Saturday, 28 May 2016

Crossing the Equator

In a few hours, we'll be crossing the equator ... this will make my 3rd crossing and Larry's 5th! So we know that there'll be no Special Effects - apart from the small amount of liquor we'll pour in to appease the god/goddess of the Sea. Neptune/Neptuna has been very gracious to us so far on this trip and we want to keep him/her happy - but now we are disagreeing about whether the libation should be rum or gin. I'm for rum but Larry says it will be gin (I think because we have more of it).

On my first trip across the line - bound for New Zealand (December 2004) our autopilot angle sensor broke and Larry was headfirst in the bowels of the equipment room fixing it while I hand-steered for a number of hours. Anyone who has been on John and Amanda's 'Mahina Tiare' training cruises will no doubt scoff at this - Mahina is hand-steered for each and every passage - and these two super-sailors manage about 20,000 nm a year. There are about 6 paying crew members so with 8 people taking shifts steering, the work and fatigue are considerably reduced.

The strain of our 24-hr watch system caught up with me this week. A maximum of 4 CONSECUTIVE hours of sleep takes a toll over time. It had been incredibly hot (30C outside and 35 inside!) We had been watching for the Intertropical Convergence (known as 'the doldrums') to come along. This necessitated some special monitoring of the wind speed and direction. Because of the changes which take place in this zone (the wind has completely changed direction and is now coming from ahead) the motion was exceptionally awful. It was the 24th day of our trip - and I lazily heated a frozen pizza - that's only happened twice now. Larry saw my exhaustion and kindly took over my watch at 8pm. I awoke with a start at 2a.m. with that ominous feeling you get when you oversleep.

Some people in little boats do turn in for the night. After not seeing any ships for many days, Larry saw two on Thursday night. He was alerted by our GPS. Some software on this gadget responds to signals sent out from large commercial vessels. It predicts the Closest Point of Approach of the vessel and also the name, nationality, port of leaving and outbound port, size and speed of the vessel. The instrument rings an alarm if there's any danger of a collision. The first ship he saw was a Korean fishing vessel - the 'Won Dong'. Larry could barely make out the lights on the horizon and it was obviously no threat. So why aren't we sleeping every night for at least 8 hours?

That very same night, Larry was outside and noticed a sailboat headed towards us. It did have lights (a red port light and a strobe light on the mast) but when he called on the radio there was no response. So other people do rely on the various electronic devices to alert them if needed. We are not among them. Even though there's very little chance of actually running into someone out here, we feel committed to the idea of keeping a watch and checking our sails and the surrounding ocean for any changes and possible dangers. Of course, solo sailors have no choice but to sleep when they need to ... but we feel that if (at least) we on Traversay maintain a constant watch, we can avert any danger for both the vessels.

We are now about halfway on our trip. Larry is mulling over the weather maps and forecasts to determine which of two alternate courses we should follow and he has a few days to decide. The motion at this point is just beautiful and we are sailing quickly and efficiently. Now (at 0630) I'm going out to watch the stars fade into the gradually increasing rosy light of dawn.

At 5/28/2016 16:47 (utc) our position was 00°38.52'N 154°03.11'W

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Towards the Equator

The British Admiralty reference "Ocean Passages for the World" states that [the Trade Winds] are remarkable over large areas for their persistence and steadiness.

And so it has been for us. For ten days and some 1500 nautical miles of travel towards the southwest, we have been graced with a constant twenty knots of wind from directly aft. The winds have been so constant that for six days of these ten, no action of any sort was required to sail our vessel. Certainly there was cooking and washing up, watching for traffic and interpreting the weather, but sails were not adjusted or changed in size in any way and our heading was not changed even a degree!

Our watching yielded very little: we sighted no ships and, according to our instruments, only one vessel approached within fifty miles of us [that's as far as our instruments can see]. The only visual evidence that anyone else lives on the planet has been a single airliner contrail that Mary Anne sighted a few days ago, possibly enroute from Los Angeles to Tahiti. Other than that there have been only the beautiful Tropic Birds with their spindly tail feathers and that most elegant of fliers, the Albatross.

During this transit of the northern Trade Wind belt, water temperatures, and thus air temperatures, have increased steadily from the low twenties to 29C. Even at night, it is a sweltering 32C in the cabin!

