Day 93, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 8-Great Sailing

Day 93, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 8-Great Sailing
Date: Tuesday, January 25, 2011, 1430 UTC
Weather: Partly Sunny; Winds SSE 15
Temperature: Water 66 degrees F; Air 69 degrees F
Latitude: 25 50.842 S
Longitude: 002 47.783 E
Miles Traveled: 1077
Miles to Go: 767
Location: Passage from South Africa to St. Helena

Since sending yesterday’s log, we have had consistent winds from the SE blowing15 knots, plus or minus 5 knots now and again. The seas are just a little more than a meter, so we still roll a bit, but nothing like the last few days. The Maritime Mobile Net tells us that we should have this same weather until the weekend and then the wind will die completely. The Atlantic Ocean high that has been stationary far to our south finally moved and broke apart yesterday. Part of it went into the Indian Ocean and part of it doubled back into the Atlantic and is headed to Antarctica. But a new high will start moving across toward South Africa from South America in the next few days and take our wind away. If we actually get winds like today for the next three days, we’ll have less than 300 miles to go when the winds die. At that point if we have to motor assist, we will, as we can refuel in St. Helena.

Mark worked on the water maker today, but he still cannot get it going. He did a rebuild, but unfortunately didn’t have a complete rebuild kit, so some gaskets could not be replaced. He took out the membrane and put our old one in, but that didn’t work either, so he feels it has to be that there is not enough pressure to push the water through. We know the old membrane works because we loaned it to Far Niente in Madagascar and they were able to make water all the way to Richards Bay. Mark has already taken the pump out again and tomorrow he will once again take it apart and make sure everything looks right. If we can’t get it going, we are just going to have to be VERY conservative with our water use. We have been conservative on this trip knowing the water maker wasn’t working and we used a little less than half of one tank in a week. We have two tanks, so together they should get us through one month. But that’s not enough, so we are hoping that we can buy containers of water in St. Helena or buy containers and fill them. They have water there, but finding plastic water containers might be a bit of a stretch.

Day 92, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 7-Half Way

Day 92, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 7-Half Way
Date: Monday, January 24, 2011, 1530 UTC
Weather: Overcast, Sun Trying to Shine Through; Winds SSE 10-20
Latitude: 26 32.515 S
Longitude: 005 06.723 E
Miles Traveled: 941.18
Miles to Go: 883
Location: Passage from South Africa to St. Helena

I like it when the top number (miles traveled) is bigger than the bottom one (miles to go). We hit the half way point just about noon today. But I fear the last half is going to take longer than the first half as the winds are lighter now and we are no longer traveling over 150 miles a day. But sometime early next week we should arrive in St. Helena.

We are both struggling with this downwind sailing in seas that are starting to calm but are certainly still rolling us from side to side. The winds are lighter so we don’t go as fast and that adds to the problem. Last night was no fun at all. First, I couldn’t get to sleep because I felt like I was being thrown out of the sea berth every time we rolled. Of course, I wasn’t, because we have the lee cloth to hold us in, but try telling your brain this when you’re body is suddenly jerked one way and then another. Then just when I did get to sleep, I was jolted out of the bed` when I heard a big bang and Mark’s call for help. It was another unintentional jibe and another piece of equipment broken. The attachment that holds the boom vang to the boom broke, so now we have to depend entirely on the Jyb-Easy to help unintentional jibes to be not quite so violent. It would be better not to have unintentional jibes in the first place, but when you are sailing with the wind directly behind you and you get sudden wind shifts, it is an easy thing to happen. What happened last night was that we found ourselves in heavier winds with a sudden change in wind direction. That happened again this morning when I was on watch, but the wind direction change put up on a beam reach instead of back winding our main sail, so that was easy to deal with. We sailed wing ‘n wing all day today, but just now we jibed over (intentionally) so both sails are out to windward and it is a MUCH smoother ride. We going off course, but we’ll just have to jibe back over later in the night. And the totally overcast sky just parted to let some sunshine through, so maybe this will be a calm night. We could both use the sleep.

