FROM 1-5. Mid Pacific to Heading South

Feb 12, 2005 - 0734hrs UTC │From inside the plastic tube: Listening to Berri

0734hrs 12 Feb 2005 UTC 45’48”S 142’20”W Map Ref 60 3169nm

This entry was read by Alex Whitworth on a BBC 4 program called Something Understood and broadcast on July 17th, 2005. Listen to the full program (about 30 minutes) (Alex: mn 21:45 to mn 25:00)

Here I am inside this plastic tube – about Tarago sized, to pursue the old metaphor – with irregular shaped hazards and knobbly bits all around the inside walls and a sort of central aisle that is just high enough to stand upright. It’s the only part of the interior that is. I can put myself anywhere in this space and reach out and find at least two handles, grabrails, or strongpoints to hang on to each of which can support my entire weight. This is a good thing because there is no other frame of reference and it’s dark with a very dim glow from the LEDs in the instrument panel .

And very noisy, but not all the time, although there is a sustained roar from outside the frame somewhere. Sometimes the front-of-orchestra noise is a gentle swish, at other times it is a crashing blast that shakes the tube and dies off with the sound of rushing water. This seems to be – and is – only a few centimetres from my face and I can sometimes feel the walls of the tube flexing with the impact. The tube is clearly moving but I have no way of predicting the movement or of knowing how or in which dimension it will move. The movement is often violent and were it not for those handles I would be airborne or smashed into a knobbly bit every few seconds. Sitting at the computer, I have both knees braced against the underside of the nav table and my shoulder against one or other side of the space. This has the useful effect of transmitting various kinds of vibration through my bones and I can feel and assess how the boat is going.

Every boat has a unique language – syntax and grammar similar but vocabulary subtly different. And then sometimes it is still for a few moments and other noises become apparent – squeaks from the steering lines, a whirring whine as the generator line unwinds its built up torque and the bearings take the strain, Pete snoring gently, diesel sloshing around in the tank under the floor, the engine box creaking as the hull flexes around it, the desalinator motor’s irregular purr.

Sometimes the whole tiny world is shaken heavily as a wave throws Kevvo off his line for a few seconds and one or both the headsails in turn feather and flog, transmitted and amplified by the long lever that is the mast. The sustained roar is the wind in the rig, mostly at the top and amplified as the boat rolls and pitches. The wind lower down is turbulent and nonlaminar because of the interference from the waves and it is this wind that is driving the twin headsails which are small, high footed, narrow and pointy and reach only about two thirds up the forestay, so keeping the centre of pressure down where it is manageable. Hard downwind running in 35-40 knots and big seas at night is sometimes a thrill but always a bit tense and I can never relax or stop listening to Berrimilla talking to me while I am on watch and often when I’m supposed to be asleep.


Can any genius out there tell me how I can get the Guardian Weekly cryptic crossword out here? Will a data satphone handle jpeg files? Can we send a diplomatic mission to Chile and ask them to put it on their weather fax? An airdrop from a 747? I’m in deprivation mode.

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