The ‘agonies' of the China Sea

The China Sea is showing its summer face: a light S'ly breeze, direct from the equator, with general humidity and a stifling heat from mid-morning to early evening. We're having to put in some southward tacks to close further on the equator in this oven of hot water which is already bordering on 30°C.

From 1100 hours the helmsmen – who are in the worst possible position in these circumstances – take it in turns more often. The sun is really beginning to take its toll and they're having to think of a hundred and one ways of avoiding being hit by the local weather phenomena: gloves, long-sleeved t-shirts and hats of all kinds. You could almost believe you were in an ‘equatorial adventurer' style competition; it's worth the trip!

With each manœuvre physical movement costs a few litres of water. The seats in the shade, like the entrance to the cockpit or under the boom, are highly sought after. This is also the case for the bunks which are barely habitable, even with all the hatches open.

During the night, the conditions are ideal but another trap awaits us under the cover of darkness. As soon as the water becomes more shallow, the sea is lit up by hundreds of fishermen's lights which are carried off into space, impossible to separate. Navigation lights, radar, binoculars, bearing compass…  those on watch are using all their safety gear. This takes up a vast part of the night as the boat is forced to slalom through the mass of drifting nets. We wonder what the fish do to survive... aboard we refer to it as ‘the Great Wall of China'.

It'll take a few more days of cooking and patience before we catch up with the E'ly tradewinds which blow copiously across the north of the Indian Ocean as far as the waters of the Java Sea; almost a week to round to the south of Borneo whose landscape is such that it prevents the establishing of an overly powerful tradewind. In October, with the powerful NE'ly flow which sweeps the land, we would have been propelled towards Java in 3 days!

Dominic Vittet

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