Thursday, 18 July 2019

Marshalls to Alaska Day 26: Sunday again ... and LANDFALL Dutch Harbor



Not in the tropics anymore ...

Greetings!

This will be our last 'on passage' update for a while: Fluenta docked in the wee hours of day 27 at Dutch Harbor Alaska (0500 Majuro time 16 July 19 / 0900 Alaska time 15 Jul 19).

You may have noticed that we sailed steadily from 171 deg E to 166 deg W without ever mentioning that we crossed the date line.  We crossed 180 deg longitude a few days before the end of the trip, when the weather was getting challenging and no one was very interested in celebrating, so we decided to keep things simple for the remainder of the passage and just stay on "Fluenta Local" time (GMT +12) which kept all the math and calculations for weather and watch rotations easy and consistent.  This meant that we needed to go back in time and 'lose a day' as we came towards Dutch Harbor, so what better day to repeat than Sunday, with its promise of juice and bacon! 

As it turned out, having cooked a big brunch on one day, I didn't much feel like doing the same again the next day, so we just played Sunday Music and reminded ourselves all day that it was Sunday instead. The currents were strong and in our favour, so even when the wind was very light, we made good progress.  We had a combination of motoring (ie warm boat) and light air sailing (ie silently gliding).  After several weeks of off-shore conditions, it was surreal to be in the flat calm.  The watermaker was running with the engine, so we had plentiful water, which meant the luxury of hot showers all around.  We had single-digit winds but 3 kts of current, so we were doing 3.7 through the water and over 6 kts over ground.

It was powerful, almost visceral, to come upstairs on Sunday morning and to see the height and breadth of the nearly 7000 ft glacier-capped hills that were sliding by, barely 3 nm away.  To our right we had the immediate view of Umnak Island and to our left we had an active volcano belching out smoke and ash into the cloud layer.  The sky was grey and heavy, as it had been for most of the previous week, so the brilliant greens that blanketed the island were especially vivid.  Johnathan was using the binoculars to look for waterfalls, teaching Benjamin to look through them and use the internal compass.  I had somehow been expecting bare granite (which I think is more to be found towards the western end of the Aleutians), so I wasn't prepared for the beauty and vibrancy before my eyes; there are so few shades of green and no elevation in the atolls!  When Benjamin had woken up and seen snow at the top of the mountains, he was disappointed that he couldn't stop and touch it: "All my life I have wanted to see snow" he told Max :) 

There was a lightheartedness to the atmosphere aboard Fluenta all day.  We had completed the hardest part of the journey, and we simply needed to stay the course (and keep paying attention) until we docked.  We regularly remind ourselves that 'we are not there until we get there' so we stay vigilant.  Victoria made pizza for supper, using our last two packages of sliced meat and plenty of cheese.

We had our friends on Sweet Dreams to thank for our dessert: just before we left, they arranged a care package of items for Fluenta, and as a surprise included some Skittles and some Jolly Ranchers for the kids.  After spending two months together, they knew these candies were well-loved but unavailable in Majuro.  The Jolly Ranchers have been carefully distributed at some of our milestone events on passage, but the Skittles had been untouched.  For dessert, we finally opened one treasured bag, and everyone received a tiny handful.  The kids are very good at savouring their treats, while making sure that Mom doesn't keep things so long that they spoil!

My night watch after dinner had a specific goal: to get us to Dutch Harbor at precisely the right time, not too early and not too late.  We had about 20 nm to go, and I had 5-6 hours.  The likelihood was that the wind would die as I came around the last headland before Dutch Harbor, so I would sail for a while and then motor the last stretch.  As it turned out, I had just enough wind to keep the sails from slatting on a deep broad reach, and we ghosted along at 2-3 kts for almost the entire night.  Just when I thought I would have to start the engine, the wind rebounded from its 3 kt low (1.9 kts of boat speed) and built back up to 12 kts.  We arrived at the outer harbour as dawn was lightening the horizon, so Max took the watch and jibed gently back and forth until it time to call the Harbor Master.  The kids woke on cue, so while I dozed in my bunk, they all got out lines and fenders and readied the upper decks for docking.



Docklines ! What !

The first thing everyone noticed when they looked around Dutch Harbor in the daylight was all the bald eagles!  They seemed to be sitting on every tree, post and surface that we motored by.  As we entered the small boat harbour, there was even an eagle guarding a massive nest (made with branches and old rope) at the top of the navigational buoy.  We started to feel like we had signed up for a guided tour when we started seeing sea otters.  The kids had seen a few during the day on Sunday, and we saw several as we entered the outer harbour.  Just like on the nature documentaries we had loved as kids, we could hear them noisily opening their food with rocks.  The closest one showed up in time for docking: startled from his breakfast, he dove under our bow as we approached the dock.  We had hardly been in Alaska 24 hours, and we had already seen volcanoes, a whale, bald eagles, and sea otters!

Docking can sometimes be one of the most stressful times in a passage.  After 3,000 nm, it all comes down to putting Fluenta in exactly the right position with only a few feet to spare.  We were given a spot on a long dock, with a fishing boat to one end of us and the bow of another sailboat facing us at the other and a gap just long enough for Fluenta in between.  The wind was negligible, but was blowing us slightly off the dock, which meant that Max made a steep approach, and the kids and I were to step off as soon as we were close enough (but without any heroics!) and get the lines secured.  It went off without a hitch.  Seven years after leaving Anacortes with two small children who had to be kept downstairs during such maneuvers, we made our first docking in North America with two teenagers who could take the bow and stern lines while I stepped ashore with the center line (and a five year old who stayed downstairs!).  Fluenta glided into position, we each got our lines into place, and without a raised voice to be heard, we were secured with room to spare.  Job done.

It is sometimes said about parenting that the hours are long but the years are short.  Similarly, as we sailed from Majuro to Dutch Harbor, the watches sometimes seemed long (and cold) but the passage now feels short.  Having crept up the latitudes along the Mexican coast, we flew by the latitudes where special people at home live (Oregon ... Ontario ... Nova Scotia ... British Columbia) all in the space of a few days.  It was fun to have people at home being parallel to us, but we didn't have much capacity to stop for contemplation at the time!  Before we knew it, we were further north than anyone we knew, and we were carefully following our route around the Aleutian Islands to our destination. 

Entering Dutch Harbour

Everything we had read about Dutch Harbor had suggested that the welcome here would be warm and friendly, and that has certainly been our experience.  We expected to be alone on the dock, but found that there were already three cruising boats here, so we felt immediately at home and part of a community: before the end of the day, the kids had been invited to go for a blueberry-picking hike (apparently is wise to go here and now: it is safe in the blueberry patches around Dutch Harbor as there are no bears in the Aleutians, unlike spots further east in Alaska).  To top it off, in the best kind of small-world cruiser serendipity, dear friends whom we hadn't seen since NZ (over a year and almost 6,000 nm ago), tied up beside us the next day, so our kids have an instant social circle.

