04/08/2013, 02 43'N:124 17'W, 150 Miles North of the Equator
Oh lord, I'm late with my daily blog update. I woke up today to gentle seas, a nice sunrise and mellow boat speeds. Why can I not get on the stick and get with it? Must be The Doldrums.
The environmental differences we have experienced throughout this passage continue to amaze me. Yesterday was clouds, wind and rain. The days before consisted of rocketing winds and large following seas. Before that, big waves and wind, but confused seas coming at us from all angles. Today, it's almost flat seas and low wind speeds. Like hiking in the mountains, the ocean seems to have eco-zones, yet we as we march south, we pass through them horizontally rather than vertically.
An example today would be the wind angle. Up until late yesterday, all the wind came from behind us from the NE and we've sailed the whole time (over 1500 miles) with some form of downwind sail configuration, either spinnaker, wing on wing or broad reach. Late yesterday, the wind shifted forward 90 degrees to SE and now we are sailing upwind on a close reach. It appears that we have moved from the NE trades to the SE trades and although we have yet to cross the equator, SE is the general wind direction of the South Pacific. Technically speaking, we are not yet in the South Pacific until we cross that line of 00 00 000, but from an ecological zone point of view, it seems that we are already there.
Although we are now sailing rather slowly, if we were really concerned about boat speed, we could turn on an engine, which we did for a few hours yesterday. But although yesterday's wind speeds were in about the same range as todays, the sea state yesterday was much rougher. Flying sails in conditions like what we were in then always results in sails flopping around and rigging banging with every wave induced jerk of the boat. There was not enough wind pressure to keep the sails fully inflated which prevents them from reacting noisily to the up and down, side to side pitching. The motors are certainly noisy too, but not in the loud, unpredictable and often annoying way that flopping sails can be.
This morning, seas are incredibly smooth. Wind speeds are under 10kts similar to yesterday, but we are able to keep the sails up and make 4 or 5 knots of boat speed in relative quiet and comfort due to the calm seas. We would go faster if we cranked on the motor, but with smooth sea conditions such as this, we're taking it slow and saving fuel with a pleasant, lazy and quiet ride.
Apparently, we're fortunate to have ANY wind. After all, this is the latitude of The Doldrums, the place of legend where sailing ships of old might languish for weeks. Or not. For the moment, we're in the "or not" category, moving slowly perhaps, but moving forward to our destination "only" 1100 miles ahead.
Position: 02 48 359N, 124 11 770W, Boat speed 5kts, Course 225T, Wind Speed 7-9kts, Temperature 83, Barometer 1012 steady, Humidity 68%
And still having fun.
04/07/2013, 04 26'N:122 46'W, 250 Miles North of the Equator
Well. Hmmm. OK. Our world has changed. But before we get into the gory details, let me get into the regular gory details.
Position: 04 42 102N, 122 35 885W, Speed 7kts, Course 200T, Wind E 5-7kts (gusts to 30!), Temp 81, Humidity 87%, Barometer 1012 and fluctuating all over the place.
We are definitely in the ITCZ, in all its glory of storm cells, wildly erratic winds and confused, lumpy seas. After a night of sails banging around, we decided to put them away this morning and turn on the engines. Or rather, turn on the engine (singular), as we are running only one at a time to conserve fuel. Today feels like being bandits making a run for the border and around every corner is a posse gunning for us. The border, of course, is the equator. We have altered course to head almost due south in a bid to get through all this ITCZ/Doldrums stuff as quickly as possible. And the posse? Big, dark rain squalls aiming to knock us around and dump rain on us.
The rain part is actually not so bad. It's refreshingly cool and has done a nice job of cleaning the salt, bird poop and dead squid juice off the decks. It's also kind of fun to see serious clouds, which we have not seen much of since leaving the Pacific Northwest. Dark, grey and misty, it almost looks like home. Except for the 80 degree temperature part. That's definitely not like home.
Cassie demonstrated the squall shower-shower for us this morning, hanging out on the nets in her bathing suit and letting the rain completely soak her. She claims it's better than coffee for its morning wake-up effects. We're all going to take her word for it.
Yesterday was pleasant, uneventful sailing, although the changing environment was definitely in evidence throughout the day, just not as intense as we experienced last night and this morning. We sailed wing-on-wing throughout the day, surfing our way SW. Mostly we all spent the day reading our books, napping and taking shifts babysitting the autopilot, punctuated by mealtimes. Not a bad day at all.