There is always SOME technical concern on a boat and this temperature rise has led to our current issue. Our battery charger has reduced its output more and more in the rising temperatures to keep from overheating. On the cloudy days [reduced solar power] this has led to longer and longer generator runs to recharge our batteries - and this while our electric consumption is increasing due to refrigeration requirements. Effort and imagination usually provide a solution ... I expect we will wire up an extra cooling fan for the charger electronics if initial efforts at improving ventilation fail.

Now, as we approach the equator, there are some subtle changes. We have sailed into the equatorial counter-current - an area just north of the equator where the ocean currents set towards the east rather than the normal trade wind current towards the west. A slight course adjustment towards the south allows us to pass this inconvenient current as quickly as possible rather than fighting it on a westerly course. There is no point in being carried towards South America for longer than necessary when your destination is Australia!

Our next milestone is the Intertropical Convergence Zone. This is the region where the Southeast Trades of the southern hemisphere and the Northeast Trades of the north converge and head upwards in a region of light winds and occasional heavy thundershowers: a kind of boundary between the weather systems of the two hemispheres. This zone moves north and south with the seasons and also on a daily basis. The latest weather guess puts it at six degrees north of the equator.

Our nearest land is now tiny Christmas Island in the island nation of Kiribati 640 nautical miles to our southwest.

At 5/24/2016 16:09 (utc) our position was 06°51.36'N 147°55.56'W

Friday, 20 May 2016

The perfect egg

The day before we left, our friends Rae and Frida Audette made a special trip out to the country for us (we don't have a car) and they came back with four dozen of the most perfectly beautiful brown freshly-laid eggs we have ever seen. We stowed them safely - double-wrapped in plastic - in the bilges which (because of greater contiguity to the sea water) is reckoned to be the coolest place on a a boat apart from the refrigerator (which was already full). For the passages we made on Traversay II (which had no refrigeration) we managed to keep our eggs in fairly good condition stored in the bilges.
Rae & Frida w M.A. & Larry in London

However, yesterday the sea temperature was up to 26 degrees C. So we decided to move these eggs.

We were instantly confronted with the central problem of our existence. Eggs are fragile and delicate ... they have inspired art forms because of their perfect shape and symbolic meaning as cradles of life (note Brancuzi and Piaget) but unless handled carefully they can end up on the wrong side of a Nursery Rhyme. And a boat at sea is a symphony of motion.

We are now 920 miles from Cape Kumakahi on the Big Island of Hawaii . Unimpaired by other land masses for such a long distance, the waves gain speed and altitude as they sweep down on our little boat. These waves target the stern of Traversay ... with our mainsail open to its fullest out forward and on the starboard (right) side, there is an amazing sound build-up as they come in like trained battalions to the target. They arrange themselves to swoop straight towards us. Many of them are 12 feet in height above the cockpit platform. They seem ready to engulf us ... and at the last moment Traversay delicately bows to them, brings her stern up and the sea slides away to gather itself for the next wave.

In the daylight, it is quite awe-inspiring to see the platoons of waves mustering to come in - in formation. Sometimes, you'll catch sight of a swarm of flying fish - all taking off in a panic as our gentle Traversay approaches.

The listed height of the waves by the weather service is 9 feet - but Larry says some of them quite a bit above eye level for him as he stands in the cockpit (which is 5 feet above sea level - so they are at least 11 feet in height. That means that when we stand there, we are going down 5 1/2 ft and then being swept up again 5 1/2 feet on every oscillation. This is why moving the eggs into the 'fridge was such a 'production'.

Jackie Cowan in her Search & Rescue garb
It is also why I'm fairly certain the the exercises I'm doing (now at night because it's too warm during the day) are much more strenuous then when Jackie assigned them to me while we were tied to the dock in Victoria. Standing on one foot and doing deltoid exercises with weights is quite tricky. I do them on the starboard (low right) side of the boat - I cheat and brace myself against the cockpit seat. Many have now gained an isometric component.

I've finished the exercises for tonight. Now I can enjoy the nearly full moon and Venus which is starting to distance herself from the Moon. The other stars are brightening as the make their appearance and meanwhile the columns of waves are making an even more spectacular show by each adding a white fluorescent crest.

At 5/20/2016 06:16 (utc) our position was 14°18.23'N 140°29.04'W

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Far From the Land

The moon has now set and stars without number dance overhead in a velvet sky. The warm powerful tradewinds fill the sail and move us onward like a sort of perpetual motion machine.