For those who love statistics, here are some numbers:

Direct distance (Majuro to Dutch Harbor) - 3004 nm
Miles traveled - 3782 nm
Avg speed 5.5 kts
Days sailing from Rongerik to Dutch Harbor - 24 days 16 hours
Days sailing from Majuro - 26 days 10 hours total
Total Engine hours - 104 hrs
Engine hrs for heating - approx 5 hrs
Engine hrs for charging - negligible (once or twice)
Fuel used - approx 50%
Bags of Milestone Chips for the 500's - 5
Starting sea temp - 30 deg C
Current sea temp - 9 deg C
Maximum sustained winds: 29 kts
Minimum sustained winds: 0.9 kts
Time drifting: one night
Significant maintenance issues - 3 (torn spinnaker [we have a spare], vang gas cylinder [can use the topping lift instead], fractured vang end piece [lashed together with dynmea line]; we also re-stitched much of our rain enclosure and some non-essential electronics failed)

We made a list of our hopes for the passage before we left Rongerik.  I am grateful to say that I was able to check off all the items after we docked.  This was our list: no gales; motor little and have enough diesel; calm period to cook NZ steaks; arrive in time to have a nice visit at Prince William Sound; surprisingly good weather.  We spent over a month with no one to socialize with but one another, and we are all still on speaking terms; in fact, our teamwork and skills are stronger than they were before we left.  We have had a good trip.

Thanks as ever for your love and good wishes as we crossed such a vast stretch of the Pacific Ocean.  We are grateful for your support and emails, and are glad that we had the technology for you to vicariously travel along with us!

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 9:51 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 33°20.87'N 166°42.48'E

Monday, 15 July 2019

Marshalls to Alaska Day 25 - Through the Samalga Pass


Land !
Greetings,

This is our last 'blue water' day for a while :) We spent the day closing in on the Samalga Pass on a broad reach with calm seas and good conditions, and passed from the Pacific into the Bering Sea shortly after midnight 'Fluenta local' time.

More land !!


It was Sunday on board, so after a quiet morning watch (singing, reading, playing video games, knitting) I braced myself in the galley (port tack means that everything slides off the counter) and prepared bacon, eggs, and pancakes. One of the items I forgot to re-provision in Majuro (after our trading exchange in Ailuk) was baking powder, and we have been stretching a half-can throughout the entire trip. We still have a little left for tomorrow (and we have used a lot of baking soda / vinegar in the meantime)! I cooked the bacon in the oven so I would have an excuse to turn it on :) A fresh bottle of juice and our "Sunday Music" playlist completed our nod to the day.

and lots of kelp to watch out for.

Things were a little more exciting in the afternoon. Eagle-eyed Johnathan noticed a little piece of metal on the deck. It turned out to be a stress-fractured piece of cast aluminum from the end of our boom vang. He and Max cranked down on the mainsheet to take the tension off it, and then they lashed dyneema line through a tang in the boom to a gap in the top of the vang to hold the two together tightly. This takes most of the load now and helps protect the remaining side of the vang end where it secures to the clevis pin connection to the boom. Ironically, Max had just sent an email to the manufacturer, Selden, regarding the broken gas strut, and now we will follow up with an order for a replacement end fitting! [For old times sake I was tempted to wrap it in some duct tape too. In 2011 I did a race to Bermuda and on the first day out the boom came apart. There was a lot of work to get the program to the point of starting this race so we were not turning back. I was able to lash it back into place as the extrusion had sheered its rivets and fell off the casting at the gooseneck. We then added some bolts to act as pins. Lacking a tap and die set we then duct taped the bolts in place so they did not fall out. When we got to Bermuda we were famous with the posh boats - which was most of them - as the boat with the boom held on with duct tape. Max] As with many maintenance issues, we were simply grateful that this happened during the last few miles of the trip, and not when we were just starting out with 3,000 nm to go.

Not much you cannot fix with dynmea line !  This was the "at sea" first version of the jury rig.  The next one worked for over two months until I could get the right part.


The winds picked up a little in the afternoon, so we had consistent boat speeds in the 7-8 kt range - it was almost as if the weather and Fluenta were working together to deliver us to Alaska :)

Dinner tonight used the last of my canned (jarred) beef: peppered beef in cream (condensed milk) sauce on (instant) mashed potatoes. This was literally a 'meat & potatoes meal' (unless onion counts as a vegetable serving): we will have to eat extra fruit tomorrow, as there seemed to be no more cans of vegetables in the ready-access cupboard when it was time to cook (although I'm pretty sure I have more in deeper storage).

Johnathan and I stood the evening watch as we moved ever-closer to the Samalga Pass, and then he and I sailed the boat through the pass, following the route that Max had prepared. Conditions were foggy but calm. The wind dropped over the last hour as we approached, and we kept expecting to start our engine, but we maintained enough boat speed that we could continue to sail. We anticipated finding a wind shadow from the volcanic hills to the west of us, but we actually managed to sail right into the Bering Sea. The current (1.5 kts) was pushing us, so even when the wind dropped a bit, we continued making good speed. It was extraordinary, after so much vigorous sailing in off-shore conditions, to be gliding along almost silently in the calm water. The only sounds came from the gentle 'shush' of the hull on the water and the chattering of some of the sea birds who seemed quite worked up about our presence. The only way to know that we were near land was to see it on the radar or the chart; we had no visibility of the shore on either side. Eventually, the winds did drop off as expected, so Johnathan and I reluctantly furled the genoa and started the engine, but it was lovely while it lasted.

We have about 150 nm remaining until we arrive in Dutch Harbor. We expect the wind to pick up again in the morning, so we hope to sail most of the remaining distance.

Thanks for all your emails and good wishes while we have been underway. We look forward to reconnecting with more bandwidth in only a few more days!

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 2:02 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 53°44.05'N 167°47.67'W

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Marshalls to Alaska Day 24: Warm and Toasty in the Cold and Grey

Greetings,

Today was another cold and grey day. The weather doesn't really need much of a mention, as it has been some form of grey seas and grey skies for days; however, it was nice that last night's wind had abated and we had a calmer downwind day. By afternoon the seas had eased so we could even point at Dutch Harbor again :)



The highlight of my morning was running the engine for 1 1/2 hours to warm the boat and provide hot water for dishes. I recently realized that, although I have been describing our practice as 'washing dishes in cold water' for the years that we were cruising in the tropics, this was entirely an overstatement - we washed dishes in room temperature (25-30 deg) water! Now that we have been reminded what cold water feels really like, we don't wash dishes as much in cold water anymore :) It is such a luxury to have hot water for this purpose!

