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Magical Skies

Updated: Aug 27, 2023

It’s a misty morning as we slip out of Sutton Harbour – and past Drakes Island on Leg one of the Darwin 200 Expedition. History is all around. The little sloop you can see shepherding us out into the sound is a replica of the launch used by Captain William Bligh.

The wind is with us and we quickly haul up the sails to leave Plymouth in style. Take a look at this BBC coverage! Https:// The expedition camera crew, Rhondri Hall and Tom Dixon, have captured some amazing shots too, from their drone.

We get roped in right away to help get the sails up!

The day is a rolling programme of great food – including mid-watch coffee and cake on deck – and meeting the crew, the boat and each other. Jan Willem is the captain, Jenny the first mate and they set us up in watches and drilled us on safety, before the thrill of hauling up the first 7 sails. The biggest, the Forecourse Sail, takes 6 people to set it tight against the yard.

I’m in the White Watch (middle band of the Dutch flag) and we’re on from 8pm till midnight. With the wind on our side, we take turns in steering to keep the Oosterschelde on course. The compass is in the brass casing ahead of me and it feels cool to have the wheel at your back ....

We’re running at 190 Degrees – much more southerly than we would like – but that’s because the wind is right in our face for a south westerly passage. But we are accompanied by dolphins – in “families” of 4 or 5 – and they love swimming around the bow – they breach (zoom in on my first picture below and you’ll see what I mean) and they play in and out of the bow-wave. The best viewpoint is out on the bowsprit - looking down into the cool blue water – but we can see dolphins all around the ship. And they stayed with us all day. When it was really dark, after midnight, you know they are still with you because as they career through the wake of the boat they create swirling trails of phosphorescence from diatoms, the photo-luminescent plankton which create momentary sparkles in the water.

All the photos in this blog were taken on my phone - but Rhodri Hall and Tom Dixon, the expedition photographers, are generous with their work and have shared this great little video of the common dolphin keeping us company through the day.

The most breathtaking thing for me, though, was the sky. Blue skies and cirrhus clouds all day – a stunning sunset - and then an unbelievable sight when the sun went down. We’re at new moon – and actually there was no moon at all last night. Which gave ALL the stars a chance to shine. The sky was sparkle-clear and there were thousands and thousands of stars in a dome above us – reaching down to the sea all around us. I’ve never seen stars so low on the horizon. In between the major bright stars and constellations we saw a tapestry of tiny stars – and shooting stars from the late Perseid meteor shower. The sky felt close and clear – textured and bright - as if you could touch it. So beautiful – and unexpected – a very special blessing from being at sea.

Overnight, though, the wind softened and moved to the North – not enough to give us more than 3 knots under sail. With a Force 8 Gale on it’s way, we don’t want to be caught half way across the Bay of Biscay, so we took some sails down, added some engine power and we’re now heading to a sheltered bay in Northern Spain – somewhere near Carino is likely. We’ll shelter there before going round the headland for what should be a good straight sail to Tenerife.

It feels so good to be on our way ......

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