Sailing Through the Variable Winds

Passage Notes


Saturday, May 8, 2004 (Day 15 of the Easter Island Passage)

This morning before going on watch, I got up early and took a full stand-up shower. I was about as dirty and smelly as I could stand and couldn't wait any longer. One reason for delaying was to conserve water, but the main reason was that the boat's motion had been too vigorous and with too much heel to safely take a stand-up shower (the shower wouldn't have drained properly, either). But lately the boat's motion has been benign, so showers are possible. It felt great to be clean, and I put on all clean clothes, too. I wore my best pair of shorts (that is, the pair without rips) which I had been saving as long as possible since we might not be able to do laundry on Easter Island. Likewise for shirts—I had been reusing old shirts as long as possible but now they were all too smelly. My old shorts were so dirty and full of dried salt (from getting wet with spray) that the fabric was stiff and thick.

When I relieved Marcie at 8:00 a.m. I was surprised by the sky. It was quite cloudy and the cloud formations were complex with at least three layers of clouds—low clouds of plump gray/white cumulus with some gray stratus, a middle layer of broken mackerel cumulus, and a high layer of widespread and pronounced mare's tails. After days and days of strictly small-scale weather within the otherwise benign Pacific High, it looks like we are transitioning to a different weather zone. This zone looks like it has weather systems moving through, and inclement weather looks to be quite possible in this zone, although not necessarily today. Up to now, we didn't see any real large-scale weather systems moving through, just occasional local or regional clouds. Rain was scarce and when it did occur, it was light and from small bands of low clouds with very little vertical development. Most of the time, there were either no clouds or light scattered clouds.

On David's day watch, we sailed into cloudy and uncertain weather. At one point, we went right through a significant rain shower and the wind picked up a little. It wasn't a major storm at all, but compared to the very placid weather we've had lately, it perked up everybody's attention: "Yoo-hoo, Weather here, I'm still alive and kicking and can rain on your parade anytime I want to!"

It's hard to say when, exactly, we passed from the trade winds into the variable winds, so somewhat arbitrarily I have assigned this day as the first in the variable winds, even though the true trade winds seemed to have petered out some time ago. I would count this day as the first in the variable winds because it's when I finally realized we were in a new weather zone.

My night watch was quite blah, although it passed surprisingly quickly. It was cloudy and sometimes overcast, although you could see stars through holes in the overcast. There were many dark clouds about, including some where it was obviously raining. I wore my rain jacket, but except for maybe two drops, we didn't get any rain. On a moonless night with dark clouds and rain, the overall view is a very murky gray with blotches of dark gray. The horizon is barely discernible in some places and completely indistinct in other places (where it was raining). This makes it hard to tell, visually, what's level and what's crooked, or how far away things are, because it's so hard to see the horizon.

Later on, towards the end of my watch, it cleared up a little and the stars were visible. I had been watching a fuzzy spot in the sky over the past several days, and it seems to have moved against the background stars. I think it might be a comet, and I'll have to check the internet when I get a chance. It seems to have a faint tail, although if it is a comet, it's not very big or bright (the nucleus is just barely naked-eye).

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