Sailing Through the Trade Winds

Passage Notes (continued)


Wednesday, April 28, 2004 (Day 5 of the Easter Island Passage)

Last night on my night watch, I came to the conclusion that I have been sailing too close to the wind. This caused a considerable amount of heel but a relatively slow boat speed (high five knot range) since the partially furled jib wasn't very efficient sailing so close to the wind. By steering further off the wind and easing the sheets a little (so the boat wasn't overpowered), I wound up with the same angle of heel but much better boat speed (low seven knot range).

When sailing at night, I noticed an apparent magnification of speed and size. When going seven knots it looked like we were flying along, and the foaming water would rush past the boat with blurring speed. The same scene in daylight was certainly pleasing and impressive to look at, but the speed looked much less. There was a similar illusion for the big bow waves pushed aside by the boat when plowing through the swell. At night, the vast wash of luminous foamy water looked immense, but in daylight, merely ordinary.

One thing that's hard to communicate in writing, and really must be experienced first-hand, is the constant sense of motion while on passage. The sense of motion is continuous—literally every second of every day, morning, noon, and night. The motion is also complex, with up to six degrees of freedom: linear motion for forward/backward, up/down, left/right, and rotational motion for roll, pitch, yaw. Due to the complex structure of the waves and wind, the motion of the boat is not predictable. It's not completely random, as there is some recognizable periodic motion, but from one moment to the next, you can't really tell how the boat is going to move. This is why moving around is so difficult. You have to brace yourself against six degrees of boat movement (which may or may not occur) while carrying out your own desired movement. To move in a certain direction, you must, of course, release your "brace" in that direction, and that makes it possible for the boat's motion, when added to your own, to throw you off balance.

On my morning watch I took pictures of waves, trying to convey the size and power of the broad rolling swell and wind waves. It's almost impossible to capture the very impressive three-dimensional space of waves on small two-dimensional photographs. It helps a little to show things in the foreground and background to give a sense of distance, but out here there's nothing in the background except more waves. Also, I would love to get a picture of the elusive aqua slice, the translucent blue-green wedge of water that sometimes forms momentarily at the peak of a wave just before it breaks. It's very beautiful but so rare and fleeting it could take a long, long time to get a decent picture.

Every morning at 10:00 a.m. I compute our passage statistics for the previous 24-hours; this morning we had a run of 153 nautical miles. Throughout the day, I noticed lots of flying fish skittering across the waves as we approached. Jelly looked blotto for most of the day. Her fur was unkempt, her ears were at half-staff, and her eyes were heavy-lidded with malaise. She looked like she just woke up after a three-day drunk. With the vigorous pitching and rolling and large angle of heel, Jelly is sometimes too afraid to go up and down the companionway steps.

Sailing through a mild squall line; this is not the same squall mentioned in the text, which was more vigorous.  

On David's afternoon watch, a sudden squall blew up and the boat was overpowered. We tried to heave-to but the boat refused to turn through the wind. Apparently even the reefed jib is too much headsail to turn through a strong wind. Of course, this means we can't tack, either! Then we tried to fall off to a heading not so close to the wind. We couldn't do that either as the boat had so much weather helm it kept heading-up into the wind. I though this was a rather difficult situation to be in—stuck on one heading in the rising wind with an overpowered boat.

The solution, of course, was to reef the sails. David went on the coachroof to put the third reef in the main, but there was a problem. The reefing line for the third reef comes out of the boom end and goes over a pair of small exposed sheaves to get to the sail. There is nothing whatsoever that retains the line on the sheaves, so the instant you release tension on the line, it falls off the sheaves and winds up chafing against the aluminum end of the boom—which is what happened as soon as David started using the reefing line. I tried to slip the rope back on the sheaves but couldn't quite reach it. Marcie is a little taller and managed to do it, but she had to reach as high as possible and was in a rather precarious position, not very well braced against the vigorous motions of the boat.

After reefing the main, we decided to furl the jib and set the staysail. The jib furling line was being stubborn even with Marcie and I pulling mightily, so we had to use a winch but at least it furled OK. (The jib furled so tightly that we used up all the rope on the furler drum; later David went to the bow and added four more turns of rope.) After setting the staysail, I was surprised how easy and comfortable the boat's motion became. I think a lot of the heel was due to the roller-reefed jib, which generates most of its force high up and far forward. The force was high enough to cause extra heeling and far enough forward to keep us from tacking or heaving-to.

During the squall I was off-watch and tried to nap, but as usual I was too uncomfortable to drop off to sleep. I was starting to get a low-grade headache, which is my warning of incipient seasickness, so I went up on deck. This is a great cure, and I felt better almost immediately. It cleared rapidly at about 4:30 p.m. then we were back to our usual trade winds weather.

Marcie made sushi for dinner using the fresh tuna that David caught yesterday (which I forgot to mention: he actually caught two fish, the dorado and a small tuna). She has all the fixin's, including the special wraps, special rice, pickled garlic, and of course the super-hot green wasabi paste (which comes in a squeeze-tube like toothpaste). The raw tuna was absolutely delicious—tender with a very mild flavor. It's hard to believe this is the same fish they use for canned tuna.

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