Sailing Through the Variable Winds

Passage Notes

Nine of Cups' bow, showing the anchor and windlass. The round black object near the windlass is the foot switch to control the windlass motor (a cover protects it when not in use).  

The aft deck, port side, with the fuel jugs lashed to the lifelines. We wound up accumulating several bags of garbage which we also tied to the lifelines. Some garbage you can throw overboard (such as things that sink and/or biodegrade), but by international regulations you're not allowed to discard plastic.  

A picture of me standing watch during one of today's rainstorms. (Photo by Marcie Connelly-Lynn.)  

Monday, May 10, 2004 (Day 17 of the Easter Island Passage)

By now, it's pretty clear that we're in a different weather zone, since a rather depressing weather pattern has been established: rain, clouds, more rain and clouds, and a little bit of sun now and then. It doesn't bode well for a pleasant visit to Easter Island, since by now the island is only 200 miles away. They are probably having the same kind of weather we are having: cool, gray, cloudy, very variable winds, rain, and a little sun.

More inconvenient than the clouds and rain are the variable winds. We have had winds from just about every direction, and they probably are having the same kind of variable winds at Easter Island. This will make it difficult to stay in a protected anchorage for a long time. There are no "all weather" harbors at Easter Island, instead you just anchor in the ocean a short distance from shore. When the wind shifts it can rapidly turn a protected anchorage into a lee shore, with wind, waves, and swell conspiring to uproot your anchor and drive you on to the rocks ashore. The authorities require that somebody be aboard at all times, to haul anchor and leave the anchorage if necessary. Among other things, this means we won't be able to roam the island as a threesome, which was a very nice way to do things and worked well on the Galápagos.

To tell the truth, one of my biggest fears is being alone on Nine of Cups and having a sudden change in the weather that requires an immediate departure. The boat is not really outfitted for single-handing, and some activities, like raising the anchor, are best handled by two people. Theoretically, I'm sure it's possible to raise the anchor solo, but that is theory. In actual practice, especially in difficult conditions, it could be very difficult to raise the anchor solo and in some situations (which we hopefully won't encounter) it could endanger the boat.

If you're wondering about the potential difficulties, here are some examples. The anchorages are deep and usually rocky. With 50 feet of water depth, you need to deploy about 250 feet of chain and rope. Retrieving this much anchor rode solo won't be easy. The rope part probably won't feed down the chain pipe easily, so it will require some futzing and finagling. Then the large amount of chain can easily build a chain castle in the chain locker, which can jam the windlass. From on deck, you have to open the forepeak locker hatch and knock over the chain castle using a boat pole. The whole time you're doing this, the boat is anchored on short scope and could drag the anchor and drift towards shore. And you've got to hope the anchor comes up in the first place. The anchor or chain could get fouled on underwater rocks and be very difficult to dislodge. Meanwhile, it's very helpful for someone else to be at the helm, steering into the wind and motoring ahead slowly to relieve tension on the anchor rode. I admit to being somewhat of a worrier, so we'll see how it goes once we get there.

This morning when I went on watch, as usual it was gray, cool, and wet. Although it wasn't raining at that instant, it had rained on and off in the recent past and could do so again at any moment. The wind was from nearly aft so we had to sail off course, but later it shifted in direction and freshened. Frankly, at Day 17 of an ocean passage, with deteriorating weather, I'm getting a little tired of being a sailor and look forward to being a tourist again and walking around ashore. For the reasons just mentioned, though, it doesn't sound like an easy island to visit by boat. There is something to be said for hopping on a plane and sleeping in a hotel. It lacks the charm and adventure of cruising but it's a whole lot easier.

I'm also getting tired of being dirty all the time. Due to the limited supply of fresh water (and the very limited supply of clean clothes), I only get a shower once every several days, and even then it's a "cruiser shower" that I'm sure uses less than a gallon of water, including washing my hair. Clothes have to be worn repeatedly to the point of smelliness, because at present, there's no way to wash them (or more importantly, dry them). Then there's the limited supply of electricity. On a boat, electricity is hard to come by and is quite precious. The boat itself has substantial electrical requirements, for example, running the refrigerator and watermaker, using the running lights all night, occasionally using the cabin lights and fans, etc. There really isn't any electricity to spare, so you have to be very frugal using a computer or running the inverter to charge camera batteries. Periodically (generally once a day) we have to run the engine to recharge the boat's house battery bank, and at these times, the very powerful alternator has power to spare. Therefore, you can turn on the inverter to recharge personal batteries (such as my digital camera, digital image storage disk, and electric razor). Although I normally keep my electric razor plugged-in, I always keep my camera and storage disk stowed securely in ziplock bags. To recharge these items, I have to retrieve them, hook up their chargers, and plug them into an AC outlet somewhere on the boat where the boat motion and angle of heel won't throw them on to the floor. If I happen to be asleep when the engine running occurs, my batteries don't get charged.

