06/03/2011, 16N; 112W
How quickly things can change out here. By noon today our noon-to-noon run was a whopping 84 nm -- an all-time low! Last night was sooo painful -- with fits and starts of puffs followed by lots of sail slappiong. At one point we covered just one mile in an hour! Most of our postings were in the 2-4 nm range -- not very impressive at all.
But the sunrise and the subsequent burn off the cloud layer brought a better breeze and by mid-morning we had the spinnaker up and comfortably beam reaching in 8k of breeze. The thermal engine kept on chugging and by afternoon we had dropped the spinnaker and were making 6-7k in 13-15k of breeze on a beam reach still. It feels good to finally put in some REAL miles, and not just do a dance step with the wind. The breeze kept up all the way to about 2100, when it finally "petered out"! (OK, my bad!!)
What caused us to drop our spinnaker this afternoon was our autopilot turning itself off and the boat going off course. We had to hand steer for about an hour while I figured out the problem. We had the main oversheeted and the boat was out of balance and Otto couldn't keep up with it. Once we adjusted the sails, all was well. But for about an hour there the prospect of hand steering for 2-3 more weeks stared us ominously in the face.
The other big event today was we saw a ship -- our first in about 3 days. It was a freighter heading, we think, for Hawaii like us. About the same time as it crossed our bow a sailfish bit on the port lure/line. We watched in awe as we scrambled to do something. But he spit the lure almost as fast as he got on and was gone. It was just as well. He was too big for the two of us to keep and we would have just had to figure a way to help him slip the hook. Still, I was hoping to bring him in closer to the boat for a closer look. But all is well that ends well and the sailfish is out there presumably chasing the real thing!!
06/02/2011, 16N; 110W
These light airs sure make it tough. We only did about 100 nm today. I can't remember ever going that low. But finally this afternoon we got a breeze that allowed us to put up the kite. We flew along on a beam reach for about five hours before taking it down after sunset. I am hoping we are approaching the trade winds, and the wind will start to clock around from behind us. But I also know it is still early and that we could have upwards of another 300 nm before we can kick into the venerable goldmine of wind! We shall see.
Not much else to report. Calm seas at least make the going reasonable. It could be worse -- a lot worse. So no complaints here. We have a very gentle, rolling sea, and we are thankful for that.
For those of you who have interest, here is a peekaboo on some of our mid-ocean navigation. We are supposed to enter into the ship's log every hour certain critical information such as lat/long, wind speed and direction (when available...hah!!!), boat speed and heading, distance traveled, barometric pressure, and things like that. We also note when we put reefs in or put up the spinnaker. That log is helpful in figuring out various different aspects of managing the boat.
For instance, we have been covering approximately two degrees in longitude per day at this latitude. (Remember, the meridians get smaller the closer you get to the poles.) That helps me project when and where we will hook into the trades.
Everything out here is based on the lat/long grid. We are presently at 16N; 111W. Hawaii is around 19N; 155 W. We know that when the trades do come that they will come from the NE and circle in a clockwise fashion from the E midway to Hawaii and then from the SE as we approach Hawaii. So we take that into account all the way out here as to where and when we want to enter the trades.
That is a short '101' on navigation. Of course, all of that is predicated on FINDING the trades, and that is our first order of business. We've lost them...have you seen them?!!!
05/31/2011, 16N; 109W
It was a pretty tiring night for Jim and I last night. Those light, fickle winds just make it so tough. The seas slap the sails around creating a racket and then the person on watch is always having to check the hawk (wind direction indicator) to keep the boat sailing as best as possible to get us out of the hole. And with the wind instrument out, we just couldn't look down at the readout -- we had to look up at the mast head.
But then early in the morning the wind filled in and did so with such a vengeance that we were forced to tuck a reef in the main and jib. The wind instrument kicked back in about that time and so it was fairly easy sledding for a few hours. But that lasted only until shortly after sunrise when the winds ;lightened again and we were back at work. The wind instrument also gave up the ghost again, making our work that much harder.
I climbed the rig mid-morning to take a look at the masthead unit and I could find nothing wrong. But with the leftover seas from the 20+k winds just a few hours earlier, it made for a wild ride up there!!! That climb, along with being tired, didn't put me in the best of moods. But I managed. Now this afternoon the wind has started to fill in again and we are back to sailing. We are keeping our fingers crossed and praying like mad!!
A pleasant change the past few days has been cooler weather. We are actually donning coats and long sleeves for the first time in I don't know how long. It helps us with our sleeping as well.