I did a laundry today and Mark worked on rebuilding the watermaker. We both spent the last hour trying to reinstall the motor which was no easy fete. Imagine trying to work under your kitchen sink, but shrink the size by half. Then in addition to your normal water filters, add all of the filters and pump for a watermaker and a compressor motor for your freezer. You would be working in tight quarters. And then make sure your whole house is rocking from side to side while you work. Not easy. We were both so exhausted once the motor was back in place that we will have to wait until tomorrow to see if it works.

The sailing conditions right this minute are just perfect, so I’m hoping they will stay this way all night and through the next few days. Probably won’t happen but I can always wish.

Day 91, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 6-Fair Winds

Day 91, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 6-Fair Winds
Date: Sunday, January 23, 2011, 1430 UTC
Weather: Partly Sunny; Winds SE 22-30 AM, SE 15 PM
Temperature: Water 69 degrees F; Air 65 degrees F
Latitude: 28 35.667 S
Longitude: 005 43.755 E
Miles Traveled: 994
Miles to Go: 806.76
Location: Passage from South Africa to St. Helena

The Atlantic Ocean has decided that she should be a little kinder and gentler. At noon today, the winds moderated. The seas are still heaving beneath us, but we are now running wing ‘n wing with the headsail poled out to starboard and the mainsail out to port. This makes the roll a little gentler and the sun is shining. Life is good!

Today when we were talking to Graham on the Maritime Mobile Net he mentioned the fact that we seem to be the only people out here. Truus and Steve on Key of D left the day after we did, but we have only been able to make contact with them once. We’re thinking that they might have headed back into Cape Town or Saldahna Bay (the next port north) when it got so windy. We have seen no ships and talked to no one but Graham since Wednesday. We do see a few birds from time to time, but otherwise all we see and hear is water, water, water. I’m reading a book entitled Atlantic by Simon Winchester and the timing couldn’t be better. This book was published in 2010 and when I saw it in a Cape Town book shop I just had to get it for Mark for Christmas. (I hope he doesn’t mind that I am reading it first.) It is the life story of the Atlantic Ocean. In the prologue, Winchester quotes Arthur C. Clarke as saying, “How inappropriate to call this planet Earth, when it is clearly Sea.” From our perspective out here, that is certainly evident.

We have run into a little glitch with our watermaker. We ‘pickled’ (preserving process when not in use) it in Richards Bay as we never use it when in port and we knew we were going to be there for a few weeks. We tried to start it up again yesterday, and it runs but it doesn’t produce water. So either the membrane is clogged or it is not building up enough pressure. So today we are cleaning the membrane which is an overnight process. If that doesn’t work, then Mark will need to do a rebuild of the pump. Sure hope we can get it going. If we can’t, it will solve our dilemma as to whether or not to go to Ascension Island and then the Caribbean or to head straight to Trinidad from St. Helena. If the watermaker is not working, we will have to go to Ascension to fill up the water tanks. Hopefully we’ll know something by this time tomorrow.

Day 90, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 5-Rolling Along

Day 90, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 5-Rolling Along
Date: Saturday, January 22, 2011, 1430 UTC
Weather: Overcast, then Sunny; Winds SE 22-30
Temperature: Water 66 degrees F; Air 68 degrees F
Latitude: 29 22.516 S
Longitude: 008 07.112 E
Miles Traveled: 664.97
Miles to Go: 1116
Location: Passage from South Africa to St. Helena

Not much has changed since yesterday except that we are nice and cozy inside our cockpit enclosure now and still trying to figure out why we didn’t zip ourselves in sooner. We are running with a double-reefed main and a single-reefed stay sail with 25 knots of wind, plus or minus 5 knots. We still get extended periods of 28-34 knots but they are becoming less regular and I think the seas are also calming just a bit from 4 meters to 3. For the past two days I reported the weather as ‘overcast, then sunny’ but I now realize that was misleading. When I look at the log entries, it has been 90 to 100 per cent overcast since Wednesday night, except for a short period of 40 per cent cloud cover in mid-afternoon, just when I am writing the log. Today, however, the totally overcast sky just lifted like a curtain rising on stage and right now the skies are bright blue without a cloud in sight. It will be interesting to see if this holds or if it reverts to 100 per cent cloud cover by 6 pm like the last two days The water temperature is rising just a bit day by day as we head north and west. Right now the wind is forcing us more to the west, but soon we will be passed the sea mounts we have been trying to avoid and we can tack back to a more northerly course. Sea mounts are exactly what they say-mountains rising from the floor of the ocean and coming near the top. These are some 38 meters below sea level, so no fear of hitting anything, it is just that the ocean can be quite turbulent around the mounts and we don’t need any additional turbulence right now.

