Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Day 4- The Doldrums: light winds, squalls and lightning

Time: 2200 Zulu (noon Hawaii time)
Position: 03-deg 05-min S 159-deg 20-min W
Wind: E10+ Seas: E 6-ft
Avg. Course: 181 T
Avg. Speed: 3.9-knots
Rig: 80% and full mains'l
24-hr distance traveled: 93.1-nm

Just after the Day 3 noon point, mellow winds and sunny conditions continued, though with a few more questionable looking clouds- a squall tracking just behind us. We continued slowly on until 1400 when a squall snuck up on us, and Shawn, still awake making lunch down below, jumped up on deck to help Chris on the foredeck drop the 165%. So easy to put up in mellow light wind conditions, taking it down in the leading edge of a squall was a bit more heart pumping. Since we don't do a ton of high energy sail changes, Shawn didn't make it easier with all the lines amess in the cockpit, Chris wrangled the large sail without the help of the downhaul (Oops!). No longer overpowered, the sky dark, we reassessed and decided as usual to go conservative. We wanted the 80% back up, but first dropped the main to a triple-reef since the heavy clouds packing winds were still surrounding us. Once the jib sheets were re-lead and reattached, the 80% went back up easily. Shawn organized the mess of lines then went down below to continue late lunch preparations while Chris set the sails for maximum efficiency.

The rest of the day and through Shawns watch 'til midnight, winds were light and fluky between 2 and 4-knots. Tao is indeed a spritely light wind sailor, but 4 knots of wind is her minimum for efficient sailing, below this sails flop annoyingly and forward progress is slow with Moni having difficulty holding a course. Still, we slowly made way and always enjoy pesto dinner night. We have been having difficulties connecting to our preferred Hawaii based station for up/downloads at 1500 (which is when it is most convenient for our schedules). After our net check in and a nice surprise contact with Burg and Marcia in Gualala, CA (thanks for the messages from Mum, Dave and Grizzly!), Chris managed to upload via a station in Petaluma, CA. Then at 0300, middle of the night, finally made contact with our preferred station for a large weather download.

This amid yet another graveyard watch that didn't give a moment of rest for Chris. An hour after Shawn hopped in the bunk after a frustratingly light wind watch, she was awakened by the sounds of a squall with strong winds and Chris on deck dousing the full main. She groggily came on deck huddled at the cockpit controls under the dodger to support Chris wrangling the mains'l in a windy downpour. All was well, back to the bunk for Shawn. However, that particularly strong squall lasted nearly an hour- fine under 80% alone, stressful for Chris though. Over the next two hours he constantly monitored the dark masses to the East of us with angry lightning flashing 3 to 4 bolts every minute for an hour straight. Warily, he raised the main to triple, then double, and finally its single reef point around 0300 when assured that his prayers had been answered. The strong convection had gratefully passed astern and Tao had made it out from under the cloudmass into the clear starry night. Once he was able to download the weather data we had hoped to have the afternoon before, he found indeed, that the South Pacific text forecast was expecting moderate T-storms from 3-deg S to the Equator between 155 and 160 W, smack where we were. Phew, barely dodged that one, apparently we haven't quite cleared the ITCZ affected area, aka the Doldrums.

The rest of Chris watch was spent adjusting Moni as the winds changed from SE to NE and back as small squalls marched past. Needless to say, he was quite ready for the apple pancake with butter brunch before finally getting to rest. It appears that Shawn has lucked out thus far with her scheduled watches being timed as convection is building. This morning's watch has been idyllic with breezes back to 10-knots allowing us to move briskly along around 5-knots. Just before the noon point a flock of the small particularly chatty little birds caught Shawn's attention, and up on the foredeck she was able to witness birds circling above a dolphin hunt. All of a sudden there were large bubbles forming a circle around what must have been the unlucky hunted school of fish. If the dolphin didn't get them from below then the birds above took a turn. There were even frigates high above, which since our understanding is they can't even land in the water to rest, it seems they're quite far from land. It was like something out of the Blue Planet videos we've watched though of course, no camera footage, so you'll have to take our word for it.

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