05/31/2011, 16N; 107W
At some point I knew we would have to face the music and that moment came last night at 2300 hours. I downloaded email messages and a grib file via our single sideband radio (SSB) and what I received I didn't want to read. Will (my onshore navigator!) sent me an email telling me that we were still 12 deg. (or around 700 nm) east of the trades. Laura's email confirmed the same. With a fuel tank somewhere between 1/4 and 'E', I made the executive decision I had been dreading for almost a week -- no more motorsailing. With nearly 3,000 nm still to go, we need to save the rest of the fuel for refrigeration. (Our refrigeration has an engine-driven compressor so we have to run our engine an hour or two each day to cool the plates down.)
That was a fairly depressing development. But it got worse.
After finishing my work on the computer I brought up our chartplotter to put in the hourly entries into our ship's log. Only I found out that the wind instrument decided to go south! So not only are we dependent more than ever now on the wind, but we don't have the data to help us with our decisions!! I spent the next hour and a half of my shift sifting through the consequences of these two developments,and their impacts on our voyage.
When I awoke Jim at 0330 for his shift we sat up for about a half hour discussing the situation. I reminded both of us that we still had plenty of food, water, & propane, and an engine that runs if/when we need it to. So all is not lost. The fuel thing is more of an inconvenience in that it doesn't allow us to motor through the soft spots.
We discussed the wind instrument. Either a plug is loose just behind the readout, or the bird we had at the top of the mast coming into Huatulco did something to mess up things at the top of the mast. From the deck all looks good, so it will take me climbing the rig to check it out for sure before we will know.
The good news is that about a half hour after I went to bed last night (around midnight) the wind picked up and we have been sailing in 10-20k all day long! It is the first day we have been able to just sail and not turn the motor on! It has been rather magical. As I like to say "Better to be lucky than good!" So we are clicking off the miles today much faster than we have been able to. And other than an occasional soft spot, there seems to be no signs of the wind dropping in the near future. Of course, we still have 3-500 nm to go to get to the trades. So I am not being so naive as to think this will last that long. But for now, the going is good!! (Except that already it looks like the evening could be a long, slow one!)
It is quite amusing to watch the birds -- Jim calls them "gannets" -- hunt for their food. It is quite comforting to be this close to nature and be able to take the time to study the habits of an animal like this. But then, there isn't that much else to do aboard, I guess!!
05/30/2011, Far off the coast of Mexico
The past 24 hours have been pretty good to us. God does answer prayer! At 11:30 last night we were able to shut down the engine and sail close hauled under a full main and jib. What made this event so remarkable is that we didn't have to turn on the motor until this morning, and then it was for only a couple of h ours at a time. Heretofore whenever we have cut the engine to try to sail we are back into the motorsail mode within a half hour it seems.
But all last night and again today we have been sailing. The wind veered around a bit today towards the NW and NNW, so we have cracked the sails off a bit and are able to close reach. That is big because our jib is really not cut for sailing close to the wind. But on a close reach we are able to run between 4 and 6k in 10-12k of breeze.
Even more importantly, not running the engine extends are fuel supply to get us closer to those beautiful tradewinds. If we can just get a couple more days of th is we might be able to make it all the way to the tradewinds. Once in the trades we should have no more problem with wind. (We'll have a different set of problems then!)
We got rid of our hitchhikers and closed the hotel down. They were crapping all over the place and making a mess of things. They were probably part of a rock group!!
Will reports a potential hurricane off of Acapulco, so we will keep an eye to see of that develops into anything real. (Gulp!) We have invoked "the 3 knot rule". If we get below 3k through the water then we turn on the engine. We need to run a fine balance between getting the heck out of the way of any bad weather, getting to the trades in a timely fashion, and conserving our fuel. So far today has been quiet (i.e. no motor). Let's hope we keep that going!
05/29/2011, Off the coast of Mexico
Today was a pretty uneventful day -- which is a very good thing. The alternative -- an exciting day -- usually results in less-than-desired activities. Probably the biggest event was all the hitchhikers! These birds with long wing spans would sit upon the bow pulpit and preen themselves, no doubt happy for a dry spot to "pretty up" At one point we had as many as three of these birds on our bow, while at least one occupied a spot nearly all day long..
Although I don't think we were the first boat for them. Birds in flight would often fight over the best spot and try to intimidate the perched ones and kick them off their perch. Sometimes they would succeed, but other times they were less successful. It made for great entertainment and carried us through the day as we would watch them "on approach" from downwind to try to land on the moving and swaying bow pulpit.
The rest of the day was spent reading and motoring westward. We continue to watch our fuel gauge with considerable interest. It is likely we will not have enough fuel to make it to the trades. We will have to hope that the trades come to us. Otherwise we could be in for a few days of 'light air' sailing -- not an enviable task. We unfurled the jib multiple times today in the vain hope it would draw, but to no avail. We keep trying to extend our fuel supply whenever the opportunity arises for fear that we may not have a choice in a couple of days. By this afternoon, three days out, we were down to half a tank -- and that is the short half of the tank, if ya know what I mean.