We have reached the point in the passage where we could motor to land if we had to (e.g. in the case of a rig failure) so we can be a little more generous with our diesel usage than we were previously. Back in the doldrums, we calculated a portion for those light winds, a portion for the end of the passage, and a portion for our furnace. We have a plug stuck into the exhaust outlet of the furnace to prevent waves from slamming seawater up the pipes (and we have had some doozies along the way), so given that we are only a few days out from Dutch Harbor, and that even without the plug to remove the heater doesn't always work on the first go, it seems to me that it is simpler while we are on passage just to run the engine for the hour or so each day that we need heat. Benjamin keeps telling me that he likes the cold (while running around in bare feet no matter how many times I put wool socks on him) but I do find it chilly, and I am grateful every day for the heat exchanger on our engine!

The evening watch tonight was even calmer than the day watch: we had 10-12 kts of wind for most of it, so I could put the autopilot into 'wind navigate' and it kept us on a beam reach pointing at Umnak Pass for almost my entire watch. When the winds dropped below 10 kts and backed towards a broad reach, I put us on wind hold rather than wake Max during his off-watch to raise the rest of the main sail. Two hours of sailing 15 deg off-course is worth it to give the off-watch person their full sleep! As it turned out, I had 13 kts again before long, so I was doubly glad that I hadn't woken him up!

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 4:36 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 53°07.30'N 169°01.58'W

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Sunday, 14 July 2019

Marshalls to Alaska Day 23: Galloping to the Barn

Looking like I could use some sleep (and a shave)
Greetings,

Fluenta is galloping for Dutch Harbor.

Once the winds veered to the SW in the morning, they stayed steady in the 20-25 kt range all day, which gave us the downwind push along our course. Victoria took the morning watch, which was lovely as it meant both parents could sleep!

The motion of the boat in the downwind swell was powerful. When I looked around as we enjoyed our 500-nm-to-go chips in the afternoon, I was reminded of the big pods of dolphins that we have seen over the years. Numbering in their hundreds, they always have a sense of purpose to them, a sense that they are urgently going where they are going without stopping to play. The waves around us this afternoon had a similar purposeful feel to them, and Fluenta was charging along right in the thick of them, surging to 8 (and sometimes 10) kts as each wave picked us up. It felt like we were part of the movement of the ocean, and that we were all bound for Alaska.

The albatrosses kept us entertained.


While we enjoyed our chips (in a far more bundled up state than some of the earlier milestones!) we talked about what everyone is looking forward to in Alaska. On the top of our lists were bears, sea otters, glaciers, bald eagles, and icebergs (but not too close!). It is hard to believe we will be in that world in a few days.

After I went off-watch, Max and the kids had another science discussion. Given that we were surrounded by fog, they talked about dew points, humidity, why we see our breath, and how hail clouds form. We don't have to look far to find ourselves surrounded by school subjects!

We haven't seen a lot of traffic on our crossing, and most of it has been at quiet a distance, but today we had an AIS contact that, from the time it showed up on our screen (at over 30 nm away), looked like it would come within less than a mile of us (or 8 nm away, depending on how we were rolling). Three hours later when we got closer, Max called the ship to de-conflict our courses and to make sure that we were seen. The watch officer was very polite, acknowledged that he could see us on AIS or RADAR ("Oh, there you are, off my starboard bow") and then told Max that he considered himself to be the stand-on vessel, and would be maintaining his course and speed. Despite the temptation to ask whether he was constrained by draught, not under command, or fishing (the usual reasons a powered vessel would have right of way over a sailboat), in the end we decided that our CPA was such that neither vessel needed to alter course, and it was a non-issue. It just gave us a chuckle to share the story later.

and the ships kept us on our toes.


I spent my night watch, as has become my norm, bundled up in the cockpit. With a hot water bottle in my lap, a heat reflective tarp wrapped around me, and multiple layers of thermals and fleece under my foulies, I was finally comfortable! Johnathan was reading beside me in far fewer layers, so clearly I am the least robust in the cold. The wind was steady in the 23-25 kt range. It was extraordinary to feel the power of the boat and the waves as we surged along our course; we weren't overpowered, we were just strong and fast and steady. Rather than picking up the stern and moving it back and forth the waves were just pushing us along. I found myself fixated on the boat speed: 7 kts, 8 kts, 9 kts (!) 10 kts - yikes - time to reef! Other than reefing the genoa twice, I didn't have to touch the sails or change course. We just charged along in the dark towards our destination.

So here we are, broad reaching, with two reefs in the main and a tiny genoa, surfing down the waves at 8+ kts, and galloping towards Dutch Harbor. We are grateful that Fluenta is a sturdy and solid boat that seems to enjoy these conditions. We will all be glad to arrive, but given the wind strength and sea state, this has been a surprisingly pleasant day.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 6:10 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 50°47.76'N 169°45.13'W

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Saturday, 13 July 2019

Marshalls to Alaska Day 22 - Hard work

On passage I normally sleep in the saloon so I am close to the cockpit if required.  Here I am sleeping dreaming of kiteboarding ...
Greetings,

Day 22 was hard work.

I woke to the sound of the genoa being reefed, then reefed, then reefed again. The winds which had been extraordinarily steady all night were building towards the end of Max's watch, right on schedule.

Sometimes the simplest thing to do at a watch handover in building winds is to change sails, so we decided to hoist the staysail rather than to continue reefing the genoa. Max, Victoria, and I have this down to a pretty slick process now: we turn deep downwind to minimize the waves sluicing over the foredeck, Max goes forward to secure the halyard to the sail and remove the sail ties, Victoria takes up slack on the halyard while Max hoists it at the mast, and I control the sheet tension. Once Max has the sail pretty much at the top, Victoria puts more wraps on the winch in the cockpit and grinds it up the rest of the way. Before you know it, we are turning back on our course and the waves are coming over the bow again.

The seas had been quite benign, but they built through the morning; conditions were such that I felt more comfortable being in the cockpit rather than the galley, so I suggested that Victoria (the usual morning watch stander) play with Benjamin, although truth be told, she probably would have been fine :)

And the quilt keeps growing

By late morning, we were doing 8.2 kts through the water! This is fast, especially with the wind forward of the beam. I made so much noise with the sheets and traveller trying to spill some of the wind that Max came up from his bunk and we reefed the main instead; this proved to be the opportune moment for a watch change, and I headed to the galley to see what was for lunch (leftover meat pies and instant ramen noodle bowls - I stocked up on these before the passage, but we hadn't needed to break into the stash until now). As we plowed through the waves, we commented once again on how glad we were that we went to the effort to move our anchor down below to the V-Berth floor: it would be acting as a scoop each time the bow dipped below the surface.

We had a half-dozen large potatoes in our hammock that I had anticipated baking to warm cold hands at this stage in the passage, but they had so shrivelled in the two months since I provisioned, that I decided to make them into a stew instead. Knowing that I wouldn't feel much like peeling and chopping potatoes with the 'what's for dinner' question hanging over my head later in the afternoon, I braced myself against the kitchen counter and prepared them before I went off-watch. I felt quite proud of my (somewhat rare) forward planning! Dinner was then an easy question of cooking the potatoes and onions in their soaking water for a few minutes in the pressure cooker, releasing the pressure and dumping in two jars of the beef I canned (time to be generous with the meat because we are getting to the end of the trip, and I don't want to have more meat than days left), a can of corn and a can of kidney beans (the only things resembling vegetables in the can cupboard), and then floating some dumplings on top while the whole thing simmered for 20 min.