We spend night after night surging forward into the darkness while seeming to remain in exactly the same spot in a vast heaving watery wilderness. The enormity of this ocean is in a category quite different from that of other oceans. After fifteen days at sea, we are just past completing one quarter of our journey. By contrast, a few years ago, a mere twelve days served to waft us from one side of the Atlantic in Newfoundland to the other side of the ocean in Ireland!

To keep from being conquered by the immensity of the journey, we divide it mentally into manageable portions. Tomorrow we'll cross this latitude or that longitude. The day after tomorrow we'll retard the clocks an hour. .. Imaginary signposts on a featureless road.

The special thing about today is that we have passed the furthest point from land that we will reach on this passage. Isla Guadelupe off the coast of Mexico's Baja California is astern us to the northeast, 1100 nautical miles distant [2040km]. This number grows hourly. Meanwhile, far out to the west on our starboard side lies Cape Kumukahi, the eastern tip of the Big Island of Hawaii, an identical 1100 nautical miles away.

We are nowhere near the halfway point in our voyage but land will not be so far away again. From week to week, and sometimes on successive days, different tiny points of land with exotic Polynesian names will take this role as "Nearest Land". We will pass one or two of these closely enough that they grace our horizon for a few short hours, but most, we will only visit in our imaginations.

At 5/17/2016 12:35 (utc) our position was 18°51.47'N 135°43.13'W

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Life and meals aboard

.. the following is part of a private letter written on May 13

After 2 1/2 days of noisy motoring, we have reached a 'sweet spot' on our trip ... this is the fair-weather sailing that everyone who ever wanted to run away on a boat imagines. The winds are just strong enough to loft us along with a gentle motion - just like being rocked in a silken cradle.

We are turned somewhat and are about to meet our next waypoint at which time we'll be turning slightly and heading on a diagonal towards the equator.

There's not much to report ... everything is easy-going at this point. The boat is working perfectly and we are getting along like a well-oiled machine.

It was Larry's turn to cook yesterday, and he spoiled me with pancakes and maple syrup for lunch and an Indian chicken curry with lime pickle for dinner. It is very hard to resist a meal so good ... and to resist over-eating! I have a full set of exercises designed by my friend Jackie - a personal trainer/realtor in Victoria. So right after this letter, I'm going out to the cockpit. Running in place for 12 minutes is just the start ... this is followed by a full set of strength and muscle training (boring) exercises.

For lunch today I'm making bacon and roquefort 'wraps' and I'm also making friend Jantine's pea salad. I'm having to substitute some preserved red and green peppers. The only fresh veggies we have left are onions and garlic. This salad uses tinned peas, green beans, corn in a red wine vinegar dressing and it last 2 weeks in the 'fridge. So thanks, Tiny! We have to wait until tomorrow to start on it, so Larry will get the benefit of my work for his meals tomorrow. I'm not sure what I'll make for dinner yet. We have some delicious steaks ... but only enough to have a steak meal every 12 days! So we have to wait for that until next week.

It seems that on a trip like this, one thinks about food nearly constantly. And because we alternate cooking, it has become a bit of a competition.

At 5/14/2016 11:50 (utc) our position was 23°23.50'N 130°29.20'W

Friday, 13 May 2016

Into the Trade Winds

Typically, the strong northerly winds off the US west coast in summertime curve without pause around the Pacific High and segue into the Northeast Trade Winds. Mary Anne's last posting described the lack of wind along our route resulting from the Pacific High having moved south and east to lie across our path. We had already modified our course to try to stay in the winds east of the high and were reluctant to head even further towards the east.

In the end, we motored for forty eight hours or so to maintain some progress through the lightly rippled swell in the middle of the high. Our 700 liter fuel tank gives us a powered range of about 1500 nautical miles; now we are down to 1200 miles.

The wind is back and gradually strengthening. Temperatures are gradually increasing as well with nighttime readings now in the twenties [C]. T-shirts, shorts and bare feet have arrived on the scene. The forecasts show that these winds will waft us gently to our targetted point near the equator almost directly south of Hawaii. We look forward to two weeks of gentle sailing before having to think about the best weather-routing onward from there.

If you are wondering what we do out here, as well as the sailing, cooking and one-at-a-time sleeping, there is the repair work as well. Most pleasure boats sail less miles in their lifetime than we do on one of these ocean crossings - of course things wear out.

So far this trip, there has been a loose door latch to reattach, an engine oil and filter change, a new o-ring to seal a small leak in a deck plate, grease on a squeaky steering wheel, and an instrument to replace with a spare because of failed lighting. The removed instrument with the failed light will be fixed later in port where there is less motion to interfere with detailed soldering under a magnifier.

