Greetings from the middle of the trip, where the winds don't seem to have seen the forecast.
We are less than 30 nm south of the equator at the moment, so this is quite likely our last letter from the Southern Hemisphere :)
We thought we had sailed into the bigger winds yesterday morning, when we had up to 10 kts. Victoria baked bread (white only, as it turned out that even in vacuum bags, our whole wheat flour did not appreciate its long sojourn in our cupboard) and it seemed like we were making good progress.
We celebrated in the afternoon that we were more than half-way from Fiji in our usual Fluenta style with a sunset bag of chips. Dinner was 'mahimahi alfredo' with the last of the previous day's mahimahi (a nice change from fish and rice) in a building sea, and again it seemed like we were into the wind, battening down for squalls overnight.
We slowed down just before sunset to let a big squall move ahead of us. By after dinner, the squall had passed, the sun had set, and the evening was very dark: the glory days of the waxing moon from early in our trip have made way for the dark nights of the waning moon, which is now not making its presence felt until well after midnight.
As I was settling into my watch with calm seas and light wind, a dark shadow moved in beside and front of me. It was amorphous and didn't seem to have the defined shape of a typical squall, so I didn't think much of it. Next thing I knew, I had 16 kts of wind, rain, and shifting winds that clocked around from every direction. Each time I looked at the radar, the picture looked the same: a big splotch of colour was sitting on top of us, and not moving off very fast.
Somehow, this squall set the conditions for the next 24 hours. Even post-squall when the wind dropped, and I motored in search of the prevailing (forecast) winds, we could not find consistent conditions; at one point I watched the wind clock around 270 deg on the compass before wandering back.
We weren't the only creatures confused by the weather: when Johnathan and I were reefing the genoa in the pouring rain, we heard a thunk then a squawk, then I shone my light on the back deck and a little black and white bird had fallen to join us. A group of birds had been circling our sails calling to each other in the dark (it sounded like they were commenting on this funny sea creature they had stumbled across, or it could have just been complaints that we weren't throwing fish bits over the side). Our little friend spent today on the back deck, nursing a drooping wing, and watching the goings on with interest. Johnathan has been our resident vet, moving him to safety when he wanders out into the area of the active lines and offering some of our leftover fish (which he hasn't eaten). I'm not sure what we will do if it is still aboard when we arrive to clear in, and I am hopeful that a few days of R&R will be just what the Dr ordered to restore the wing to full operation.
We had another reminder that we are not alone in the ocean this morning: a pod of dolphins swam by mid-morning. They were clearly on their way somewhere, because they did not stop to play or say hello. They were purposeful in their movements and moved past the boat without any interaction or acknowledgement.
Max spent most of his afternoon watch alternating between motoring and sailing. He and the kids put up our spinnaker pole to give the collapsing genoa some structure, and this helped us make some progress. It shows how deeply asleep I was during my off-watch that I was completely oblivious to these on-deck maneuvers!
We had another suppertime squall tonight, but this one gave us a push with winds into the teens for about three hours. It hovered off our stern and literally pushed us forward. After it finally passed, we have had winds from the south for much of this evening (putting our destination pretty much dead downwind) so having mounted the pole for the genoa this afternoon, and are moving along wing on wing at the moment. The winds continue to be changeable, so as soon as we get set on one course, it seems like it is time to gybe to a different one. I am finding that it takes a lot of judgment to know when the winds are about to change back to what they were and when they have clocked to a new direction and the sails need to be adjusted accordingly. It strikes me that there is some kind of life lesson in these reflections as well :)
I have commented a lot on the brightness of the sky when we have been sailing under the full moon. The last two nights have offered a little of the opposite perspective. It is almost as if a grey wool blanket has been settled over the sky just above us: the darkness is deep and complete. Without the moon, there is almost no variation in the clouds, and with the thick cloud cover, there are hardly any stars. There are no other lights around, so we are engulfed and enfolded in shades of black and grey. It is always a relief when the moon starts to make its presence known!
Max does a lot of the sail changes, often on his own, but I was very proud today that both Victoria and Johnathan helped me with gybing when Max was off-watch. In the pouring rain, Victoria and I rigged the 'big preventer' (for this first time this passage) this morning and set up the main to run deep downwind. This evening, in the pitch dark, and the rain, Johnathan and I gybed the boat when the wind veered and became unfavourable on our current course. (The good think about these warm air temperatures is that a little rain just cools us down; later in the year we will have to be more disciplined about keeping dry). Ironically, by the time we had completed the change, the wind had begun to back around again, but with a bit of patience, the new course proved the better one. It is times like these that a crystal ball would come in handy! As it turned out, the wind on this new course eventually settled down and gave us the first steady progress towards Majuro that we have had in ages: once the wind clocked around to the South, it stayed there all night. It turns out that it was a good call to gybe when Johnathan and I did :)
We remain hopeful that the winds will be as forecast tomorrow, and we will be able to sail all the way to Majuro.
Love to all,
At 2018-12-26 1:56 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 00°09.42'S 175°24.90'E
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