It is just as well I prepared the dinner at lunch time, because even though the wind clocked around behind us as it was predicted to do during the afternoon, it built to a much stronger force than had been forecast. We think that we were closer to the low that was moving (at 30 kts) NE. What started as close reaching turned to beam reaching, and then when the seas built, Max bore off for both comfort and safety, and we were broad reaching to running. The forecast winds were 20-22 and he had up to 28 kts.

The 2m waves were steep, and we were taking them on the quarter, which means that the stern was being picked up and turned sideways with each wave. Just before I went off-watch after lunch, I spent some time watching our inclinometer (usually I don't think to do this except in the dark at night, and it is the one instrument that is neither back lit nor glow in the dark). We were rolling to 20 deg every few seconds, and then lurching to 35 deg every minute or so. Conditions were such that I thought the best place for the three kids to lay low on the aft bunk, and I elected to sleep on the starboard bench. What I didn't consider when I suggested this was the worry factor of trying to sleep below a cupboard full of heavy gear: the starboard bench was on the high side, and each time we rolled, the only thing keeping our sailing supplies off of me was the (perfectly adequate, but you never know) latch and the screws holding the door to the frame. The fact that Max has slept there most nights without incident was not sufficiently comforting! Eventually, after Max bore off, I did sleep for a short while.

We watched the barometer all afternoon in the hopes of seeing the pressure bottom out and begin to rise again. Eventually, we realized that the low was taking a slightly different path than had been predicted, and the pressure would likely keep falling well into the evening. After years in the tropics where the pressure varies diurnally but not really with the weather, it was fun to get the kids involved in watching it change.

Everyone was happy with the hot stew for supper, especially Max who had been in the chilly cockpit for much of the time since before lunch! Thankfully, he had seen the worst of the winds, and they moderated and veered throughout my watch to the point that we shook out a reef in the main around 2am. Soon I was reaching in only 13-14 kts, and I actually pulled out some genoa in addition to the staysail to boost our speed.

You may have noticed that sail changes are actually few and far between, which means that my night watch is often just that, a 'watch'. Thanks to Max's research and engineering (and no lack of blood, sweat, and tears), our cockpit is well-equipped for data, and I spend most of my time sitting in one place and watching displays that show wind speed, wind direction, wind angle, boat speed, course over ground, speed over ground, etc, etc, and try to tell myself that 11 deg is not actually that cold. I turned to the old-fashioned solution last night: I filled a hot water bottle and sat with that in my lap for the second half of my watch :) I was much warmer after we had shaken the reef out of the main, and I realized how much comfort depends on conditions: on a watch with lots of sail changes and reefing, I don't have the chance to get cold! [As for the hot water bottles, we ordered them as a group on-line, and they each arrived individually at Majuro, so we spent a lot of time tracking packages. It is nice to put them to use!]

All of these conditions are pretty much to be expected in this segment of the passage. We have escaped the worst of the weather brought on by the lows with our jog to the east last weekend. Everyone is in surprisingly good spirits, and we are glad that we are generally pointing in the direction of Dutch Harbor.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 6:18 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 49°44.83'N 170°12.10'W

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Marshalls to Alaska Day 18: Less than 1000 nm to go!

[Somehow this blog post from a few days ago did not get released. I have released it out of order now and when we get back to the world of internet I will put it back into the correct order. Glad it is really 297nm to go not 1000 anymore. Max]

Less than 1000nm to go.

Greetings,

Our dinnertime dolphins came back again tonight :) Max was watching some of the bigger waves go by and three dolphins appeared out of one of them beside Fluenta. They played for a few minutes, then they were on their way. The dolphins we are seeing seem to be the Pacific White-Sided Dolphin, distinguishable by a pale triangle on their dorsal fin.

We never get tired of seeing dolphins.

Our winds today have been in the 20 kt range, and the seas have been moderate but building. What this means is that we have no particular reason to complain (lots of people go through conditions which are much worse) but it is hard to cook or walk around downstairs: the boat is constantly rocking from side to side, with a bigger motion every few cycles as larger waves pass through, or the direction varies slightly. The contents of every cupboard sound like a percussion section warming up (regardless of how many tea towels I stuff in with the cups and pots). We always maintain a rule of 'one hand for the boat' but today it was especially important to brace and hang on. Of course, Benjamin loves to make a game of the boat's movements, so he would use the lurches to his advantage to cross the saloon and land on a cushion.

I spent some time thinking about perspective today: while downstairs in the galley or off-watch on the bunk, it is easy to make up a story, based on the boat's motion and the creaking and groaning of the wooden cabinetry, about how terrible conditions are up top, and yet when I go to the cockpit, it turns out that things are actually not that bad - the sun is out, the seas are manageable, and the boat is sailing just fine. It struck me that it wasn't just in sailing that we tell ourselves stories that turn out not to be true, and that it was important to check facts and assumptions when we get ourselves wound up.

Our miles to go counter ticked over to 999.9 at around lunch time, so we decided to celebrate with chips right away, on the off-chance that the conditions would build to the point that no one would feel like celebrating or eating chips later in the day. With 2/3 of our mileage covered, it was fun to ask everyone what their top three memories of the trip were - it was a bit surreal to reminisce about whales, calm seas, and reading on the foredeck while we had dark grey water surging and frothing around us. The sun came out for a while today, but the skies had filled into overcast by the evening.

I didn't feel much like cooking tonight, so it was nice to have a bottle of chicken and packet of 'Chicken Stew Spices' to throw together on top of a pot of rice. I have been using this trip as an excuse to use all the 'special occasion' foods that I bought along the way; when I checked the date on the spice packet, I figured that I had picked it up on NZ on our second trip there in 2016!

It is much more interesting to watch the miles to go counter now that we are past the 1,000 nm to go mark, as it is counting down in increments of 0.1 nm, which change so much more often than the miles! Our eastward jog has slowed our progress towards Dutch Harbour (VMG shows the component of our velocity towards our destination, and it hovers around 3 kts even when we are doing over 7 kts over ground) but this will improve again when we turn to head north. Our sea temperature, which had been dropping steadily has gone up again over the last couple of days; we are wondering if we are under the influence of some kind of warming current. We are expecting a cold front to move slowly over us tonight (with wind shift, cold air and rain), so we will check the forecast in the morning and hope to head north again tomorrow or the next day. We want to avoid this gale and its effects, but then we want to get going to Dutch Harbor so we are not too far east!

