Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 13, 2010 - 9 Degrees North

When I last wrote we were two degrees south of the Equator. We had lost the wind and begun motoring. For two relaxing days the engine purred away as we drove north looking for the wind.

The first order of business was to fix the jib sheets. So Sten strapped on the bosun's chair and I hauled him up the forestay so he could reattach the now slightly shorter jib sheet. We figured this would be easier than dropping the jib at sea and it worked out well. The next day he changed out the primary Racor filter on the engine and I did some laundry as it was perfect drying weather. It was terribly hot so I took advantage of all the extra power coming off the engine to plug in the blender and make us some smoothies. While trying to make a blended version of teh tarik, I discovered that condensed milk, ice and chai tea makes an excellent beverage. The condensed milk makes for a thicker, creamier frappe than regular milk.

We celebrated our fourth and final Equator crossing of this trip with a swim, a bottle of bubbles and a BBQ. It is usually too windy and rough to grill underway, but since we were motoring along in 3 knots of breeze and a minimal swell it was very manageable.

After 40 hrs of motoring and a few hours after we crossed the equator (at 30.49 West) the wind filled in from the northeast. We didn't believe that we were through the ITCZ yet, so we sailed hard on the wind, pounding north. We planned to keep beating up to 4 North to make certain that we were through the ITCZ before we cracked off onto the rhumb line for Barbados.

At 2 North we pulled down some fresh weather reports and found that the wind was forecast to disappear on us again as we approached Barbados. We realized that adding extra miles onto the trip by continuing north to make sure that we were clear of the ITCZ would add too much time to the trip as we risked losing the wind before we were within reasonable motoring range of Barbados. So at 2 North and 32 West we cracked off the wind and headed straight towards Barbados on a beam reach.

For the next six days we had overcast skies and squally conditions. Even once we were certain we were beyond the reach of the ITCZ the unsettled weather continued. Our days were punctuated by big wind and temperature shifts, coupled with heavy rain, all followed by long lulls that left us wallowing uncomfortably in the swells. And then the wind would fill back in and we'd be bashing along again.

As it turns out, beam reaching in choppy seas is an awfully uncomfortable point of sail. Unlike downwind sailing, where the boat does a gentle roll as waves slide under her stern, when we are taking the seas right on our beam there is no rhythm to the movement of the boat. With the wind and seas on our beam the whole boat rocks from side to side, but the motion is choppy and jerky. It makes doing anything (walking, sleeping, cooking, washing up, writing) difficult. I seem to stub a little toe every time I stand up. We've spent a lot of time this past week laying down and reading. We can feel our legs atrophying. Luckily, Barbados is a relatively flat island.

Beam reaching might not be comfortable, but it is fast. We've been reeling off a steady 170 to 180 miles a day.

Between the squalls and the spray we had to keep the hatches and side ports closed to keep the boat dry down below. Two nights ago we had big wave catch us broadside, filling the floor of the cockpit (for only the third time in three years) with a few inches of water and sending a hail of saltwater down below.

We have been grateful for the cloudy weather, otherwise we would have been steaming away with the boat all closed up. As the sun comes up this morning it looks like we are actually going to have a sunny day today. And with the wind backing, we'll be setting out the pole this morning so that we can start running wing-on-wing again. We have about four more days (and nights) to go before we reach Barbados.

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