hurricane season, but it was just a coincidence that I left Portland/Maine on exactly the same day as 'Suhaili' did in 1968 in Falmouth. Of course my route across the Atlantic is 900 miles longer than starting from the UK (and over 1,000 miles longer than starting from France), so take off 6 days of my sailing time and we are even.

Moitessier's boat was virtually identical with the hull of Nehaj! Of course, 'Joshua' is a double ender and rigged as a ketch, but boat length, draft and height of the mast are the same. It was not until just North of the equator that I calculated our sailing time and realized that 'Joshua' crossed 5º North at exactly the same sailing time that Nehaj did! In fact, our courses had met just there. Then 'Joshua' crossed the equator 28 days under way, while Nehaj did it on day 34 with her extra 6 days for the longer route. Spooky!

Well, you might have guessed it: Now the race is on, just 50 years are separating us, Bernard!

In addition Nehaj is racing her own time of 133 days at sea from the Canary Islands to Nelson in New Zealand three years ago, as well as trying to keep the time of my calculated speed of 5 knots or of 4.7 knots. All of this is pathetic of course, in the days when multi-hulls sail around the world in 40 days or so!

I've made up five grand prices for myself to win:

  1. Stay alive, afloat and healthy
  2. Keep within the time of 'Joshua'
  3. Sail an average of 5 knots
  4. Beat the time of Nehaj in 2015
  5. Sail with the good speed of 4.7 knots for 9 months without stopping!
At the equator Nehaj was lying even with 'Joshua', three days faster than in 2015 and a full 7 days ahead of my slower estimation.

All other participants of the LR and in the GGR are of little interest to me. I'm very happy to have them safely behind for now, as I do fear collisions between us 'half-blind' solo sailors, or a broken heart with one of them in particular. After all, it is a special year, with about 50 of us sailing the same crazy route.

Neptune was right again, although I've only heard a few tidbits. Whether it's gossip or true - you have all means to find out on the internet and on those chat pages, in your cyber world: Three yachts of the LR had to stop in Madeira and in the Cape Verde Islands due to problems with the self-steering and furling head sails. They might or might not carry on, which is just fine as under the French restrictions virtually anything is allowed - just as Bernard would have liked it.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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