Just before dark last night, we passed the halfway mark of this passage. We have traveled 1450 miles and now have 1300 miles to go. So far, we have used barely any fuel, but anticipate running the engine(s) now for quite a while. How long they will remain running is hard to say, but given that we have been able to sail this far without firing them up much means we have plenty of fuel on board and could probably even motor the rest of the way to the Marquesas. I do hope that does not come to pass given that extended motoring, besides burning fuel, is just plain boring.
Onward we go. Get ready Neptune, we're almost there.
04/06/2013, 06 28'N:121 04'W, 400 Miles North of the Equator
We took down the spinnaker yesterday. It flew for 75 hours straight. Why take it down? The wind speeds were building into the low 20's and our weather charts did not predict anything higher than mid-teens. Given that we had little confidence in where winds speeds might be going (nor understanding why) we thought it prudent to bring it down. After dousing the spinnaker, we hoisted the mainsail to the first reef point, unfurled the jib, locked it all down into wing-on-wing and that's where we've spent the last 24 hours. Wind speeds in the high teens with sustained gusts to low 20's. And I thought we were getting close to the doldrums. Ha!
Actually, where I think we are is the ITCZ. I say "think" not because all of us on board are challenged in the chart reading department (on a boat "chart" = "map"), but because the location of the elusive InterTropical Convergence Zone is somewhat squishy. It moves around, expanding, contracting, appearing and disappearing and doing so at a fairly rapid clip. At the moment, the northern band is being labeled quiet or inactive which must be a relative term as we have passed through or close by several dark storm cells and have been lightly rained on a few times. We also continue to see a lot of wind - which is great! We hear on the radio that boats on the other side of the equator are experiencing a very active southern ITCZ with bursts of high wind and heavy rain. Let's hope that's dissipated by the time we get there.
For perspective, I should note that we are still 450 miles north of the equator. At the 150 to 170 miles a day that we have been traveling lately, that would translate to at least 3 more days of sailing before we cross it. On this passage it seems so easy to get lulled into thinking that things are just around the corner. Looking at the chartplotter (think GPS on steroids), with it zoomed out to include both the boat and the equator on the screen, things looks so close! Then you do the math and realize, uh, no. Not close.
The Technical Stuff: Position 06 55 532N, 120 43 729W, Speed 7.5kts, Course 214T, Wind 18-22NE, Seas NE 6-8 feet, Temp 80 (very comfortable with sprinkles and a breeze) Barometer 1011 and falling, Humidity 81%.
Melody mentioned this morning how amazed she is that the winds have remained at 20+ now for hours and hours on end. Combined with the swell rolling under us from behind and propelling us forward, she feels like we're on a giant, breathing waterslide that will eventually spit us out onto the equator. At the moment, she is busy collecting overnight hitchhikers off the deck and has a whole plate of squid and flying fish. I sense another watercolor in the making.
04/05/2013, 08 33'N:119 17'W, 550 Miles North of the Equator
Today's blog entry has some of the ships systems as its main topic. Discussions of ships systems may not appeal to the average reader and hence the Nerd Alert. If these kinds of topics do induce in you a certain glazing of the eyes, GOOD ON YA. I suggest you go back to whatever activities you were engaged in before landing on today's Double Diamond blog entry like reading Facebook, surfing the internet or deleting the spam from your inbox. These are all honorable activities.
For those of you who DO like this kind of topic, I offer an additional warning. You may be susceptible to a very serious and debilitating addiction called "Boat Ownership". This is a disease and it can have some serious side effects, not the least of which is financial ruin. It can also be a lot of fun. But I hear that Heroin is fun too.
But first, before the technical stuff, some other technical stuff: Position 09 01 770N, 118 54 155W Speed 7.8kts, Course 212T, Wind 15-18kts NE, Temp 81, Humidity 61%, Barometer 1012 and falling. Skies are overcast for the first time since our departure. Seas are 4 to 6 feet and following.
And now... some comments about ships systems. Remember: you were warned.
Our satellite phone and our Single Side-Band Radio (SSB ham radio for boats) are quickly becoming important tools aboard Double Diamond. Good friends even. They have actually been on board since leaving Seattle, but we have never become exactly proficient at using them. In the past, we've never been more than a few days from an internet connection and if we stumbled trying to use these tools it was no big deal. It's a big deal now. We're not going to have an internet connection for another 1,635 miles, more or less.
The real surprise is how easy it is to send and receive email via the SSB radio. We never tried to use it this way in the past because frankly, our radio just didn't work all that well. We could barely talk and hear people with it let alone send text messages with its attached modem.