At 5/13/2016 12:32 (utc) our position was 24°55.05'N 129°36.06'W

Monday, 9 May 2016

Moving more slowly now ...

Hello everyone
The motion has calmed considerably as the winds which had us flying down the chart in the first few days have lessened. On the positive side, it is warmer as we're now aligned with the Mexican border several hundred miles east of us.

I'm glad it's a little warmer out, because we can keep the companionway hatch open. I have to keep going out to adapt the angle we're steering at to keep the wind as much on the left as I can, while still keeping the sail from flipping over to the other side (gybing). The boat is quiet (it's 3a.m.) and while Larry's asleep, I've been looking at the Grib Files. We get these every day ... a map shows us what the current forecast predicts about wind speed and direction. They're nice and colourful and work well for 'visual learners' like me.

Right now they're not giving us the news we want or expected. The map is oriented with North 'UP' so our little boat is shown heading south. A series of single strokes show which direction winds are coming from and some 'feathers' on these show how strong the winds will be. Alas - they're aqua right now with only one feather. Worse yet, in a couple of days they're a submissive blue and lying every which way, some with NO feathers at all.

By heading south (instead of southwest as we'd planned with earlier weather projections) we will avoid those contrary south winds lying out to the west of us. Just keeping moving (at 4-5 knots right now) trumps maintaining our heading towards the west. The prevailing northeast trade winds which are a no-show so far (because of an el niño effect?) should FINALLY 'kick in' on the 13th or 14th as we get further south, and then we can start heading west.

We have been heading out for a number of years now, and I have always been amazed at how rapidly and without warning the forecasts change ... especially when bad storms suddenly 'storm' in as they are wont to do. The maps and word forecasts rapidly change to reflect current (or recently past) conditions. We have taken to calling these 'aftercasts'.

This is not new for me. By spending many summers on a working grain farm in Alberta and the family fruit farm in Niagara I learned at a young age how weather can change your whole life for better or for worse. Appreciating that Mother Nature still has the ability to surprise us is one of the great joys of sailing.

At 5/9/2016 09:57 (utc) our position was 32°42.11'N 128°19.78'W

Thursday, 5 May 2016

At Sea

We are now three days out of Victoria bound towards Townsville, Australia - a mind boggling 7000 or so nautical miles ahead of us.

To anyone who wanted to see us off at the dock, we apologize for our sneaky departure. We wanted to time things so we would have an east wind in Juan de Fuca followed immediately on our exit by a northwest wind at sea. Because weather forecasters feel free to alter their opinions many times a day, we wanted to feel equally free to change our departure time.

The gentle motoring out the Strait - the east wind was not brisk - was followed by the not so gentle motion at sea. After half a day in the open, the northwesterly arrived and has now ramped itself up to a 30 knot northerly. The sea is running over 3 meters but is all glittery white and blue in the sunshine. We don't expect any relief from the awful motion - or from the excellent progress - for at least another four days.

Of excitement, there has been little:

Mary Anne saw a solitary dolphin while outside on "log watch" in Juan de Fuca.

A small black land-bird tried to join our crew. It even made two forays below decks to inspect the accommodations before settling in on a sheltered part of the deck to see if we were going anywhere useful. After a few hours of darkness, he flew away. We hope he headed east as the land is much closer in that direction.

We have passed two large ships. The first, bound from the Columbia River toward China helpfully altered course a few degrees to avoid us. He did this in the gloomy dusk by radar long before our lights could have been visible to him. In open waters, though not in confined channels, the law gives sailing vessels the right of way over powered vessels because of their greater difficulty in maneuvering. The ship officer's compliance with this rule was nonetheless much appreciated.

The other vessel was a laden tanker. What a wondrous sight as he went by! He was ploughing to windward through the gale driven seas with plumes of spray flying high over his bows. Our sight of this was repeatedly interrupted as the tall wave crests around us blocked part or all view of both horizon and ship.

Our route will be predominantly toward the south for almost another week before we head much towards the west. This keeps us in the good winds to the east of a stationary high pressure area well off the coast.

We are now 135 miles off the Oregon-California border making progress of 160 miles a day. The name "California" evokes better weather than we are experiencing. The air and water temperature refuse to budge above the 12C they have been since we left Juan de Fuca.

At 5/5/2016 19:41 (utc) our position was 42°02.83'N 127°28.41'W