18 Dec, 05 – 19:15
Latitude: 25° 39′ N
Longitude: 24° 24′ W
Miles from La Gomera: see http://www.atlanticrowingrace.com
Miles to Antigua: 2090
Miles in last 24 hours: -7 (yes, MINUS 7)

It is 10.30 on a Saturday night shortly before Christmas. If I were a normal person I might be in a pub having a drink with some friends. But I happen to be me, and so I am lying alone in a small ocean rowing boat about 500 miles off the west coast of Africa.

The wind is against me, so the sea anchor is out to stop me being blown backwards. I am in my cabin, lying on my bunk.

The cabin is about the width and length of a double bed, tapering down to about 18 inches wide at the aft end where my head is. At its highest pont the cabin roof is a little under 3 feet high. It is cosy yet not quite comfortable. Lying is less uncomfortable than sitting.

It is sticky and stuffy in here. I’ve got the hatch and ventilation holes closed in case the wind really blows up while I am asleep – this cabin is a buoyancy chamber that will help the boat self-right if it capsizes – so the only air comes through a ventilator installed in the round aft hatch above my head. Some nights I can see the moon and stars through this hatch, seeming to dance around in my little window on the sky as the boat pitches and yaws. But not tonight – it is overcast and dark out there.

There is a faint smell of chocolate and crystallised ginger from my snack packs, stowed in the lockers beneath the floor of the cabin. At first the smell used to make me feel hungry, but now I’m rather sick of it. My mouth is dry – I deliberately allow myself to dehydrate when I know I’ll be confined to the cabin for a while, as it’s a nuisance having to go out to the rowing cockpit to use the bedpan.

It is noisy in the cabin, in a soothing kind of way. The structure of the boat creaks and groans. The water laps against the hull, and swirls gurgling around the rudder which is just behind my head. When there is a gap in the gurgling I can hear the sigh of the ocean, and the breath of the wind.

The movement of the boat is different when she is at anchor. She twitches and strains like a terrier at its leash. She seems restless. We rock from left to right, left to right, and occasionally in a circular motion – up and over and around and down. Sometimes we’ll get part way through one of these manoeuvres when the line to the sea anchor brings us up short, and we’re jerked back. And once in a while one of those express train waves will steam in and sideswipe us and the whole boat will be knocked through sixty degrees.

I’m not scared. The sea is rough but Sedna has proved her seaworthiness in worse conditions than this. But I’m not relaxed either – even while I sleep my ears will be pricked for any unfamiliar sound, any signal that an oar or the ruddeer or the para-anchor has come to grief.

It’s going to be a long night. I read for a while, then doze, dreaming of Jonah and the whale, then wake up, and it is still only 10.30pm. It doesn’t get light until 8am. So I’m here, whiling away the time by tapping out my thoughts on my iPaq, its little screen the only light in my darkened cabin. It has just started to rain, pattering down on the aft hatch. I’ve started to yawn again. Time for another doze, lying braced between the leecloths on either side of my bunk. Thoughts blur onto daydreams blend into nightdreams. Time drags on.

P.S. I wrote this last night. Today has been spent on anchor. I have dozed, eaten, done a bit of maintenance and listened to Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.

Wind: 20 kts from the south
Weather: windy, sun and rain
Sea state: rough
Hours rowing: 0

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