Fortunately there are a couple of hams in Puerto Vallarta (all retired US and Canadian expat cruisers, most who sold their boats long ago) and who are really interested in helping other boats get their radios in good working order. The first time we "checked in" on the local Vallarta ham radio net, they pointed out right away that our radio just didn't sound right. Not more than an hour after the close of the net, Terry Sparks, SSB Expert Extraordinaire, was knocking on our hull, volunteering to look over our system and make suggestions on how to correct whatever problems he found. He never asked for a dime and his suggestions were dead-on.
One would think that installing into a boat what is essentially a ham radio more or less made for a boat would be quite straight forward, but it's not. Our installation had a couple of problems that took some sleuthing to sort out, mostly revolving around finding and eliminating radio "noise makers", a process that seems more akin to art than science.
A big noise problem was our watermaker and both our freezer and refrigerators. Slowly this winter we tracked down each culprit one-by-one and with additional grounding or magical iron rings called "ferrites" we put the kibosh on our radio noise problems. A new 3-piece, 28 foot antenna, brought from home as baggage on the airplane helped tremendously. (Uh, yes sir. Those are fishing poles - if you say so sir.) Longer story short - our radio is now killer. We boom out and can hear everything.
With the radio tethered to our computer via USB, we use a program called "Airmail" to send and receive messages. Ham base stations around the world are available to communicate with, all via computer, radio and modem, No human voices involved. This week we've been sending messages via receiving stations in Watsonville and San Diego, California and this morning, Friday Harbor of all places. Membership in Airmail is $250 a year, but the airtime is totally free.
We use the satellite phone to update the blog and download weather information. Unlike the radio, the airtime for this device is definitely NOT free. But it makes up for its cost by providing functionality that the limited bandwidth of SSB radio just cannot. We use the phone, again tethered to the computer via USB, to upload blog updates to sailblogs. There's no way the radio could handle anything like a photo. Especially one like today's photo featuring such a handsome fellow in a ridiculously bright shirt.
More importantly, with the satphone we are able to download a wide variety of sophisticated weather maps and forecasts. These are a tremendous help in route planning. Mission critical even. The other day, when we ran out of wind, it was because we (uh, me...) didn't read the wind forecast maps (called "gribs") closely enough to realize we were sailing into an area of diminished winds. But I then downloaded and used a more recent wind chart to set our course to an area farther west (luckily close by) that according to the updated chart showed a better chance of higher wind speeds. And the chart was right! We enjoyed great wind that evening and all through the following day.
On the topic of wind, I should report that yesterday was another relatively light wind day, sometimes dipping below 10kts but averaging 11 to 12 for most of the day. Fortunately we were able to keep the spinnaker up and continue forward progress under sail, averaging 4 to 6 kts of boat speed. Winds came up around 3AM this morning to the 15-20kts range and we are now roaring along at a good 8kts+. If these winds speeds hold for a good part of the day, we will make some great progress towards the equator. At these speeds we are only 3 or 4 days away from crossing it and paying our required respects to Neptune.
04/04/2013, 10 42'N:117 26'W, 1000 miles SW of Banderas Bay
I woke up late for my 6AM shift this morning. I mean, we're talking a half an hour, but still - late. Besides, Cassie had been at the helm since 3AM and I'm sure that she was ready for me to make an appearance. Perhaps this is too personal an insight, but the deal is this: I rarely ever use an alarm clock. It's goofy, but I just always wake up on time. I've even played this silly game with myself for years (and years) where, if I wake up in the middle of the night, I try to guess what time it is before I look at a clock. It's crazy, but I can generally hit it within 15 minutes.
I know. I should see a doctor.
My point: sunrise and sunset, relative to the time of day, is changing on us. We've moved west by at least 650 miles and sunrise/sunset is beginning to not match our clocks. When we departed Puerto Vallarta, we immediately changed the clocks to Seattle time knowing that we were going to have to change them eventually anyway, so for starters, why not west coast time right off the bat? So Seattleites: is it still dark at 6AM up there? I mean, you know, if there aren't any clouds? (And no, that's not a snide remark. I'm serious.) I think I woke up at the right time today, saw that it was still dark outside and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. But "the times they are a-changing" and we're gonna have to get with it here eventually. Or I'm going to get really screwed up. Yes, worse than normal.
Yesterday was a very pleasant day of sailing. Winds slowed from the day before into the mid and lower teens and the seas laid down into something a little more reasonable. It felt like a day off and it seems we were all in the mood for it. Sailing fast in high winds at high speeds is exhilarating, but it begins to wear you out after a while. Ever the adrenaline junkie, I found myself getting a little antsy towards the end of the day, but hey, I slept well right?
