Friday, April 27, 2012

Countdown to the Equator

April 23, 2012-Galapagos Passage Day 15

Have I mentioned that it's hot in the tropics? We are at five degrees North latitude. As we tick off the degrees of latitude at our current slow pace of approximately one degree per day (one degree of latitude equals sixty nautical miles), it becomes even hotter. It's so hot that my perspiration is breaking into a sweat. Yesterday, the cabin temperature was 91 degrees. That was with all the hatches and ports open and about four fans running. I can't tell you what the temperature of a cockpit bench in full sun was, but the soles of my feet say it was well over a hundred. (We do have shade in the cockpit, but we don't have 100 percent coverage 100 percent of the time---or even close to it.)

After four sweltering days of calm seas and no wind (and another night spent dodging squalls), we are sailing again! For the first time in days, the wind is steady enough for the boat to mind itself. The sails aren't constantly flogging and in need of readjustment. We are only moving at 1-2 knots, but after the last four days, it feels like flying to us. The wind strength (currently 7-9 knots) indicates that we should be doing better (our boat speed is usually about half the wind speed), but we think the Equatorial Counter Current may be working against us. There is some cloud cover left over from last night's squall-o-rama, so we have been given a reprieve not just from the lack of wind, but from the heat. We have been out of bread for three days, but neither of us has felt like baking any. We keep finding things other than sandwiches to eat for lunch, such as: a can of cold pineapple, or leftover cold salad from the night before, or…nothing. We also don't have much appetite in the heat.

April 24, 2012-Galapagos Passage-Day 16

Yesterday was the first day in which we didn't get to tick off our degree of latitude. Midnight came and went, and we still had not gone below five degrees North. In fact, it turns out that yesterday was our slowest trip day yet. We only traveled a total of 47 miles in 24 hours: that includes sailing, drifting, and a little motoring we did to outmaneuver some squalls.

Our wind died in the early afternoon. We ended up having to constantly tend the helm in order to keep the boat moving at a speed of one to two knots. Only about half of this was "velocity made good," or miles actually put in the bank towards our destination. We were sailing to weather on a beat. Sailing is often a case of: "You can't get there from here." We couldn't sail directly to our course due to the direction the prevailing wind was coming from. (If you want to use the wind to push the boat, you have to take it where you can find it.) Sometimes, we weren't sure if we were heading to the Galapagos or to the Marquesas; we were pointed so far west. At other times, it appeared we were planning a visit to the Central American coast. Still other times, while drifting, it looked like we were headed back to Mexico! On top of being very light, the wind kept changing direction, though never in the direction we wanted to go.

Squall activity started early yesterday. The squalls don't usually start up until the evening. I'm guessing that, similar to hurricanes, squalls derive their energy from the warm water evaporating from the ocean surface all day. A convection cell is created as the less dense warm air rising into the atmosphere cools and sinks, and the water vapor cools and condenses. Thus, the winds and rains that form a squall are formed. I'm not sure why squalls are so localized compared to the massive hurricanes; I will have to look that up.

We started dodging squalls in the late afternoon. We encountered our first squall line. The entire eastern horizon was a cloud bank with one successive squall after the other. On radar, the squalls actually show up in a line. Since it was still daylight, you could clearly see the sheets of rain issuing from the cloud bank and count the squalls. There were also some multihued rainbows, adding a pastel splash of color to the eastern horizon, like a brightly colored scarf dressing up a drab gray suit. At first, we adjusted our sailing course to weave through the squalls; but in between the squalls, the wind had almost died. We ended up furling the sails and motoring to avoid the last of the squalls.

Night found us in fuel conservation mode, alternately drifting (wind strength range: 1-5 knots, mostly 3-4 knots) or sailing whenever we felt a breath of wind (wind strength range: 5-8 knots.) Although we can sail with a steady five knots of wind, we haven't had consistent wind; and it is difficult to keep the sails full when the wind suddenly drops from 5 to 1.5 knots. While sailing, we achieved a boat speed of only 1-2 knots, not all of it in miles made good; however, it beat drifting backwards or to the east at a half knot. More squalls appeared, and at times we were just drifting, surrounded by squalls. If necessary, we were prepared to turn on the engine to avoid them, but most of the squalls passed behind or alongside the boat.
At times like these, sailing is a lot of work. The sleep debt accumulated while dodging squalls (to say nothing of routine watches), the constant furling and unfurling and/or raising and striking the sails, and the necessity to made frequent small adjustments to our course all contribute to a growing sense of fatigue.

But then there are the small reprieves. Today finds us sailing in a light breeze of five to eight knots. Until about two hours ago (two p.m.), the boat had been steering itself since we put up the main at about seven this morning. For the last two hours, the helm has required frequent adjustments because the wind lightened up to three or four knots---however, the boat is still moving and we are mostly on course.

We have been over two weeks on passage. As recently as our halfway point, I was thinking that we might make it to the Galapagos inside of three weeks (even though I knew that a three-week passage was a possibility given that we had to pass through the doldrums); however, now I'm not so sure. We have just under 400 miles to go. The good news is the most recent weather files predict that the wind is about to shift to our beam. This gives us greater flexibility because we can use the spinnaker; but we probably won't have to, because the wind is also supposed to get stronger. And at some point today, we finally dipped under five degrees latitude and as I write this, we are at four degrees and fifty-three minutes North.

Sent from sea via HAM radio

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