Day 157, Year 5: Passage to Chagos, Day 4

Day 157, Year 5: Passage to Chagos, Day 4
Date: Thursday, April 1, 2010
Weather: Totally Overcast with Squalls; Winds 8-18 SW
Latitude: 04 degrees 08.819 minutes S
Longitude: 072 degrees 14.033 minutes E
Miles to Go: 73.3

The snail trail continues with periodic interruptions for squalls. The squall we were anticipating when I was writing the log last night just ended up to be a little wind, but at 10:00 pm we got hit with a whopper that lasted until 11:30 pm. It came with 25 knot gusts of wind, lots of rain, thunder, and a lightening show. We had squalls off and on during the night and then got hit with another whopper this morning. It was so overcast last night that we didn’t see a star or the moon and we have not seen the sun since it rose this morning. During the night the wind was up and down and came from every direction imaginable with no pattern to the changes. All morning we had 15-18 knot winds from the NW and during most of the afternoon we had 15-18 knots from the SW-directly on the nose. The one-knot easterly flowing current takes us far off course to the east in one direction and when we try to sail or motor back, we end up going NW fighting the current and the lumpy seas.. We have used up two complete log pages since midnight just recording the various changes-engine on, engine off, tack to the east, tack to the west, full main and headsail, reefed headsail, furled headsail, staysail, full headsail, furl it again . . . We just can’t find the right combination. And now the winds are below 10 knots, still on the nose, and with these conditions we won’t arrive tomorrow unless a miracle happens. So it has been a very challenging twenty-four hours. I was able to nap this morning until I was almost thrown out of the sea berth even with the lee cloth in place, but since then we have not had a minute to rest until now. Mark is below trying to get some sleep. He has worn himself out today with all of the sail changes and really didn’t get much sleep last night. Mark said today that this reminds him of our eight day trip from Norfolk to St. Martin that ended up taking fourteen days in rough seas with wind right on the nose. This is not nearly that rough, but it feels as though the potential is there.

Part of our problem is the location. We are probably in the Intertropical Convergence Zone.(ITCZ) where the weather systems from the Northern Indian Ocean and the Southern Indian Ocean converge near the equator. In the Atlantic and Pacific the ITCZ is called the ‘doldrums’ and is characterized by no wind and calm seas, but in the Indian Ocean it can be quite stormy and unpredictable as we are experiencing. I think all of those interesting weather clouds I was seeing yesterday was the ITCZ. We were looking at it from the outside. But now we are in the band and probably won’t emerge from it until we reach Chagos. Mark is up and we have started the engine once again to try and make some headway toward our waypoint. I don’t want to complain too much as I know it could be much worse out here, but I’ll just say that this is not our favorite passage to date.

Day 156, Year 5: Passage to Chagos, Day 3

Day 156, Year 5: Passage to Chagos, Day 3
Date: Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Weather: Partly Sunny Day; Winds NNW 10 Knots
Latitude: 03 degrees 01.658 minutes S
Longitude: 072 degrees 33.703 minutes E
Miles to Go: 143

Here’s the latest news from the snail crawl to Chagos: It’s HOT, we’ve been on an upwind slog most of the last 24 hours, the seas are now coming from the south and are choppy, during the night and early morning we had one little squall after another (very little rain and just enough wind to confuse things), and now the Chagos ETA is April 3rd, not the 2nd. Otherwise, things are great! Windbird sails just fine going into the wind as long as we have 10 knots of wind. Anything under that and it becomes a challenge. Last night we were trying to sail with 6-7 knots of wind right on the nose and we finally gave up and motored the last half of the night. By 9:00 am, however, we were able to sail again, still fighting to keep Windbird on course in the now choppy seas that cause us to bounce and our sails to lose their wind. But since 3:00 this afternoon the wind switched to the NW and now to the NNW and is a whopping 10 knots. But hey, that’s better than anything we’ve have had to date, so we’ll take it. Right now we are making 4 knots good over ground, still with better than a 1 knot current against us. If these conditions persist, we still might make it on April 2, but more than likely it will now be April 3. We heard from the BIOT (British Indian Ocean Territory) administrator today confirming our April 1st arrival. I guess that is our April Fool’s joke for this year, as we certainly won’t be arriving tomorrow.

Watching the weather develop has been most interesting on this passage. We have mountainous cumulus clouds all around the horizon. During the night and early morning it looks like a layer of wind blows under the clouds and causes the bottoms to flatten. Then a grayness starts to form near that flattened bottom. Smaller, dark gray cumulus clouds then form in front of the big white ones, and as the whole mass moves from the West to the East in front of and behind us, we start to see places where rain is falling from the gray clouds. The gray clouds then seem to stretch out forming a squall line and when we get near it, the wind increases. As we pass under and out of the gray squall line, the wind then dies away for a bit and changes direction slightly. This means readjusting the sails and just when we get everything reset, it happens all over again. This repeating process stopped mid-morning, but right now there is a humongous gray cloud just to our west blocking out the light of the sun. I guess we are starting the nighttime squall game a little early this evening. In fact, it has just sucked all the wind away and we are sitting here with sails flapping in the breeze. So it’s time to start the motor and get ready in case this one is packing more wind than we experienced earlier.