Love to all,
Elizabeh
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At 2019-07-01 2:12 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 41°13.00'N 176°34.00'W

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Friday, 12 July 2019

Marshalls to Alaska Day 21: Warm and toasty with the smell of baking bread



Greetings,

After motoring all day, the wind filled in after dinner and we started sailing. We found ourselves going faster under sail than with the engine :)

We have set a new standard RPM for the engine on this passage to conserve fuel, so it generally gives us just over 5 kts of boat speed. Sailing on a close reach in 10-12 kts in flat seas easily pushed us faster (6-8 kts of boat speed). When we would get to 8 kts, I would either turn a little downwind to slow down or reef the genoa if it became an extended period of time.

Today was another 'getting ready' day; we are expecting higher winds and bigger seas tomorrow, so we made extra food at dinnertime (Chicken with Spicy Peach sauce, from our well-loved copy of the Boat Galley cookbook given to Victoria by our friends on EXODUS when they flew home), and Victoria made bread this afternoon. The idea was for the bread to be available for quick eating tomorrow, but there is already half a loaf missing after dinner!



Our temperatures continue to drop. The sea temperature is now lower than our battery voltage on our chart plotter display (12.1 deg as compared to 12.6 V). The kids were excited to see their breath this afternoon.

The one maintenance job that needed to be done today was to tighten the 'leach line' on our main sail. This is a fine line that runs the length of the back of the sail and is tightened to manage the shape at the back or 'leach' of the sail depending on wind speed. It turns out that the only thing holding the line in place was a stopper knot at the edge of a 'button hole' in the sail. When we next see a sail maker, we will get a more sturdy mechanism (jam cleat?) put onto the sail. In the meantime, Max jury-rigged something that will get us to Dutch Harbor. I think I am glad that I was sleeping while this evolution happened, because he had to lower then boom and then stand on the dockbox to reach up to the back edge of the sail and haul down on the line to tighten it (all this while staying on board and not giving us a reason to practice our man-overboard drills [I was clipped in with my harness. Max]).

Given the calm conditions today, there was also time for reading books in the cockpit. This is a supposedly-typical-of-cruisers but rare-aboard-Fluenta event :) As for me, the book I am reading at present is "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", which we recently introduced to Benjamin. The kids and I are taking turns to read chapters aloud to him.

The nice thing about motoring for hours and hours is that it basically gives us free hot water and free boat heat. We ran our water maker most of the day, and since the batteries are pretty full anyway, we had plenty of power to make as much water as we needed. Because of the heat exchanger that we installed on our engine, the entire boat's heating system was at maximum, so the water was hot and there was plenty of it. We do a lot of projects that simply maintain (or restore) the status quo, but installing the heat exchanger was a definite improvement! It is so nice that the boat can be warm and dry when we are motoring.

Our AIS reminded us again that we are not alone out here, but we didn't need to worry much about the CPA - we were seeing contacts that were 90 nm away because of the propagation.

Johnathan spent some time chatting with me at the start of my watch (after he had gotten his brother settled for the night in his old new-to-Benjamin sleeping bag). With the seas being so flat, we enjoyed seeing bioluminescence moving by the boat. Instead of the showers of light that we have often seen from the motion of the boat landing into the waves, we were getting single intense points of light that would 'burn' for a few seconds and then disappear, kind of like candles floating by.

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned the starry skies much in the last few days. This is because we haven't seen them! Our skies have been pretty cloudy ever since we turned East to avoid the gale. I saw a clear patch last night just as I was going off watch. The moon has finally reappeared in the last couple of nights, but again, the sky has been so covered in clouds that it has been a rare companion on watch. I am glad that I got to look out at the stars so much in the early part of the passage!

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 3:13 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 47°36.09'N 173°30.95'W

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Wednesday, 10 July 2019

Marsalls to Alaska Day 20 - Things that go 'bump' in the day

 Greetings,

What a difference a day makes! This time last night, I was hanging on for dear life in the cockpit while my seat lifted and rolled and lurched in 3.8m seas and 25-30 kts of wind. Tonight I am eking out every last knot of boat speed that I can in 9-12 kts of wind and what seems like a flat sea (although we apparently still have 2m). Before too many more hours go by, the wind is expected to have dropped completely, and we will be motoring again (which will be nice from a cabin warmth perspective).

The seas were not so calm this morning when we felt a sudden jarring under the hull. It was followed in quick succession by two more 'bumps'. We are pretty sure we hit something, but with the sea state, we never did see what it might have been, despite having a good look at our wake. We still had the 3m waves and mixed swell from overnight. We did a quick check below, and didn't seem to be taking on water at the shaft, and didn't have water pouring into the bilge from somewhere up forward, the steering is fine but we will still have someone (Max) looking in the shaft compartment when we next start the engine [Note: The wind died and we gingerly started the engine at the end of my watch with Max looking into the steering compartment (familiar from his day spent removing the lift pump in Rongerik) and me on the helm, and the engine/propeller seem fine].

Comforting to have a solid, conservative designed hull shape to withstand bumps.  You can see how big the keel is in this photo from our last haulout.

And a beefy, skeg hung rudder.



After Max's off-watch ended abruptly with things going bump under the hull, he was right into the thick of things in the cockpit. I had two Japanese fishing boats on AIS, and a third boat (cargo ship) passing by. We were set to have a CPA (closest point of approach) with one of the fishing boats of anywhere from 2nm to 0.1nm, depending on how we were pointing in the waves. This was disconcerting, to say the least, especially as I hadn't been able to contact the boat via VHF. Since the 'what's for lunch' question was surfacing, I left Max to play chicken with the fishing fleet and headed to the galley. As time went on, more and more contacts came into view. Soon we were in the middle of a triangle of boats; the next thing I knew there were six contacts, and if we turned downwind to avoid one of them, we would be closer to one of the others. Victoria joined Max with the binos, and although we could eventually see one of the boats, we never did manage to reach them on the radio, even by calling direct using DSC. If they were fishing, we were the give-way vessel, so we simply gave way and carried on with our day. We all remarked at how much harder the encounter would have been before the days of AIS, because we would have hardly seen them; even with a bearing and distance, it was hard to pick the ships out of the swell.


Threading my way through the Japanese fishing fleet.

and then as I got closer even more ships in the formation appeared.

They are hard to see even in these good conditions and never responded to hails on the VHF either by voice or DSC.

When we were in Mexico, our sailmaker asked why we didn't have a gas strut in our boom vang. The gas strut would have made the vang put positive pressure on the boom, keeping it well up in the air and off the bimini without the use of a line called a topping lift. At that stage, it just hadn't made it to the top of our list to investigate, and we had just gotten used to using the topping lift as we had done with all the other boats we had sailed. For the five years since then, we have enjoyed the ease of having a gas strut in our boom vang - until today. At one point this morning, we realized that there was slack in the preventer/main sheet combination that hadn't been there before. When Max went on deck to investigate, he found that the boom vang was totally slack. I guess we have been cruising a long time when the 'new' gear that we installed has begun to fail! We will go back to using our topping lift for the rest of this passage, and see whether we can re-fill or replace our gas strut when we get to Alaska. The original strut was a heap of rust when Max took apart the vang in Mexico, but we are hopeful that the new strut will be in decent shape, and that we might even be able to re-fill it with gas in Alaska.

