After a two and a half week stay at Fanning atoll (blog post forthcoming), we are underway again. For those of you following along back home, you may be wondering what the heck we're doing? "Aren't they going to Hawaii?" you may be asking. Yes, the port of Hilo on the Big Island is our goal.
Due to the winds and currents in this part of the ocean, our sail plan has been to head due east from Fanning atoll. A band of light winds and squalls (the Intertropical Convergence Zone, which you may remember we passed through on our passage from Mexico to the Galapagos) is lying just north of Fanning, carrying with it thunderstorms and rain. Once a boat passes through that region of confused air, it encounters the northeast trades, which blow a steady twenty knots at this time of year. If we set a direct course for Hilo, we won't be able to make our course due to being hard on the wind, beating against these northeast trades. The wind may push us further west than our target, and we may not be able to make landfall on the Big Island. The prevailing wisdom among sailors making this passage is to get in as much easting as you can before turning north for Hawaii.
Patrick came up with a strategy modeled after the experience of some friends of his, Bill and Karryn Dean, when they crossed the Pacific five years ago. After leaving Fanning, the Deans got a lift from the Counter-Equatorial Current, which runs in an easterly direction. Fanning atoll happens to lie right in the path of the Counter-Equatorial Current. While anchored in the lagoon, we watched for a weather pattern with some south-easterly winds on the backside of a passing low. The plan is to use these southeast winds to sail as far east as we can before the wind shifts back to due east, forcing us north. That is exactly what we have been doing for the past three days. We are still at approximately the same latitude as Fanning atoll, but we have moved over three degrees to the east in longitude.
The only drawback to our sail plan is that the passing low which gave us the south-easterly winds also left two to three meter swells in the wake of its front. The going has been slow heading directly into the swell, and we haven't made as much easting as we'd hoped. Without the one and a half to two knot lift we've been getting from the Counter-Equatorial Current, our progress would be even slower. Even considering this drawback, the strategy is working well, and it may have provided just the advantage we need to make our landfall. The wind is already starting to shift back to the east, and sometime tomorrow, we will find ourselves following the wind around and changing course for the northeast.
The second part of the strategy is that we will actually continue to the northeast to about 150 degrees West, well past the longitude of Hilo (which is somewhere around 154 degrees W) before turning and heading northwest for the Big Island.
The most exciting thing to report about our passage so far is that the swell came down today and our stomachs are feeling much more settled. Sunshine and a blue sea replaced the clouds and slate gray ocean of the last two days, while night watches opened under a canopy of stars. Never mind that we're now under a canopy of dark clouds. All is well onboard.
Posted from sea via Ham Radio.