After a lovely, but quick, Christmas at anchor in Tuvalu, we stowed all the presents and decorations and set off for the Marshall Islands on the morning of Boxing Day. "Monsoon Westerlies" are expected in the area next week, and it was surreal to think that the area around Funafuti, where we had a sea of glass and less than 5 kts of wind, could see 25-35 kts westerlies and heavy rain for a week or more.
The days have been idyllic: sunshine, light wind (some motoring, some sailing), making water, taking showers. We caught a mahimahi on both days, so dinner tonight was rice and fish, which was perhaps a nice change from the Christmas roast and leftovers that have made up the previous meals. The temperatures are climbing as we head for the equator - we saw 34 deg in the cabin, and over 32 deg sea temp today.
Last night, on the other hand, was an endurance event, both physically and mentally. We spent the evening sailing very slowly, with winds around 6 kts, close reaching. We began seeing lightning well before midnight, and numerous squalls broke into Max's off-watch as I needed him to come to the cockpit. At one point, we encountered a mass of squall activity that stretched for miles: no matter how we looked at the radar picture (which was literally a picture - I snapped photos of our radar screen at the chart table to show Max in the cockpit) there was no obvious way out to clear skies. I had just been contemplating starting the engine as the wind had dropped off, when we went under the dark cloud and the wind went from 6 kts (barely enough to sail) to the mid-20s in short order. Soon, Max was reefing the main and I was furling the genoa, in an effort to reduce our sail area as quickly as we could.
The wind and rain made things interesting, but they didn't test our nerves the way the lightning did. I found myself developing a new, and visceral, appreciation for folks who have lived in a bomb zone: lightning was flashing all around us, and there was no way to know whether it would get close enough to strike us. Each flash that I saw caused an instinctive startle reflex. Rationally, I knew that no matter how close they seemed (bright enough at times to dazzle my night sight) with a count of 15 second as the nearest roll of thunder, they were still some distance from us; however, emotionally, my nerves were jolted with each strike. Just when I was thinking that I hadn't seen any lightning in a while, a massive, jagged horizontal flash lit up the two clouds beside me, looking for all the world like a drooping electrical wire between two poles in a kids' cartoon. Yikes. Not over yet, I guess! Needless to say, once the lightning was close enough that we were hearing thunder, we put the laptop in the oven with the rest of the hand-held devices that were already there and unplugged our Iridium GO, all in the hope of minimizing damage in the case of a lightning strike.
In general, squalls will move with the wind (ie they go from upwind to downwind) but at one point, we had such a windshift that upwind became downwind so it was hard to tell which way the clouds would go! After a 100-degree windshift, we found ourselves sailing due East with wind out of the North. Even though it might have been a temporary situation due to the cloud above us, we decided to tack to maintain a better course (and to maneuver away from the darkest mass of clouds), even if we had to tack back in a few minutes. As it turned out, that wind stayed strong steady for at least an hour, so it was a good decision.
The after-supper person (ideally me) is usually on watch until about 2am, at which point they wake the other, who has by then (ideally) had 5-6 hours of sleep, and is ready to stay awake through the rest of the night. Being the first night on passage, last night was not exactly ideal. Dinner and Benjamin's bedtime both took longer than usual, so by the time I was ready to relieve Max and take the watch it was already about 10:30. The squalls started by midnight, and they kept needing both of us to either react or make decisions, which meant that Max spent most of his off-watch in the cockpit (sometimes for just a few minutes, and once for over an hour). With such a broken off watch, it was 4:30 this morning before I shook Max to come and stay in the cockpit.
This morning, Max and Victoria were preparing for a (generally rare) morning squall when they noticed a massive bait ball of fish near the boat. This in itself is unusual and the situation was made more unusual when they saw the tell-tale 'puff' from a whale: some kind of large whale was fishing next to us! This is one of the random ocean encounters that we hope for, but rarely see.
The kids have spent their time reading, playing video games, and knitting. This afternoon, I woke to see them 'tripling' on the couch, which I find to be one of the loveliest sights to behold: all three kids are engaged and playing cooperatively together, despite a 10-year age gap, with three blond heads lined up on the port bench.
The morning clouds cleared away, and the afternoon was sunny. By supper time, the sea was so smooth (<2kts wind) that it looked like molten glass rolling by us. After one squall at 10pm, where Johnathan helped by closing all the windows and hatches downstairs, I have spent my (much more typical) evening watch bracing for bad weather, but actually enjoying a clear and cloudless sky. We are expecting the wind to fill in my mid-day tomorrow, but for now we are motoring with about 3 kts of wind, without a squall in sight (the 12nm radar picture is clear). What a difference a day makes!
Much love to all,
At 2018-12-26 2:35 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 04°59.03'S 178°32.55'E
Sent via SailMail, http://www.sailmail.com