Yesterday morning we hoisted the staysail in the bitter cold of a grey dawn, with icy waves washing over the decks and with hailstones stinging our cheeks. We're below 42 degrees south and baby it's cold outside.
Actually it's cold inside too – cold enough to see your breath. I'm writing this in my bunk in full thermals, a fleece, two pairs of socks and a merino wool hat. Both pairs of socks aren't strictly necessary right now, but they're essential on deck and wearing them to bed is the only way to somewhat dry them out before the next watch. My massive sleeping bag, which I've been mostly cursing up until this point in the trip, not least because attempting to wash it led me to flood a laundrette in in Cape Town, has really come into its own. I'm toasty warm in my fleecy inner layer and protected from the constant drips of condensation by the waterproof outer.
The only problem is that it makes getting up for watch very hard indeed.
On deck it's blisteringly, achingly cold. No one can stand a full watch. Indeed when I tried to yesterday morning I got the closest I think I've ever come to hypothermia. It's scary how fast it can come on – and we're all now alert to the signs in each other and ourselves.
It may be cold sitting up there, but it's awe-inspiringly, savagely beautiful. The waves are bigger and longer than anything we've seen yet, the seascape a vast silvery grey, opening up new vistas every few seconds of towering peaks, often with breaking waves, and the dizzying deep lows of the troughs. The spray and spume stream across the surface and patches of white water gleam ice blue underneath. At night the waves breaking over the boat strafe the deck with phosphorescence (and less romantically, the toilet bowl too!). The power and the raw beauty of the Southern Ocean is mesmerising. And when the boat is picked up by a wave we simply fly along.
The ride from the stern, white water flying up on either side, the boat humming, is the ultimate joy ride. It's tough physically and emotionally, it's cold, it's wet and it's uncomfortable but I can't say how lucky I am to be out here.