Hello Las Cruces
10 April 2009
Trip Log 1778 nautical miles. Last 24 hours: 152 nautical miles, 1843 nautical miles to Hiva Oa.
Flying fish on deck: 12 Squid on deck: 0
We passed the longitude of Las Cruces today, at about 1:30pm Las Cruces time, and we set our clocks back 2 hours to match that time. That is, we passed directly south of Las Cruces.
We caught two nice mahi mahi yesterday and a 30lb tuna today. The sashimi chef (Tane) prepared a spectacular sashimi tuna dish --- beautifully presented.
Diagnosing the problem with the autopilot yesterday (the drive unit has failed) took some time. The winds had dropped to 8-12 knots, so our main and relatively small working jib were only giving us an average of 5 knots or less. With about an hour to sunset, we decided to raise the spinnaker. It wasn't pretty --- three or four mistakes were made, but it was up and flying in time for the green flash. The moon rose promptly, making it very easy to see the spinnaker, and so to steer. Through the night, we averaged over 6 knots as we settled in to actually having to work steering on night watches.
Today, the winds have stayed in the same range and we've been refining our steering technique. Tane is getting quite good at it now. There is a very distinct sweet spot with a spinnaker on a reach the way we're sailing. If you sail with the wind filling the spinnaker completely in this wind, it all looks great and you travel at somewhere between 5 and 6.5 knots. On the other hand, if you bring the leading edge of the sail to a point where it is just collapsing, everything powers up and suddenly you're at 8 knots. It's a knife edge, however, because if you go to far the whole sail collapses, and you have to spin hard in the opposite direction to fill it again, and in the process, the boat slows to about 5 knots for a while. If you're at the sweet spot, a wave coming up from behind will kick you into collapse, so you have to anticipate the wave action by turning to cancel it. So... we've been at it for two hours on and four off all night and all day. It looks as though the trade winds will stay at this lower level for several more days, so we'll be able to keep the spinnaker up. Without the full moon, however, it would be considerably more difficult --- to get full speed, you definitely need to be able to see the leading edge of the sail quite clearly all of the time.
Apart from trying to maintain the highest speed, the other part of the game is to watch the TTG (Time To Go) readout. When we're really flying, says there are less than 10 days to go. Then, when you slow down...
The beauty of the current conditions are that, with relatively lighter winds, the seas are calmer. The spinnaker, on a reach (wind coming from the side more than from behind), tends to really stabilize the boat. The weather is currently fine and clear, another bonus.
We dropped the spinnaker right on dusk and are now proceeding under jib and main.
It's dangerous in the cockpit tonight! Two flying fish have hit hard right next to us. They sound like bullets hitting the metal fittings.
The trade winds are forecast to increase significantly as we get west, so the issues then will have to do with reefing and keeping control in the waves.