When my mom and dad visited us in Fiji last October, all the Fijians were fascinated by the 'stokini' my mom was knitting. Invariably, she had a crowd gathered around her watching in fascination as her fingers flew with fine yarn and four tiny needles. She had a pair of woolen socks in the works for each grandchild, two of which she left with us and one which came in a care package sent to Majuro. Now that the sea temperature has dropped again, and the cabin warmth provided by the engine is a distant memory, those socks have come out of the cupboard, and those grand-feet are toasty warm. Thanks Grammy!

We generally expect to run our engine or generator every few days at sea if the sun has not been shining. With all the wind we have had, our wind generator has been whirring away and keeping our batteries pretty happy, so we haven't had to turn to fossil fuel for charging for quite some time. Our wind generator has a tough time when we are close hauled on starboard tack (as we have been for much of this trip) because turbulent air off the sail gets directed to it, but now that we have been broad reaching in 20 kts, it has had plenty of clean wind. Given that it is providing power through a $20US rectifier, that we included in our spare parts order as an after-thought, we are pretty content! We ended up mailing back both of the expensive charge controllers that were sent when our original one overheated as they would not work with our wind generator.

The 'what's for dinner' question was answered with the least preparation time and the most oven heat today - we had some of the meat pies on which we stocked up leaving Fiji. We ordered several dozen pies as part of our frozen meat order from the butcher, and at the time I wasn't sure that they would even all fit in the freezer (they did, but I couldn't have added one more pie to the list!). Now we are down to an almost-empty freezer and the last couple of meals of meat pies. We will plan to have the last of them when the seas pick up again later in the week.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 2:18 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 43°13.14'N 175°32.40'W

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Marshalls to Alaska Day 19: Well that was a big wave!




Greetings!

Our laptop spent last night in the chart table, so I am composing the Day 19 update in a brightly lit saloon surrounded by people, which feels quite unusual.

We had an unwelcome guest in the cockpit last night in the form of a big wave that flooded the cockpit floor with 2-3" of water and splashed some of itself over the top of the companionway boards, down onto Max on the starboard bench and onto the chart table.

We were in 3-4 m seas and 25-28 kts of wind when the wave hit, but we hadn't had much water over the deck at all; however, once this one came aboard, we didn't take any more chances: the laptop was wiped down and stowed away! I spent the rest of the watch hardly needing to adjust the sails, but maintaining a constant vigilance and presence in the cockpit anyway. I was also glad that we maintain as standard practice to put the companionway boards across as soon as we head off-shore, or the mess downstairs would have been much worse.

My dad brought us some Nova Scotia Fishing gloves when he came to see us in NZ last year. I had started wearing some for warmth the day before yesterday, but they really came into their own when I had to coil all the soaking wet lines after the wave sloshed through the cockpit and made a soup of everything.

Now that you know the reason for the slight delay in correspondence, I will back up a little. By yesterday morning, we were in 3+ m seas and still heading East on a starboard tack to avoid the gale, but wind shifts were beginning to head us a little south. The cold front had passed with only a change in barometric pressure and some rain, but without the big gusts and squalls we had been bracing for. Shortly after noon, we decided to gybe onto a port tack to head closer to Dutch Harbor, as the weather maps were telling us that we would miss the worst of the wind and be in the same sea state.

Even in the big winds/seas our gybe went very smoothly, despite being a multi-step process. Johnathan was our on-watch kid, so he sheeted in the main while I let off the preventer. I then returned the port preventer pigtail to the boom (connected by a bungie on a hook to stay in place) and returned to the cockpit. With the main tightly sheeted and the vang very short, Max executed the turn from the helm and handled the genoa sheets. As the boom crossed to the new downwind side, Johnathan eased it out so there would be less shock loading on all the gear. Once the main was safely across, I clipped in on the starboard side and secured the pigtail to the preventer line with the soft-shackle that we have sewn to the end of the line, and we eased out the sheet and took up the slack on the preventer. We had a bit of a spiderweb of lines on the starboard side as we had a genoa sheet, a running sheet, genoa furler, and preventer all heading back to the cockpit. It sometimes takes a bit of doing to make sure that they all run through three-dimensional space without chafing on each other!

The boom "prevented" solidly forward.  This way, with vang pulling down (not seen in the photo), the sheet pulling aft and the preventer pulling forward the boom does not move.  Also, if we have an accidental gybe the boom should not go flying across the boat wreaking all sorts of havoc.

Somewhat of a crisscross of lines: The green line is the running sheet, the blue is the furling line and the red is the preventor plus you can see the flat strapping which is our new shiny jacklines (the safety line we clip into when outside of the cockpit) .  The slack black line at the top of the photo is our regular genoa sheet not loaded at this point as we are using the running sheet.

After several days of heading east, it felt so good to point at Dutch Harbor!! The boat motion was noticeably more comfortable when we turned, as we were at a better angle to the waves. As the seas built, and night was coming on, we made the decision to turn further downwind to a broad reach so that we would be taken the waves more on the stern than the beam; this was both safer and more comfortable for everyone overnight in the dark. The motion below was still pretty exaggerated (picture the room you are in swaying back and forth every 3-5 seconds, with a lurching lift thrown in every once in a while for good measure) but these conditions are easier to tolerate when the boat is going in the right direction!

Even in big seas, some maintenance just needs to happen right away. In this case, I had noticed a small gap between the zipper and the clear fabric in one of the rain enclosure panels, where some of the stitching had let go. After scratching my head for a minute as to how I could sew it while standing in place and hanging on for dear life (the math of one hand for the boat, one hand for the speedy stitcher, and one hand for the needle just didn't compute), I realized that I could just unzip it from the bimini and hold it on my lap. This struck me as thinking 'inside the box' (ie in the cockpit)! Gap sewn, I was ready to hang the panel when we noticed not one but three more areas where the thread was letting go, so down it came again. This time, Victoria took over the speedy stitcher, and I went to see about dinner. Oddly enough, her preference was to be in the fresh air of the cockpit sewing over being down in the galley! I was just glad to be in the warmth :) We had the entire rain enclosure re-stitched last year in NZ, but I think perhaps that panel was overlooked.

Rather a juggling act with everything trying to jump or slide off the counter or stove.

As I mentioned, I spent my night watch huddled in the cockpit with a keen eye on the combination of wind speed (averaging 25 kts but ok to 28 kts), boat speed (generally in the 7's but think about reefing if it heads into the 8's for any amount of time), and wind angle (set at 155 deg true, but inexplicably jumped to 168 deg when the big wave hit us, so I kept watching for it to do something squirrelly again); I also maintained a constant listening ear for the sound of the waves to be steady. As it turned out, I only had to reef the genoa a couple of times, and otherwise the sails stayed as they were at the beginning of my watch.

