Searching for the South East trade winds
Friday 26th February 2016
27:32.00S 089:44.5W - 1000 miles east of Easter Island
There is not a lot to report this week, we are at sea heading in the general direction of Easter Island, Rapa Nui or Isla de Pascua; take you pick of the names. We departed Isla Robinson Crusoe on the 20th February.
The distance over the direct or great circle route to Easter Island from Isla Robinson Crusoe is about 1650 miles but we can’t go that way due to the way the wind blows; our route will ultimately cover about 1800 miles.This season being an el Nino one the SE trade winds are weaker than normal but they should still be there at the latitude of Easter Island. So from Robinson Crusoe we set a course to the NW which is more northerly than the direct course. The forecasts that we had showed winds of 15 knots to in the correct place but to use them we had to get there and that meant, unavoidably, crossing a zone of very light winds.
We had some fair sailing for the first 20 hours or so and then hit the calms and not being sailing snobs and carrying all the weight of an engine a fuel for a reason, on went the engine. We motored for several hours, got some wind for a few hours, motored again, etc.. That pattern continued for a couple of days before we picked up the breeze. We have now been sailing in variable, unstable, winds for a few days. There have been plenty of sail changes to keep us busy and somewhat short of sleep.
For the last 24 hours we have had 25 knots or so of breeze behind us pushing us along nicely. We have had to reef down and cut our speed as the sea is a very sloppy mess with at least two wind -driven wave trains, one coming from each quarter, and the ever present ground swell from the south causing confusion on the sea’s surface. The weather is generally pleasant with the temperature hovering around 20 degrees Centigrade. The first part of the night usually brings a few squalls as the evening cools. The squalls have occasionally hit 30knots of wind but rarely more.
We have been towing a lure hoping to catch a tuna, but have only had one bite from a fish too big for our gear. When I pulled in the line to check the gear the hooks on the lure had been straightened and the wire trace well scarred by the teeth of whatever it was.
Our days have fallen into a loose routine. We are both awake a lot during the day so have a very loose watch-keeping routine. We usually eat supper in the cockpit followed by a lesson from our French language course. We barely have a few words of French between us and as we are heading for ‘French’ Polynesia we thought we would try to learn something. I usually take the first watch after dark and then we rotate on-watch and sleeping as we feel the need.
At 12:00 UTC we usually check into the Patagonian radio net (8.164MHz usb); which more or less defines the start of the day routine. Some days we take some sun sights with the sextant so that Paula can learn the skill and to practice for me. We’ll probably never need the skills in anger but as the US Navy has recently re-introduced celestial navigation to their navigation courses perhaps they know something that we don’t, anyway who knows? Besides that I have a nice new (to me) Plath sextant that was very kindly given to me by Wolfgang Karsten who runs the Patagonia Net but no longer sails. Thanks Wolfgang! Other than those things there is a continuous round of maintenance, checking for chafe, lubricating the wind-vane and control lines, reefing or making sail, cooking, navigating. We receive GRIB weather files a couple of times a day via the Sailmail system and continuously review the options.
The forecasts have not been very accurate so far this trip. I don’t know if this is normal for these waters or whether el Nino is screwing up the computer models. Either way early in the passage the forecasts were more useful when we were making our northing but now that we are more or less at, and running along, the latitude of our destination our options are somewhat limited and the weather forecast is more a warning tool that we might get strong winds or calms and much less of a routing tool.
We have about 1000 miles to run so have a 8 to 10 days at least to run, maybe more because the latest forecasts show a big calm area that we will run into in a few days and there appears to be no way around it.