Day 155, Year 5: Passage to Chagos, Day 2

Day 155, Year 5: Passage to Chagos, Day 2
Date: Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Weather: Partly Sunny Day; Winds W 2-6 Knots
Latitude: 02 degrees 04.335 minutes S
Longitude: 072 degrees 45.735 minutes E
Miles to Go: 201

Poco Andantes-slower than walking. That is the way we are currently traveling to Chagos, but the seas are calm and it is very peaceful. We sometimes get 2-3 knots of wind, so we motor. Then we get 4-6 knots of wind and we snail, I mean sail. We have had a full knot of current against us since leaving Gan Atoll so our speed over ground when sailing averages about 1.8 knots; when motoring at 1500 RPM’s we go a whopping 3 knots. We’ve only traveled 66 miles since this time yesterday, so the new Estimated Time of Arrival is sometime on Friday, April 2 unless something changes in the weather.

We had hitchhikers last night. About five Sooty Terns decided that they wanted a free ride and nothing we could do would dissuade them. They perched on the bow pulpit, on the solar panels, and on the grill always leaving their happy little droppings behind them. These are rather large birds and when we tried to shoo them away, they would fly at us and squawk mightily. I love birds, but I have learned not to love them on my boat. The clean-up is no fun at all. We also had a beautiful full moon last night and even though it was very cloudy, the moon light shone through and lit the way for us. My big accomplishment for the day was unwrapping each of seventy-five tomatoes I have in a basket to check ripening progress. The twenty-eight tomatoes on the bottom layer were green in Cochin and are now yellow. The middle and top layers were just beginning to ripen when we left Cochin and they are still not fully ripe. I lost only six that were rotten, so hopefully wrapping each tomato in newspaper is working Mark and I also worked on route planning figuring out how many miles from one destination to another. We are writing a summary of miles to date and miles to go and will put that in a log later in the week when it is complete.

Here’s hoping that our little bit of wind lasts through the night and that the east setting current diminishes soon. In the meantime, we will enjoy the peace and quiet.

Day 154, Year 5: Passage to Chagos, Day 1

Day 154, Year 5: Passage to Chagos, Day 1
Date: Monday, March 29, 2010
Weather: Overcast/Dark Storm Clouds; Winds NW 5-15
Latitude: 00 degrees 01.931 minutes S
Longitude: 073 degrees 04.262 minutes E
Miles to Go: 266

Once again there is wind where there was not supposed to be wind. But we’ll take it. I just wish it were steady. It will be 3-5 knots for 45 minutes and then 10-15 for an hour and back and forth. So we motor, then sail, then motor, then sail. The seas have been fairly calm so far, but the fact that the swell is coming from the SE and the wind is coming from the NW and there is an east setting current could all combine to make for rough seas if the winds get stronger. So even though what we have is not stable, I’d rather have this than strong winds and rough seas or no wind at all. We’ve only been out here five and a half hours, so it is much too soon to tell what is going to happen. This is a passage about the same number of miles as it was from India to Uligan in the northern Maldives. It was about 275 miles from Cochin to Uligan and this passage should be about 290 miles. It should take two to three days depending . . . At this point it looks like we will arrive on April 1st. I hope the joke is not on us! If the clouds clear, we will have an almost full moon and that will make me happy. I love the moon light at night when I am on watch.

Watch for us begins at 7 pm. We do three-hour watches, so Mark is in the cockpit reading and watching from 7-10 pm. He wakes me up, he brings me up-to-date on anything of importance like ship lights, other sailboat locations, and any changes in the weather. By 10:30 pm he is in bed and I am watch until 1:30 am. I sometimes write emails while on watch, name photos, or read using a headlamp that can quickly be switched off and on. Whatever I do, every 15 minutes I stop and do a complete lights out 360 degree visual sweep, slowly looking for lights in the night. If we see lights, activities stop and we just watch until we are sure that whatever it is out there, will pass by us safely. At mid-night, I record all vital statistics in the log book and figure out how many miles we have gone in the last 24 hours. And the main thing we do on watch is keep Windbird on course, adjust sails as needed, and record any changes in sail configuration or weather changes in the log book. By 4:30 or 5:00 am I am on watch again just in time to watch the sunrise. This is by far my favorite watch. I love watching the dark sky begin to lighten and the colors that change from gray to pastels and sometimes to bold reds and oranges just as the sun peaks above the horizon. Then all of a sudden the sky is Robin Egg blue and puffy white clouds here and there. Or at least that is the way I like it best. By 8:00 Mark is usually up and then we do a loose watch arrangement during the day. We have breakfast and take care of any chores that need to be done. By 10:30 am, I go down below to nap for an hour or two and by the time I get up, it is time to fix lunch. After lunch, Mark and I both do watch together, switching off depending on what needs to be done below. By 3:30 pm, Mark goes down for a nap, but he never sleeps more than an hour. While he is sleeping, I watch and read or write emails. At 4:30 pm I start writing this daily log and by 5:00 pm we record the latitude and longitude and send the log and a position report to Yotreps. I then fix dinner and we eat as the sun goes down. We make any major sail changes needed to get ready for the night, and if we have timed things just right, I have about thirty minutes to read before heading to bed at 7:00 pm. And then the whole schedule begins again.

We left at 11:30 am this morning thinking that if we left earlier we will arrive in Peros Banhos during the night, but you never know what your speed is really going to be, so it is all a crap shoot anyway. But the extra time this morning gave us time to use the last of our internet time, write and send the last postcards, prepare the cabin for passage, and get everything on deck ready without having to rush. We had Ed and Lynne of Constance over for dinner last night which gave us a chance to show them our underwater photos from the Maldives. We also showed them photos of our beautiful grandkids that we are missing so very much.