The kids elected to have a cozy movie night on the aft bunk, which I thought was much better use of Johnathan's time (keeping Benjamin company) than being on watch with me in the cold. When the wave came over the side, I was especially glad that he hadn't been lying on the bench beside me! With the seats wet, I found that the cold transferred much more through my foulie bottoms; I finally began to feel a little warmer only when I added another layer under my jacket, wrapped myself in a waterproof silver reflective tarp, and made a mug of hot chocolate! Of course, this is simply just a description of my reality, and not a complaint :) I am grateful that our boat sails so well in these conditions.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 4:40 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 42°26.76'N 175°57.40'W

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Sunday, 7 July 2019

Marshalls to Alaska Day 17: Gale Avoidance Tactics

Greetings,

When we look at our Predictwind software, it shows different colours for different wind strengths. In simple terms, green is good, red is windy, and black is bad. At one point, it looked like someone spilled a bottle of black ink on our rhumb line for Sunday. We set off on a NE course yesterday (Friday) to keep ourselves to the south of this mess, and subsequently after discussion with our weather router we decided to head due east instead, so we have been galloping along for most of the day at about 7-8 kts. It isn't doing much for our miles to go countdown, but we are glad to put some distance between ourselves and this gale.

The Predictwind Offshore software and the Iridium Go make planning so much easier as it shows not just the that weather is forecast by four different models but can predict where we will be based on each model (in sailing this is called "routing" [not that kind rooting you Australians]). In this example you can follow the green line - the GFS forecast - to see we would get some unpleasant weather by Wednesday.

In this case we have used a feature in Predictwind Offshore to provide guidance to the routing software to avoid winds and seas over a certain amount.  In this run of the software it has steered us on a more easterly course (follow the green line).  In reality we took a more conservative course and went almost due east to avoid the leftover swell before turning back towards Dutch Harbor.
We spent the morning stowing below decks and lashing on the upper decks. We made sure that the batteries were full, the water tanks were full, easy-to-eat food was prepared, foul weather clothing was at the ready, and engine and rig checks were completed. We are as ready as we can be for the weather to come, the worst of which we hope to have mitigated with our diversion to the East. We are still almost 200 nm to the west of our original rhumb line, so it is no hardship to have added some easting onto our track.

The weather fax from the Ocean Prediction Centre showing the gale.  To the south of it there is the usual weather fronts which mean, especially for the cold front (the line the pointy bits), gustiness usually in excess of what is shown by the GRIBS.
Before the wind picked up this afternoon, we had been motoring for about 18 hours. All the thermostats in the boat were set artificially high to keep our air units blasting and as much of the engine heat as we could in the boat. It was surreal to walk around in bare feet and tank tops downstairs while the others were huddled under blankets in the cockpit, but it was nice to give the boat a bit of an warm soak before we so another long stretch of sailing in dropping temperatures.

By the time I went off-watch after lunch, we were comfortably close reaching in 10-12 kts and a still-calm sea. I started playing "Who am I" as a diversion with Benjamin, and after the big kids joined in and I slipped away to the aft cabin, I could hear them still at it quite some time later, with great gales of laughter as they tried to pick the most obscure characters they could think of from the movies and cartoons they have seen. Having three kids in a confined space like this can be intense at times, but the moments of camaraderie and laughter certainly balance them out!

On his watch, Max had a small fleet of AIS fishing targets within range. This time it looked like a big boat, a couple of smaller boats, and some nets. They weren't nearly as close as the big tanker we passed on our 2nd or 3rd night at sea that came within two miles of us, enabling Max to hear their engines across the water! We like it better when the only evidence of traffic is our AIS display, but the ships are far enough that we can't see them on the horizon.

We continue to have albatrosses fishing near the boat, and for the third evening in a row a group of dolphins showed up for a brief "Hello" as I was preparing dinner. On a day when we had calmer seas, one of the birds seemed to be flying ahead of us, stopping to sit in the water and watch us go by, and then flying ahead to repeat the parade. He seemed quite curious about us. Max had an even closer wildlife encounter this morning when he found a little bird in the cockpit. We think it flew in the open side of our rain enclosure, but then couldn't get out the other side. He gently set it on the back deck, and it seems to have gone on its way again.

The ever impressive albatross.

Numbers always appeal to me and catch my eye. Tonight's observation was that we passed 1043 nm to go when the time on the clock was 10:43 (Ok, it was 2243 on the display, but I used my imagination!) I think that the odds of seeing the time of day match the nm to go are quite slim for the rest of the trip.

By the time I handed over the watch at 3am, the seas had built to about 2m with a short period and the winds had picked up to just over 20 kts. We will be earning our milestone chips for the last 1000 nm!

Love to all
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 4:08 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 39°35.78'N 178°25.15'E

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Saturday, 6 July 2019

Marshalls to Alaska Day 16: Watching the Weather

no thank you 5 meter waves
Greetings,

As you can imagine, Max spends a lot of time every day looking at the weather forecasts. In addition to the input/advice from our weather router on an as-requested basis, we get new GRIBs twice per day, and updated surface weather maps at a similar frequency. We spent some time this evening with both of us poring over the forecasts, as there is potentially a low pressure system moving across our rhumb line in a couple of days. The forecast a few days ago suggested that by motoring north in the light winds that we have now we could outrun it, but it looks now like we would be better off to dally a little to the south and east of our track while it passes. With wind, current, wave, gust, and rain data to consider, all on moving time-annotated charts, it can feel a little overwhelming, especially when the various models do not agree. In the end, we made a mark on the chart that should be to the SE of the worst weather, and we will steer for that for now (at least until the forecast changes and we revisit our dot on the ocean!). I am certainly grateful that we have these tools at our disposal.

When our friend was on board in Rongerik, we got talking about the Weather Fax that we have at our chart table. He said that when he did his previous Pacific loop in the early 2000's only a few people had Weather Fax, and everyone would congregate around them to see what the weather was expected to be. The printouts were on thermal fax paper, and had to be carefully timed so that the proper surface chart was printed: various HF stations broadcast a schedule of charts, and the machine had to be turned on at the exact right moment to get the desired printout. If the time slot was missed, it was another few hours before the same information would be available again. It turns out that our Weather Fax, which we keep as a tested-but-hardly-used backup system, was one of the machines he would have been gathered around, since he had buddy-boated with our actual vessel on his previous trip 20 years ago. As I said, I am really grateful that the technology has progressed, and now we can get these charts over email at any time of day or night!

In my office

The current surface analysis - this is the meteorologist's assessment of the current conditions (or actually the conditions from a few hours ago as it takes some time to produce and promulgate).  The blue line is our notional course and the red dot is the position at the time of the blog post.

The 48 Hour Surface Forecast shows what the Ocean Prediction Centre assesses will occur in two days.

Through the magic of Open CPN we can geo-reference the 48 hr plot onto our course and position to better understand the implications.  In this case you can see if we continue down the blue line the gale will catch up to us and catch up to us with the windier quadrant.  Not so desirable.