Our change from head sail to stay sail was a good one except for one thing. The sheet (rope) heading back to the cockpit from the clue (end) of the sail somehow caught on one of our Dorade vents and flipped the stainless steel vent as well as the wooden top of the Dorade box overboard. The Dorade box and vent system was designed to allow air to flow into the boat through holes in the deck without letting water in. The holes in the deck have a piece of pipe that extends about two inches higher than the deck, then the wooden box screws onto the deck covering the hole. The wooden box then has a hole on the opposite end from the hole in the deck and the Dorade vent screws into that hole, the idea being that if water does go into the vent it will not go directly down the hole into the cabin. We varnish our teak boxes and take pride in the six (now five) beautiful stainless vents. I wanted stainless vents instead of the plastic ones that constantly mildew and have to be painted, but the stainless ones are extremely expensive. My memory is that each vent cost over $300, but because I wanted these so badly, Mark got them for ‘us’ for our 30th wedding anniversary. We now have a four-sided box with no top and ugly white tape covering the four-inch diameter hole so water cannot come in. This vent is right over the starboard settee that we use as a sea berth, so I sure hope the tape holds! Oh,yes, one more problem due to the change in sails. Because the seas are high, we constantly rock from side to side and the lines and sails are in constant motion. When we furled the head sail and put out the stay sail yesterday afternoon, I pulled the sheet (sailor-speak for rope that pulls horizontally to trim the sail instead of vertically to raise the sails) from the head sail too tight to keep it from flailing around and by doing so, it rubbed against the Sunbrella sun covering on the stay sail all night and virtually destroyed that. So one more repair when things calm down.

The good news is that we are more than one-third of the way to St. Helena. We continue to make more than 150 miles every twenty-four hours. I finished reading James Michener’s Caribbean last night. The last chapter focused on Trinidad and painted a picture of Carnival that sounded so inviting that I’ve talked to Mark about skipping Ascension Island and going directly from St. Helena to Trinidad. Of course that makes that run almost 4,000 miles so that fancy might pass. Carnival in Trinidad is March 7 and 8 and we might be able to just barely make it. So we shall see.

Day 89, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 4 Happy Fourth Birthday to SAM!

Day 89, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 4 Happy Fourth Birthday to SAM!
Date: Friday, January 21, 2011, 1445 UTC
Weather: Overcast, then Sunny; Winds SE 25-30+
Temperature: Water 64 degrees F; Air 68 degrees F
Latitude: 30 24.335 S
Longitude: 10 53.169 E
Miles Traveled: 503.14
Miles to Go: 1267
Location: Passage from South Africa to St. Helena

Today is our first born grandchild’s 4th birthday. We flew home from New Zealand for Sam’s birth and we were home visiting from Australia for his first birthday. Sam, Heather, and Jed were in Thailand for his 2nd birthday and we went for a ride on the local elephants as a celebration. We were on the sixth day of our passage from Thailand to India on January 21 last year and now we are on the fourth day of our passage across the Atlantic headed home. When I write it like this, it does seem like four years, but when I think about wee little Sam when we first saw him in the hospital in Falmouth four years ago, I just can’t believe he is already 4 years-old. The main reason we are rushing to get home is so we can see those grandbabies more often. We don’t want them to grow up not knowing us. Sam has seen us enough to really know who we are, but Jonah and Ziggy haven’t because we were so far away this past year and couldn’t get home. We’re on our way, guys. And Sam, we hope you have a wonderful birthday with family today and at your party with friends tomorrow. Our daughter Heather wrote that he had his birthday party at preschool yesterday and quite enjoyed sitting in the special chair and having everyone sing to him. But more than that, we liked having cupcakes for snack! Sam, we might be 8,000 miles away, but we are with you in spirit. Have an extra piece of cake for us. Happy Birthday!