In the early afternoon on David's dog watch, it began raining heavily and the wind picked up a lot, from the north at 25 to 30 knots. I suppose you could call it a storm, though it was hard to tell whether it was a local disturbance or part of a bigger weather system. David furled the jib completely, but even though we had a double-reefed main and no headsail we were still doing more than seven knots. David decided to put the third reef in the main and Marcie went up to help. The third reef went in smoothly thanks to the new arrangement David set up after the old reefing line chafed through. With a triple-reefed main the boat slowed down to the five knot range, but still managed to hit the six knot range occasionally.

The rest of the day was rather blah, with periods of unsettled weather intermixed with periods of calm, plus numerous wind shifts. Frankly, all the attention the boat needed was hardly worth the effort given the small mileage gain, and the whole day was rather annoying. The worst part is that Easter Island is probably having the same kind of unsettled weather, which increases the likelihood of a difficult visit. I'm also pretty tired of this passage and would just like to get there. It's so near and yet so far, and the last couple hundred miles are taking an inordinate amount of time and effort.

On a better note, I got a nice email from Mom in response to the Mother's Day email I had sent a couple days ago. It was nice that it came to the boat via Winlink and Pactor; this is the first message I received this way, so I'm glad she figured out how to do it. I also started reading the book Happy Islands of Oceania by Paul Theroux, and it's a pretty good book. He has an engaging writing style and discusses lots of interesting subjects and observations quite freely.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004 (Day 18 of the Easter Island Passage)

Today we again had unsettled weather, sometimes calm, sometimes 20 to 30 knots, with wind shifts—the usual nonsense we've had to deal with the past several days. On my morning watch I was caught by surprise with the full jib out when the wind increased from 5 knots to 20 knots within a few minutes. I struggled to furl the jib and the furler drum ran out of line before the sail was completely furled. This left a several-foot-long triangle of sail sticking out behind the furled jib. It was such an inefficient and poorly located scrap of sail that it contributed nothing to the sail plan. I managed to set the staysail, which worked reasonably well. We were hard on the wind, though, so we were only going three knots even though the sails were working hard and the boat was heeled. Since the wind was coming from exactly where we wanted to go, we have to tack back and forth across our course line, which made our progress towards Easter Island even slower. As an aside, I mentioned a couple of days ago that there were only two points of the compass where we didn't get wind, SW and SSW. Well today we got those as well, so the wind has come from every direction possible. All in all, it was a very unsatisfying watch—slow progress and lots of effort required.

When my afternoon dog watch started, we had been running the engine and motoring into choppy seas and headwinds. David had decided we could run the engine whenever necessary to keep our speed at or above 4.5 knots. This would ensure that we would arrive at Easter Island by 4:00 p.m. tomorrow, which was the latest we could arrive and still have enough daylight to reach the anchorage and drop the hook. As my watch progressed though, we couldn't maintain 4.5 knots due to the choppy headseas. To conserve fuel and to avoid stressing the damaged prop shaft, we are only running the engine at 1200 rpm, which is fairly slow. Finally, the GPS indicated we would arrive well after 4:00 p.m., and there was no point in using up fuel just to arrive in the dark and have to loiter offshore until daybreak. Therefore, I killed the engine and resumed sailing, tacking across the course line due to the adverse winds. This meant we wouldn't arrive tomorrow afternoon, but instead the next morning. David and Marcie had been in the aft cabin resting, but when they heard the engine stop, they came over and we talked about it. Although they agreed with my reasoning, I could tell they were disappointed.

My night watch was dreary—cool, damp, rainy, but not windy. What little wind there was came from the wrong direction. I spent a while trimming the sails and adjusting the heading to maximize our Vmg. When I was all done, the wind died, making all the work moot. We are allowed to start the engine and motor if our speed is less than a knot, motoring for up to two and a half hours a day. However, engine running time is rather precious, due to the limited amount of fuel on board. So my feeling is that if you don't absolutely have to motor, bank the engine time for future use and just let the boat drift. This is what I was doing when the wind started up again. But to my chagrin, the jib went aback, indicating a wind shift, and the boat tacked. Now we were pointed in exactly the wrong direction. I managed to get this sorted out, then it started to drizzle. It was a cool damp drizzle that lasted more than an hour; I sat in the driest corner of the cockpit wearing my rainsuit (but with bare feet). The one good thing was that there was a little wind, so at least we could sail. And best of all, due to the wind shift, it was now from a favorable direction, and I could set the heading to aim directly at Easter Island.

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