Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Not Quite Becalmed

April 22, 2012-Galapagos Passage Day 14, 0300

The wee hours of this morning find Silhouette with no sail up and her engine silent, gently rocking back and forth on the sea. We are drifting at one knot. I'm not sure what is moving the boat---either a current or the little bit of wind that is out here---but last night we did the same thing for awhile, and our boat speed was 0.0 kt over fifty percent of the time. We're not exactly becalmed, but we might as well be, because there's not enough wind to sail. We also can't motor every time there's no wind, because we don't have enough fuel to motor all the way to the Galapagos. (Besides, the whole point is to sail there, right?) If we are going to drift and wait for wind, the skipper prefers to do it at night, when it is cooler. If we save our motoring for the daytime hours, then we can create a little of our own breeze; so we're not just out here roasting out on Neptune's spit.

Even though we're not going anywhere, we still have to keep a watch. For the first time in days, we have seen other vessel traffic. A fishing boat has been traveling with us all day (only because we haven't moved very far!), and tonight, I saw a large ship on my first watch.

I can see the lume of the fishing boat's lights off our stern. One of my jobs tonight is to make sure we don't drift into that fishing boat. Another job is to check the squall meter (radar) and stay clear of any squalls. The most important job is to set sail as soon as the slightest breath of wind makes it at all possible.

We have been in extremely light air for the past three days; for the last two, we have barely been able to get the boat moving. We only have one light air sail, which is our asymmetrical spinnaker. We have been unable to keep the sail filled because the long, rolling swells knock the wind out of the sail, and it collapses like somebody whose knees have just buckled out from under them. If we were actually getting the forecasted winds of 4-5 knots, the spinnaker would be pulling like a champ. We can even make the main and headsail work with a steady 5.0 knots. But the true wind ranges from 0.9 to 3.0 knots. Occasionally, the wind teases us by bumping up to 4-5 knots and staying there for a few minutes at a time. We scurry to put up sail (choosing the correct configuration based on the current wind direction, which is also flaky and constantly changing,) and by the time we have everything ready to go, the wind is back down to 1.5 knots.

From the current forecast, it looks like these conditions are going to persist for several days. Patrick has visions of them lasting for several weeks and of us bobbing around out here like flotsam indefinitely. He has been working like a fiend to keep the boat moving in hopeless conditions. My attitude is, why fight it? Go with the flow. If we have to sit out here and wait for wind for a few days, so what? It's all part of the experience. We have plenty of food and water. And it's not like we're lacking for things to do. (Hey, there's always that boat project list…)

Our situation is somewhat amusing. When people hear that you are going to sail across the South Pacific, they think you are embarking on some grand adventure. Some people think you're downright crazy to be entrusting your life to the hands (both literal and figurative) of your vessel. But the truth is, the reality of the situation just doesn't jive with what people imagine. Oh, don't get me wrong. We've had our excitement, like the squall the other day. But the last time we experienced anything remotely dangerous before that was when we rounded Cape Mendocino back in October. Beating up the Cerralvo Channel to La Paz was an uncomfortable ride, but it wasn't dangerous. We've also had our fair share of steady winds and good sailing conditions. However, a well publicized fact in cruising literature appears to be playing out: that you spend close to a quarter of your time in true winds of under ten knots.

People wouldn't recognize the Great Pacific we are drifting on now. The ocean shouldn't be so calm that you can clearly see the reflections of stars in the water. That's just wrong. This Pacific is more like a Great Lake. Actually, there is more weather on a Great Lake. This ocean is flat, glassy, and silky, and it melds into the horizon so that at night, the two become indistinguishable from one another. You find yourself suspended in one endless atmosphere. The days begin to blur together too.

Earlier, when the wind was light, but before it got too light to sail, long, low, rolling swells were sweeping across the sea from horizon to horizon. I cannot say if the ocean is more like the prairie or if the prairie takes after the ocean, but the movement of the wind rippling across the swells reminds one of the undulating prairie, whose wind bends down the prairie grass before it.
Although the sailing (or lack thereof) and watch keeping in these conditions are boring, there is always something new or entertaining to see. Dolphins fling their muscular bodies out of the water like gymnasts, performing leaps and somersaults, for no other reason it seems but the sheer joy of it. A couple of days ago, we spotted a school of some sort of game fish off our port side. They looked like they may have been sailfish or marlin. Huge, they were leaping clear of the water and doing cartwheels in the air with acrobatic grace before crashing back to the surface with gargantuan splashes. We had our lines in the water at the time, and went off course in order to to pursue them; but the school was moving rapidly ahead of us, and we gave up the chase.

This morning, we had another terrestrial visitor to the boat: a small, yellow and olive bird with a long, straight beak and miniscule feet. The bird was even smaller than the swallow that came to visit us. I looked in my Birds of the Tropical Pacific field guide, but the closest thing to it was a Cook Island reed warbler. If that's the case, our little visitor was really a long way from home! The book also identified our swallow as a Pacific swallow, which are found only on Tahiti and Fiji. I had seen the same swallow in Nuevo Vallarta, so its range clearly includes Mexico; and it must not have been a Pacific swallow. My field guide doesn't appear to be very comprehensive. I will try to locate a Sibley's guide when we are in the Galapagos.

We are still passing sea turtles, some with boobies hitching a ride on their backs. Today, Patrick saw a huge manta ray leap out of the water; apparently, this phenomenon isn't limited to the Sea of Cortez. We also saw what I think was a school of flying fish this evening. We haven't seen many flying fish yet---only few small ones on deck so far---and I think we need to be further west before we start seeing more of them.

Notably absent among the ocean's citizens are the whales. We haven't seen any whales so far on our Pacific crossing. Again, I'm hoping that changes as we head further west on our next leg from the Galapagos to the Marquesas.

Sent from sea via HAM radio

No comments:

Post a Comment