Friday, June 15, 2012

Weather and Plans

After our yoga day on the N shore in Nabari at the Meleang Tabwai Secondary School (MTSS), we returned to Tao where the water jugs were filled and the rain had finally relinquished. Still, dark thunderclouds lined the distant sky, and there was now not a breath of wind. We usually filter the freshwater from Fatty into large buckets on deck, but today, the buckets were already full and Fatty was riding extra low in the water. Chris had the brilliant idea to use Fatty and her copious fresh water catch as a bath; what extravagance, and quite an amazing view from the near water level tub! The next day dawned sunny and the stillness continued. It turned into a work day as we diligently checked items to-do-before-leaving-Fanning off the list: change Moni's lines, check rig tension, check prop and rudder zincs, upload uncharted reef waypoints into the GPS, plot our course, download more weather data, manage our photos, air out cushions, and the list goes on. Tuesday morning we had planned to go to the main village, Tereitaki, on the other side of the channel and check out of Kiribati. But the day flowed differently. Before we were able to organize ourselves for the day, Michael from Fianna rowed across the channel for the first time to visit, so we spent the morning catching up with him. Soon after, Quixotic moved to our side of the channel and motivated an "everyone-is-leaving-soon" cruisers potluck. We reluctantly let go of our "plans" for the day and went with the flow.

The following morning we meticulously performed some detailed weather analyses to determine the most favorable timing for departure. As we have yet to find useful discussion or forecast (from the seemingly exhaustive list of saildocs from which we pull down our weather data; if anyone has this data, please enlighten us) of the area we are about to enter, we poured through the last week of collected weather data and tracked the development and movement of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) by plotting where our Pacific Forecast text stated it was located. The ITCZ (aka Doldrums) is a belt of permanent low pressure near the equator where the NE tradewinds and SE tradewinds converge, characterized by calm and variable winds accompanied by thunderstorms and squalls. Light, variable, or no winds punctuated by 30-knot squalls with the possibility of heavy thunder and lightning are far from ideal sailing conditions (at least for us), so we would like to minimize our exposure to this constantly shifting area (check out our Planned Cruise Track post to see an approximation of where it is usually located). Our plots of the ITCZ movement clearly indicated that the day we experienced continuous heavy downpours, lightning and thunder, and subsequent fluky winds (which even came from the west (?!) for a time), the ITCZ axis had moved directly over and even a little bit north of us. With this knowledge, we went back through previously downloaded GRIB files and noted that this disturbance had indeed been demonstrated by the wind barbs in the forecast. Looking at newly downloaded GRIB forecasts, we see a similar, but larger, disturbance brewing between 2-deg N and 3-deg S next Tuesday and Wednesday. Whether under sail or motor in such light and variable winds, it would be impossible for us to avoid this disturbance.

With our conservative "wait for the weather" attitude, leaving this Saturday as we were revving up to do is unfortunately (at least for keeping to our "plans") no longer the plan. Although frustrating because we know there is so much awaiting us to see farther along our cruise track, and each day that ticks by at this point we forgo seeing something else, we agree (yet again) that waiting for the right weather window is of ultimate importance. So, we'll wait and continue to gather detailed daily weather data. We think that we were lulled into believing the winds here just always blew since we'd been here over 3-weeks and seen nothing but solid 18-20-knot ENE winds. It has been a gentle reminder of an important lesson: in addition to already keeping on top of overall basic weather in areas with which we are not completely familiar, we need to start looking at detailed weather data at minimum a week before we really actually want to push off. On the up side, it's not like we've nothing to do to keep busy. Another swell is forecast to get here the 16th through 19th. We will continue to watch the ITCZ movement, and instead of having a long list of things we still want to do, we will spend the next week actually preparing ourselves and Tao to be ready to pull the anchor whenever the moment is right.

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