Noon Position: 48 00S 22 49E
Wind: NNW 25
Sail: Main and working jib, both with two reefs
Cabin Temp: 52
Water Temp: 38 (!)
Miles last 24-hours: 174
Longitude Miles Made Good: 170 (4.24 degrees of longitude–best day by far)
Miles since departure: 11,701
Midnight. It is raining. Total darkness except for the glow from running lights. The white steaming light is on too, illuminating the foredeck and the working jib, half rolled in and pulling hard.
I am standing in the cockpit and have been for some time now. I’m trying to figure my next move. One forecast calls for the current 25 knot winds with some gusts to 30 to hold for a time and then diminish. Another says winds are going to mid into the 30s. In the latter scenario, I want to fly the small orange staysail; in the former I’ll stay with things as they are. Mostly what I want is not to be on deck again in three hours. The set I decide should last the night. I look into the darkness and feel for the wind to tell me what it will do. Its only hint is that it’s not changed much since sundown. In the south, that’s not much of a hint.
The boat lights throw themselves bravely into the darkness and are quickly consumed. But sometimes they bring back a breaker or two, a pale swoosh as Mo heaves. Then my eye lands on something close in and too small to be a breaking sea. As we approach, it resolves into a gadfly petrel perched on the water, presumably sleeping. Mo rushes by, her gunnels missing the bird by but a few feet.
With a start, it spreads its wings and is immediately over my head. It hovers there gray and white against the black, it’s quick, broken movements suggesting rebuke, as if I am Acteon “who discovered the goddess bathing and his hounds tore him.” Then it backs away and is covered by the night.
That’s it. Nothing more happened. I decided to leave the sails as they were. I went below and to my bunk and to sleep. But for one brief moment that night I saw something; I caught glimpse of a secret.
Two nights ago, northerly wind pushed us below 48S, a magic line I was hoping not to cross again until the approach to the Horn. All day the wind has been veering north and tonight it will continue to veer east, pushing us even further south. How far I do not know but I think on it with a certain dread. It is as though the southern ocean is a giant whirlpool sucking us slowly, ineluctably to its center. The old whalers talked of this, of encountering cruel winds that pushed them further down and down until the days began to grow dark and ice formed on the rigging. Some never came back from that. It’s a very Kurtzian place, the south.