We also download the satellite images to get a better picture of what is going on.  Not much happening at 39 37"N 174 14E but look to the south east.
Back in January when these cooler temperatures were just a theoretical concept, I realized that I would need more thermal layers, ideally merino wool. I started looking online for possible suppliers, and I came across Woolx.com, whose gear got good reviews in various articles. I noticed that they had an 'Ambassador' programme for adventurous bloggers. When I called and asked if sailing from the Marshall Islands to Alaska with three children in a 47 foot boat was adventurous enough for their programme, it didn't take long to get an answer in the affirmative, and to receive 'his & hers' sets of their warmest merino thermals, designed for people who have to sit still for long periods in cold conditions. Even though Max is still walking around barefoot, I have graduated to my warm Woolx thermals, and they are as soft and cozy (and warm) as I could have imagined. After we are back in Internet range, we will write some articles to tell more of our story, but for now, I am simply grateful to this company who believed in a Canadian family setting off on a month-long adventure across the latitudes. Thanks Woolx!



Fluenta's answer to thermals is a layer of insulation (installed over hours and days in Majuro) and a system of heating hoses which run through our (new) heat exchanger on the engine cooling system. Our winds dropped this afternoon (as predicted) and we began motoring. The engine heat now being pumped through two fan units and the hot water tank has raised the boat's inside temperature from about 18 to 23C over the course of the evening. This is lovely while it lasts, but the chill of the sea will return when we start to sail again, and we will all be back to bundling up both in the cockpit and downstairs. Once the temperature really drops (I keep being reminded that it is not actually that cold yet) we expect to run the heater or the engine twice/day to take the chill off the boat.

Whenever I am not in the cockpit during my night watch, I go upstairs every 15 minutes or so to look around and check for squalls or traffic. Often there isn't much to see, but there is at least a horizon and perhaps some stars. The cloud cover is such tonight that there is literally nothing but blackness. There are no ships within 48 nm (according to our AIS) and it will be a few more days before we have much of a moon. In the meantime, we watch our progress on our instruments, chart plotter, and if necessary, radar. It will be nice when the moon comes back!!

During the calms tomorrow we will prepare for the potentially heavier weather over Sunday-Tuesday, making sure all surfaces have been cleared of the clutter that collects during gentle conditions (picture a saloon table hidden by fleeces, books, craft supplies, and snacks), securing the aft deck, stowing the excess spinnaker lines, and making food (pasta and rice to go with the bread that Victoria baked today). We have decided to stow our spare anchor back in its locker in the V-berth (it is lashed on the aft deck at the moment while our primary is lashed below decks) only to take it out again shortly before our arrival. So much of what we do is about preparing: we will put the anchor back out once we are close to Dutch Harbor in case we need it before we reach the dock. We hope that our efforts are more than what is eventually necessary, but we will do our best to err on the side of caution.

The last time we had heavy weather (coming to Majuro from Tuvalu) our laptop spent a lot of time in the chart table or the oven for protection from water and lightning. We are hoping that all of our rebedding in Majuro has reduced the amount of water that will come into the saloon, but if there is a gap in updates over the next few days, it is likely because our laptop has been stowed for safekeeping or it is not really good typing conditions!

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 11:53 PM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 39°37.32'N 174°14.28'E

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Friday, 5 July 2019

Marshalls to Alaska Day 15 - It's getting cold



Greetings,

Happy July 4th to our American friends!

We emerged from yesterday's fog into the sunshine today, but the sea and air temperatures are dropping quickly. Even Johnathan, who is the one of the most devoted barefoot advocates I know, showed up for the evening watch in wool socks and boots, although Max is persevering in bare feet and shorts.

I thought you might be curious about the routine we have developed after two weeks at sea. Max and I take the main watches in turns, with Victoria and Johnathan assisting in the mornings and evenings. I generally shake Max after my night watch around 3am and then wake to the sound of kids in the morning. If conditions warrant, Max will have left Victoria on watch and gotten some shut-eye in the saloon, otherwise, he will be very tired looking in the cockpit, and I will take over from him there. The kids and I then have the watch for the rest of the morning (which often means that I am doing chores below and Victoria is 'minding the shop' in the cockpit while working on one of her knitting projects upstairs) and I make sure that we have something ready for lunch around noon. Once Max has the watch after lunch, I will go off-watch until it is time to cook dinner, around 6pm. The highlight of the evening comes shortly after 7pm, when Max can download the new 'GRIBs' and Ocean Prediction Center weather charts (it was exciting to sail onto them a week or so ago) and we can get a sense of what the newest weather forecast looks like. Once dinner is cleared away Max will sleep, and I will take the watch again until about 3am. These days, with the late sunsets, the watch change has been creeping towards 9pm. It is nice that we are a family, because these timings can flex depending on conditions. I also like that we have all our meals together as it gives us time to reconnect after our separate watches. It has made a huge different to our capability that Victoria and Johnathan are able to handle so many of the boat and household chores. Even Benjamin is quite independent: no longer am I spending my time on cloth diapers and baby feedings.

Dolphins under our bow.

We have finally passed the half-way point in terms of miles to go, which of course we celebrated with milestone chips this afternoon. We have often seemed to be alone in the world since we left Majuro, but we are *really* pretty much 'in the middle of no where' now. The closest point of land is Midway Island, which is about 860 nm away, and is itself only a speck in the Pacific Ocean. Larger landmasses (Japan and Alaska) are both over 1,000 nm away. On the other hand, we are seeing more shipping traffic, so we are probably closer to people than we have been since we left two weeks ago!

We never feel alone, however, because we have a constant procession of sea birds fishing near the boat. Our companions have come in all shapes and sizes, from large birds (likely albatrosses) to very tiny black birds that make us wonder how they can possibly have the stamina to make it back to shore (probably 1,500-2,000 nm round trip). We have not been as successful as the birds at catching fish, but we finally caught something besides seaweed or fishing netting today when we pulled in a skipjack tuna.

Watching the dolphins from the foredeck (while clipped in)

Every now and again we have seen a few dolphins. Tonight we had dozens of them come to visit, dancing in our bow wave and under the boat. Numerous times, they came in groups of two or three from the left, surfaced near the boat, and then dove under the bow to show up on the right a second later. Sometimes dolphins seem very serious and don't stay very long, but these ones seemed quite playful, doing small jumps at the surface and staying beside us for 15-20 minutes. Benjamin was thrilled to be taken out onto the foredeck to watch them (tethered to the jack lines, of course).

Dolphins under our boat.  You can just barely see in the backgroun three dolphins that have just jumped and landed.

Dolphins under the boat.  The are grabs from a video so a bit blurry.


After a day of galloping along in steady winds and full sails, we are creeping along in variable winds and a counter current tonight. We expect to motor for a bit over the weekend before stronger winds fill in from the south to give us a push towards Dutch Harbor.

All is well on board.

Love to all,
Elizabeth
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At 2019-07-01 2:30 AM (utc) SV Fluenta's position was 38°55.94'N 171°59.80'E

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