Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 14- Squalls?! Yes, squalls...

Time: 1700 Zulu (noon PV time)
Position: 19-deg 01-min N 129-deg 23-min W
Wind: NE 15-knots Seas: NE 5-ft
Course: 276 T Speed: 4.9-knots
Rig: 80% jib
24-hr distance traveled: 127-nm

It was an uneventful afternoon. But just as the sun started going down, things got exciting. First we noticed that the seas were no longer so organized. They were building (to 8-ft) and coming both from NE and from due N. As we enjoyed some chili and cornbread (with fresh celery, tomato, cheese and sour cream fixings) and looked at the stormy cloud formations, we discussed "a little tendril of rainy patch at about 20N and 130W that has been sitting there for a while" that Jacob had mentioned in one of his e-mails to us. Shawn was just clearing the dishes when Chris noted with a little confusion, that he was standing in a "rainy mist". We were both on deck just in time to see the leading edge (i.e. strongest winds) of our first squall. Thankfully, there was still enough light to get a view of what was happening. Our 20-knot winds bumped up several knots and we watched a cloud that reached the water's surface marching toward us. It appeared almost yellow in the waning light. Then it engulfed us. Winds increased. Rain flew horizontally. We were in a cloud. Then 10 minutes later, the sky lifted and we watched as it continued moving downwind away from us. Another 10-min and another cloud was upon us.

We still had the 100% jib up at this point and it seemed to handle the intensified conditions okay (though in truth we were a little bit overpowered, rounding upwind a bit with the heavier gusts). Since we could see that the path before us was riddled with these clouds and night was nearly upon us, we decided to be pro-active and reduce sail. It was a slow process (we really need to practice sail changes more often) and is the specific scenario that begs for roller furling. Although a few squalls went by while we bobbed around side to the swell and bare poled, the winds and waves weren't unmanageably great. Once our 80% was finally set, we observed how it handled another passing squall. Same boat speeds = good choice for the coming night.

The entire night, this scenario was repeated over and over, though time between squalls did increase toward morning. When we questioned Don Anderson about them he replied "South of 22-deg N, you are in the tropics, my darling, squalls are everywhere and are impossible to forecast. You forecast them with your eyes and your radar. They always travel NE to SW and you will see an increase in local winds of 5 to 10-knots". Yup, this was exactly what we saw (though we don't have radar). Get used to it was written between the lines. We wonder if we will see squalls daily for the rest of the passage and are grateful that our first round did not include lightning. So, as we dig deeper into our remaining warm/dry clothes, we continue our watches, just sitting back and enjoying the wet and dramatic shows.

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