I wish I had good news to report on the weather front, but we have had no change and now are not expecting a change until sometime on the 23rd. So we have at least two more days and nights of this windy weather. We have been sailing with a double-reefed main and only a tiny triangle of the headsail out most of the time, and we are still averaging over 6 knots. So the good thing still is that we are making great time. The bad thing is that it is cold and wet and uncomfortable and we feel like we are in a Mix Master. The ugly thing is that everything is covered in salt water. We get waves once in a while crashing into us broadsided and sending water over the top of the dodger and into the cockpit. We are protected by the plastic enclosure on the front and sides, but we didn’t put up the plastic curtains across the back. So far Mark and I have stayed dry, but the cockpit cushions haven’t fared as well. We’re just hoping that this ends on Sunday and that the last half of the passage is little smoother.

In the middle of writing this log, we made some changes. We just rolled up the head sail and put out a double-reefed stay sail in its place and the ride seems smoother. Right now we are in a period of 30-35 knot winds and even with just the reefed stay sail we are averaging 7 knots. It also started raining and blowing in from the back so we dug out the back curtains and put them up. Now things are calmer and drier. Duh . . . Why didn’t we do this two days ago?

Day 88, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 3 – WINDY

Day 88, Year 6 Passage to St. Helena, Day 3 – WINDY
Date: Thursday, January 20, 2011, 1530 UTC
Weather: Overcast, then Sunny; Winds SE 25-30+
Temperature: Water 59 degrees F; Air 61 degrees F
Latitude: 31 25.142 S
Longitude: 013 25.235 E
Miles Traveled: 354.18
Miles to Go: 1419
Location: Passage from South Africa to St. Helena

The South Atlantic Ocean decided to throw a wild going-away party for us. Unfortunately, the only ones invited were Windy, Windier, Windiest, and whole lot of BIG Waves. The party started just before 11 pm last night. At first, I thought it was just Midnight Madness. That’s my name for the craziness that seems to happen from about 11:30 pm to 1:30 am on many nights. But by 1:30 am, Windiest was dancing her wild dance with winds staying in the 35-40 knot range. So there was not a lot of sleep happening aboard Windbird. At some point, Windier and Windy decided to dance together and the winds would go from 20 knots causing us to nearly jibe and then increase to 35 knots with Windier just kicking up her heels and causing the waves to get bigger and more confused. BIG Waves were dancing toward us from all directions. Today the party goes on with Windier dancing pretty consistently a 25-30 knots. And it looks like the party will continue for at least another 24 hours and maybe more.

Before the party started we were on a more northerly course to miss some sea mounts and after passing them, we were going to head more westerly. To accommodate our dancing partners, we are now headed more westerly and will head northerly once we pass under the sea mounts. When this blow ends, we should have a relatively calm period again and get back to those smooth sailing days. We’ll need it to recover from this. We are getting too old for these all night parties! When sailing, it seems like you always have too much or too little wind. The upside of too much wind, at least when it is behind you and not trying to blow you over, is that you move fast. We are making good speed toward St. Helena, just not in the most comfortable conditions. Yesterday I was reading the pilotage information on the 3,000 mile passage from Ascension to the Caribbean, and a boat named Nordly reported that in 2008, a La Nina year, the trip was a devastatingly slow one as the band of no wind (the doldrums) was quite expanded I knew El Nino ended sometime in 2010 and have been wondering if some of the strange weather happenings around the world might be related to La Nina. I mentioned this in an email to our daughter Heather and she sent back the news. Indeed, La Nina is in full form and will remain so through the spring. So we can anticipate a longer period with no wind on that long slog northward. So as always when sailing, it seems like you have too much or too little wind. You live through the uncomfortable times and truly cherish the glorious days when the wind is just right. And I’ll be ready for a few of those when this blow ends.