Sailing Through the Trade Winds

Passage Notes

Sea conditions in the trade winds. Needless to say, these small pictures don't do justice to the size and power of the waves.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004 (Day 4 of the Easter Island Passage)

When the wind piped up a couple of nights ago, it seems to have ushered in a change. By today, it has become clear that we have passed out of the doldrums, which were hot and humid with little wind, and are now in a new weather pattern with comfortable temperatures and humidity and very nice wind. It's not clear at this point whether we're in the trade winds, which normally start further south, or just an area of variable winds that have been good to us.

Today's weather seemed like yesterday's, with a generally reliable 15-knot breeze which was great for sailing. Sometimes the wind spiked to 20 knots, and occasionally it dipped to 10 knots; it was generally out of the southeast but slowly shifted to a more easterly direction. Temperatures were very comfortable although it could be hot in the sun or if you exerted yourself. There was light to moderate cloud cover, nothing mean-looking, but there could be an occasional shower visible. The swell was running about four to eight feet with wind waves on top of that. The swell was from the same direction as the wind, and since we are fairly hard on the wind on a port tack we are taking the swell quartering on our port bow.

While sitting securely in the cockpit, the angle of heel and the pitching and rolling motions are not only tolerable, but actually pleasant. However, below or even working on deck it's another story. It's difficult to move around, difficult to use the toilet (you tend to slide off or get thrown off, and liquids can slosh out), and very difficult to wash or take a shower. You almost always have to hang on to something with one hand, plus use your feet to brace yourself, so you don't get thrown about. That leaves you with one free hand for everything else. Some tasks are not too difficult to do one-handed but other tasks require two hands. In that case, you can try to wedge your body into a corner or press up against something, then brace yourself with your feet and legs so you can momentarily use both hands to accomplish the two-handed task. This all takes extra effort and ingenuity, but with practice you learn what works and what doesn't and you adapt to the new situation.

Sailing through the trade winds, with a reefed mainsail and jib.   One of two identical wind generators mounted on the stern; the brand name is "Fourwinds". The rope you see hanging from the tail is the feathering rope; you pull it to slue the windgen around so the wind no longer drives the propeller, thus allowing the blades to stop. Then you slip a small loop of rope around one blade to immobilize the propeller (the rope loop is visible where the windgen mast is braced). The contraption attached to the propeller hub crosswise to the blades is designed to slow the rotational speed in very strong winds.

Currently, we are getting extra energy only from the solar panels; both windgens have been shut down. The port windgen puts out intermittently due to corrosion on the slip rings, a common problem. The starboard windgen got tangled in its feathering rope and bent a propeller mounting rod, causing excessive vibration. With both windgens out of service, we have to do without the 10 amps of electricity they produce, which is a significant loss. But David thinks that between the two windgens, we ought to be able to make one working unit. At present, though, the rolling, pitching, and heeling make this kind of repair too difficult, if not dangerous. David must climb on the stern pulpit and lift the windgen over his head to remove it, then manhandle it down to the deck without dropping it or dinging the solar panels, and of course, without falling or injuring himself.

Around 11:00 a.m., there was another hit on the fishing line and this time it was a real fish. I switched the autopilot to manual helm and steered into the wind while David reeled in the fish. It turned out to be a beautiful dorado (also known as mahi-mahi or dolphin) but not very big. As the fish got close to the boat, you could see it in the crystal-clear water a few feet below the surface. It was in a small school of like-sized dorado, swimming together and turning synchronously. The dorados are beautiful fish, bright blue and green, and they shimmered in the wavy sunlight that filtered down to them. You could clearly see the lure in the fish's mouth; the lure simulated a small squid (lately we have found one or two small squid on deck in the morning, about as thick as your thumb and several inches long). David was able to pull the couple-pound fish on deck just using the fishing pole, but a gaffing pole is available to land larger fish.

Meanwhile, I was having a little trouble with the boat. I had promptly activated the remote helm, but this time I didn't steer through the wind quickly enough and got stuck in irons with the jib flapping uselessly. I tried to furl the jib but the control line had become jammed on the furler drum from being under great tension while the sail was roller-reefed. I wound up letting the jib all the way out then refurling it, which was a little tricky in the brisk wind. Once the sail was unfurled it began flogging and whipping the jib sheets all over. I had rigged a snatch block on the jib sheet to improve the sheeting angle, and the block started banging on the caprail, dinging the new varnish. Marcie and I tried to disengage the snatch block, but the viciously flogging jib sheet smacked each of us in the head so we got out of the way and just sheeted it in. I later added another line to keep the block from getting out of control (there had been another line but it had come undone).

After unhooking the fish, David tied a line through its mouth and gill and hung it from a dinghy davit at the stern. He made a few deep cuts below the gills to cut the arteries and bleed the fish, then he towed the fish behind the boat while the blood drained out. After retrieving the fish, he gutted it and filleted it on the aft deck, placing strips of flesh in a plastic bag. When he was done, he passed the bag below to Marcie (who just had today's dinner menu decided for her) and used the canvas bucket and a small scrub brush to clean up the aft deck.

As they sometimes do, Marcie and David decided to swap chores so David cooked dinner, pan-frying the dorado and chopping some cabbage to make a tasty coleslaw. During my dog watch, I could see him working in the galley, and I have to give a huge amount of credit to any cook who can prepare a full, delicious, hot meal while rolling and plunging through the swell at a significant angle of heel. It's hard enough just moving around, never mind doing something so detailed and precise as fine cooking. Marcie, the usual chef, cooks one or two hot meals a day, every day rain or shine, plus she bakes, does the dishes, and so forth. In return for David cooking dinner and washing the dishes, Marcie stood his two-hour dog watch.

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