Modern weather technology
19 July 2010 | 350 miles NE of Samoa
With modern resources sailors get spoiled. In the old days, a sailor would read the sky and the winds, and rely on the sea lore of his nation (this critical intelligence was tightly held) and make a best estimate as to where to find favorable wind and current. Even not that many years ago a sailor left port armed with pilot charts (which combine decades of knowledge and observations) and a forecast, but was largely on his own at sea. If the winds and current were not favorable, the mariner made the best of it. Today is different. In addition to the pilot charts and highly detailed pre-departure weather models I get a personalized forecast for my route every 3-4 days. I receive faxes daily with weather maps and satellite imagery. Twice a day I download detailed wind, wave and pressure reports and forecasts. For the past two days I have been beside myself because none of it is helping.
My pilot charts tell me that I have about an 80% chance of 20 knot winds from the East or Southeast - heavenly. My weather router forecasted 12-15 knots of wind from East South East, excellent. My daily wind reports, GRIBs, tell me I am experiencing 12 knots of Eastern wind, quite acceptable. However, for the last 2 days we have had 6 - 10 knots of winds and mostly from the Northeast, which is dead astern and light for our boat. Wind swirls and moderately rolling seas have also impeded sail efficiency, frequently spilling the air. We were hoping to reach Samoa by Wednesday afternoon, or Thursday morning at the latest. Thursday at all is going to be tight unless conditions improve. At least the Pilot charts are right about the current, 0.5 - 1.0 knots pushing us west toward Samoa. We have revised our expectations for landfall and are making the best of it. Maybe not so different from days of old - except for my diesel, the "iron genny" which has enabled me to take a week off of this passage; my refrigerator with some cool drinks for the hot afternoons; and a library of movies to prevent a crew mutiny. This modern sailor is spoiled...
It is far from an ordeal though. The Mahi I caught yesterday has provided some excellent meals, with more to come. Christine has done another great job of provisioning. Our fresh supplies are just beginning to run out. Along with the primarily healthy food, we have a good supply of snacks. The Doritos this afternoon were a delicious treat. The kids are playing together well, generally. Sophie has taken to cleaning the cabin twice a day. The weather is beautiful and we continue to have clear nights with few squalls. And it won't be too many more days until Samoa even if the going is slower than I would like.
After seeing no traces of other boats for two weeks since leaving Hawaii, we have seen three fishing boats in the last 24 hours. Two appeared last night around midnight. One off in the distance, another near our coarse line. As fishing boats can be challenging with their trailing gear, I hailed the boat. I received a heavily accented reply, which neither of us could understand. We took some comfort though in knowing he knew we were there. We watched the well lighted boat closely as it passed to port. This afternoon we saw another large fishing boat, which looked to cross our path. We adjusted coarse to increase our passing distance and brought up the radar, but could not see the boat on radar despite it being well over 100 feet in length. While we had no issues seeing this boat, it was disturbing that even within a couple of miles, our radar could not find a target. We have heard that wooden fishing boats don't show up well, but we were both surprised that a boat of this size produced no bounce at all. I have to confess that sometimes at night my head checks have been less than fully diligent after I have observed a clear radar screen. I will be much more diligent gong forward