November 8, 2019

Now for some real sailing, for the moment.

It’s noon on Friday and we are booming along on a close reach in 13-15kts of wind and making between 7-8.5 kts.  It’s exhilarating but at the same time, as the hours roll on, the seas are getting choppy, with Pandora crashing into wave after wave, sending spray everywhere.  This is not a casual holiday sail.

However, it seems that each day brings with it an entirely different experience, sometimes exhilarating like now and sometimes depressing as we inch along making virtually no headway against current and wind.  In the ocean even the smallest amount of breeze on the nose can slow you down to a crawl.

Last night was perhaps our most frustrating yet, as the wind shifted south to around 6-11kts, directly on the nose, and that combined with a slight northerly current, slowed our progress to a glacial 4.5kts.  Given the fact that we are still something like 800 miles from Antigua, that was painfully slow progress.

Even with the engine running and sails up, we were lucky to make even 5kts and usually less.  Of course, Pandora can go a lot faster under power but as we continue our laser focus on the amount of fuel left and the amount of time we will be motoring, I have been running the engine at a very low RPM.  As the speed of the engine increases even a little bit, the fuel consumption per hour goes up a lot but not in proportion to the increased speed, substantially reducing the number of hours and distance traveled that we can continue under power.

On my last trip south, two years ago, I ran the engine for a total of 130 hours, arriving in Antigua with fuel to spare, and as of today we have a long way to go to beat that.  That’s good but it’s hard to say what will happen given the fact that the wind shifts around the compass so often.

When I spoke to Chris Parker today his forecast suggested that we would likely enjoy sailing for the next day and then the wind would just about go away when and we will face another 24-30 hours under power before we reach the more predictable trade winds.

By comparison, as we beat our way south into SW winds, two years ago I had a spectacular multi day run with solid easterly trade winds, in this exact same area.  There is a large high pressure zone over us that has basically killed the northern parts of the trade winds, pushing them hundreds of miles south, reversing the wind direction or killing the wind altogether.   Fortunately, for now at least, we have wind and can sail in more or less our intended direction.  When it comes to long distance passage making, it’s better to keep moving than to go where you intend.  And, on top of that, it feels better.

I expect that you may be following my travels on the tracker, my own or on the joint Rally page that I shared and know a lot more about where we are verses the other boats in the fleet.   I know that there are some boats behind us and plenty in front, but I understand that there are a many in the fleet within a radius of perhaps 75-100 miles of our position.  Given the fact that we’ve been at sea for nearly a week, it’s unusual to have so many boats in a relatively tight area.

Twice a day I am in communication with about two dozen boats that are equipped with SSB long range radios and it’s fun to hear what they are up to.   Most of the boats are doing fine but a few days ago one boat was struck by lightening and had to divert to Bermuda because their electronics were nearly all ruined.  On my last run south, two years ago, another boat lost their electronics and two others experienced structural damage.

The constant movement and large loads on equipment means that things can break, and they do.   That reality explains why I tend to spend so much time and energy, not to mention dollars, on keeping Pandora in top shape.   Broken stuff can surely ruin your whole day, especially when you are over 600 miles from the closest land, as we are now.  Come to think of it, it’s the farthest from land I have ever been, if you don’t count flying on a passenger jet.  Trust me, this is different and a lot more sweaty.

I have written about the recent addition of a Hydrovane wind vane steering system last month and have been largely silent on the subject since leaving.   My silence was because it wasn’t working particularly well and I found myself wondering if it was a waste of money and a big effort for nothing.

However, after tinkering with it for several days, I am happy to report that it steers remarkably well and given the fact that it has only a few moving parts, no electronics and uses no power, I have to say that it (she?) is proving to be the most reliable crew member yet.

It’s pretty amazing how easy it is to set and modify a course and as the wind direction changes, even slightly, she adjusts and keeps us moving along without a complaint.   I am told that just about everyone that has one of these ends up giving “her” a name and given my history with Brenda, she will have to decide what our new crew member should be called.

So, here we are, having the best day of sailing yet under a sparkling clear tropical sky and near perfect conditions that follows the worst night yet on this trip.   As the say, “what a difference a day makes”.  Here’s hoping that I haven’t jinxed the good sailing.

Brenda arrives in Antigua on Wednesday evening and I am beginning to accept the fact that I won’t be there to greet her as I doubt that I will arrive before Thursdsay.  At the very least, I have alerted Astrid at the Admiral’s Inn to expect her to arrive unannounced and to have a room ready for her.  I also asked her not to treat Brenda too well as I’ll never be able to pry her loose and move aboard Pandora.

So, the question remains, when will we arrive in Antigua and given the ups and downs of the last few days, I guess the answer is “I have no idea.”  However, for the moment, things are going well.
Let’s hope that things keep going well.  That’s what’s supposed to happen when it’s good?  Right?

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