The Technical Stuff: Position 10 42N, 117 26W, Speed 6kts, Course 228 True, Winds 10-13 NW, Temp 79, Barometer 1015 and steady.
We continue to try and divine our future course. Right now we're sailing a little high of the rhumb line to Hiva Oa/Nuka Hiva. (Rhumb line defined as a direct line drawn from our position to our destination). If we continue our current course we will hit the southern trades too far west and have to "beat" upwind to get to the islands (Note: We do not want to do this. It would make for some rough, ugly sailing). If we keep too far east, our weather maps indicate we'll be in very light winds and perhaps have to fire up the motors. We will continue to download fresh weather maps and ponder the what-if's.
One final comment. Last night while sitting with Melody at the helm, we suddenly both noticed a very strong smell of fish. Whale breath maybe? For a moment we both froze in terror - could a whale be so close to us here in the dark that we can smell its breath? A quick look around with the search light and head lamps revealed no whale, but we did turn up a flying fish that had landed right next to us on our helm seat, still breathing and looking up at us with its huge black eyes. Given that it had survived its leap, we threw it back. How do these things make it so far up out of the water? Pretty impressive lift, I'd say. I can also say that my neck is rather thankful for what appears to have been a near-miss.
P.S. Flying fish watercolor by Melody.
04/03/2013, 12 05'N:115 01'W, 800 miles SW of Banderas Bay
Some of the neighbors stopped by the other day for a brief visit and we thought we should share a photo. We're not familiar with this breed as they have markings on them that differ from the Pacific White-Sided dolphins whom we've seen quite a bit in the Sea of Cortez and on the Pacific side of Baja. Best guess is that these are Pantropical Spotted Dolphins. This is our second visitation by what appears to be a whole tribe, babies and all. And yes, the water out here is that blue. No Photoshop involved.
Yesterday was another day of at-the-edge-sailing. We flew the spinnaker again all day (and again - all night) as we are sailing almost DDW (Dead Down Wind), between 150 and 170 degrees, 180 being DDW. Downwind (wind blowing from directly behind the boat) is the slowest point of sail for most boats and Double Diamond is no exception. Regardless, we were able to maintain a boat speed of 7 to 8 knots for the entire day on spinnaker only, as the winds were consistently above 15 knots. We saw several gusts to 20-21.
Wind speeds in the low 20's are right at the edge of comfortable for having sails fully deployed here on Double Diamond. When we approach those wind speeds, old adages like "reef early, reef often" and "if you're thinking it might be time to reef - it is" come to mind. That said, we all agreed that the wind forecasts said 15 to 20 and that 22 was an outlier. We held on and rode it.
And what a ride it was. On the evening radio net, several boats commented on the large size of the seas, one even claiming they got a wave into the cockpit. Here on DD we definitely had a tiger by the tail all afternoon in terms of big-ish following seas. But a catamaran by nature provides for easy downwind sailing and although it sounded both inside and outside like we were riding on a freight train all afternoon, the ride was comfortable and the boat was not complaining.
Winds slowed throughout the night into the low teens and are holding steady there this morning. We expect today to be similar to yesterday, although our grib files (a wind forecast map we download frequently) say we are right on the western edge of slower wind speeds. This is rather where we have been all along the past few days. On last night's radio net, boats to the west of us reported slightly higher wind speeds than what we experienced, leading us to believe we may have hit the sweet spot for wind. Fingers crossed here for another day of hitting it right.
The technical stuff: Position is 12 05 130N, 115 01 082W, traveling at 6kts, course 230 degrees true. Winds 13kts from the NW, temperature in the cabin 78 degrees, barometer 1015 and holding steady. We are now 800 miles from Puerto Vallarta, 1000 miles to the equator and 1900 miles to landfall at Hiva Oa or Nuka Hiva. Which island we will land at is still somewhat undecided. We have time.
A big "Thank You" to all who have left messages on the blog! We haven't yet figured out how to reply to individual comments given that we have no internet access, but Sailblogs does email the comments to us, giving us at least the ability to read them. "Keep those cards and letters coming, folks"
And a very, very big "Thank You" to our daughter Rachel who has been in the background acting as "Blog Master-ess" or is it "Blog Grrrrl"? Her help has been invaluable in making sure things post correctly and helping us discover new bits of functionality. Couldn't do this without her!