Sunday, April 04, 2010

April 4, 2010 - 2 Degrees South

So much for our hopes of having 4 or 5 more days of the good stuff before reaching the ITCZ. Last night we were hit with a series of line squalls. After 5 blissful nights where our biggest concern was keeping the sooty terns from using our bimini as a latrine, everything changed.

If we'd known that this was going to be our only catch of the passage we would have savored every bite.

The first line of squalls hit us just at sunset and just as Sten was about to serve dinner (rice and wahoo in a garlicky, capery tomato sauce). Buckets of rain came down and the wind shifted 20 degrees, but the windspeed didn't increase that much. When it was over, the wind died. We picked small bones out of the fish in the dark as we flopped around waiting for the wind to fill back in. We split an apple for dessert and then Sten went to bed.

For the next few hours we had intermittent showers, but no real shifts in wind direction or velocity. The only thing that I found troubling was seeing lightening around us for the first time this passage. Around 0200 I came off watch, and Sten came up. About an hour and a half later, we were hit with an intense squall, accompanied by torrential rain, wind building to 25 knots and a 90 degree wind shift. The boat jibed while Sten was below closing the hatch above my sleeping head. The preventer on the mainsail did its job, but the increased pressure on the backwinded jib caused a jib sheet, which had been slowly (we thought) chafing on the pole for the past 5 days, to part. Sten brought the boat around to get the main back on the proper side, but the jib was flapping around, out of control. I'd managed to sleep through all of this, so he had to come down to wake me up before going on the foredeck to wrestle with the jib. After some work, we got the jib furled and the shredded sheet, which had been trailing behind the boat, back on board. Now we could see about getting ourselves back on course.

In the dark of night, with the moon and stars completely obscured by cloud, far from land, it can be hard to get one's bearings. It took us a few minutes of looking at the compass, the chart plotter, the radar screen and finally the radar overlay of the charts to get ourselves re-orientated and figure out what the weather system was doing and which way we could go to get clear.

We had been running dead downwind for days, oscillating between a compass heading of WNW and NW. We were still running downwind (the new downwind) with the main prevented out, but now we were heading due south, traveling with the squall. Running with a squall is a slow and ineffective way to shake it. We decided to turn upwind into the weather in attempt to get clear of the squall and (as an added bonus) to head towards Barbados instead of away from it. Sten went forward to take off the preventer and then came back to the cockpit to start cranking in the mainsheet for a tack. I started to turn the boat into the wind, but just in the nick of time Sten realized that the running backstay was still on. He eased it and we completed the tack, driving ourselves right into a fresh band of rain. I was still at the wheel, so I kept steering hard on the wind. There was so much rain and wind that I had to cock my baseball hat down at an angle over one eye to keep my contacts from flushing out of my eyes.

Eventually, we drove through that band of rain and into a lull. However, the radar showed several more lines of rain around us. It was going to be a long night, but with just the mainsail up, the boat is easily manageable by one of us. At 0430 I went back to bed. By 0800 we passed through the last of the lines of rain. Unfortunately, we had also sailed out of the wind. So Sten reefed down and centerlined the mainsail (our preferred motorsailing setup). He turned on the engine and pointed us NNW. I woke up to the sound of him reefing, but after my interrupted off watch, it didn't take long for the engine to lull me back to sleep.

It was several (okay, many) more hours before I roused myself out of bed. Sten passed me a cup of reheated coffee and a freshly toasted bagel with cream cheese, and we tried to figure out whether we were in the ITCZ already. The dramatic changes in wind velocity and direction suggest that we are. But we are approximately six degrees south of where the ITCZ is supposed to be, according the daily reports we've been downloading. Unfortunately for us, we could have 3 more days of this nonsense before we break into the Northeasterlies on the other side of equator and the far side of the ITCZ. But we've got plenty of diesel to keep us moving and a fridge full of cold drinks to keep us cool.

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