Thursday, 31 March 2016

St Lucia

Hi everyone,
We've been here in Rodney Bay marina for five days now.  The time has flown!

Beach at N end of Rodney Bay
We spent most of Easter cleaning up the boat after the long passage.  Jobs done included:

  • Wash down the decks and the rig (Port Elizabeth manganese still coming out of the shrouds)
  • Had the topsides washed down with vinegar (price too good to refuse)
  • Cleaned barnacles off rear of hull around waterline
  • Cleaned salt off s/s with vinegar then polished
  • "Shocked" the water tanks with bleach to kill any growth
  • Filled water tanks and jerries
  • Refilled main diesel tanks from jerries (40 litres)
  • Aired and cleaned cockpit lockers
  • Aired and cleaned cabin lockers (a big job since there are many and they're all full)
  • Restocked food supplies
  • Purchased courtesy flags for St Lucia, Dominica, Antigua and BVIs
  • Inspected deck-level fittings, replacing lost ring on pin of headsail tack snap-shackle
  • Test-ran outboard motor
  • Inflated and checked dinghy

Between cleaning jobs we enjoyed the facilities around the marina complex.  There are several cafes, bars and restaurants.  We caught up with the crews of Gallinago, Andiamo and Scraatch.

Yesterday (Tuesday) we hired a car for the day and went for a 200km drive around St Lucia.  The island is only 24nm from end to end so our mileage shows that the roads are not motorways - they are very narrow with many hairpin bends.  Great fun driving and spectacular scenery.

Once out of the main tourist areas the island is a mixture of farming land - with many large fruit plantations - to forest in the hilly areas.  Everyone seemed friendly - lots of smiles.  Lots of rastafarian hair-do's with colourful "tea-cosys".
View from Moule a Chique at S end of St Lucia
St Lucia is known for the two pitons (peaks) on its SW corner.  They are very spectacular.  The old town of Soufriere is attractive with narrow streets arranged in a grid.  A huge sailing vessel was anchored in the bay.

Piton
View over Soufriere to Pitons
We visited the botanical garden just outside Soufriere which had an interesting array of tropical plants.  It is also the site of mineral baths once visited by Josephine (Bonaparte).  The water in the stream there looked battleship grey - not attractive!

Botanical Garden
This morning we visited the Pigeon Island National Reserve.  The island has a superb view over Rodney Bay, south along the St Lucia coast and north to Martinique.  It was the site of various fortifications over the years, right up to WW2.  It certainly commands the surrounding waters.

View from Pigeon Island Fort to S
View from Pigeon Island Fort N towards Martinique
Tomorrow we plan to clear out of St Lucia and sail the 30nm or so to Fort de France in Martinique.  We really enjoyed our stay in St Lucia and the car trip around the country was fun and informative.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

St Helena to St Lucia Passage Summary

Hi everyone,
We had a great passage from St Helena to Rodney Bay in St Lucia.  It was a long passage of three phases - SE trades, ITCZ and NE trades.

First the usual plots:

Zen Again track

Zen Again Speed Over Ground

The track shows how we gybed in the SE trades.  The speed plot shows two distinct strategies while we were in the SE trades.  Initially we sailed "high" on the wind at higher boat speeds.  Then we sailed "lower" and at lower speed but had better DMG (distance made good along our route).  When speed builds again but with a lot of variation we are in the ITCZ.  Then when speed stabilises and gradually increases we are in the NE trades.

Here are the vital stats for the passage…
  • Distances/Speeds
    • Route Distance = 3800nm
    • Logged Distance = 4090nm
    • GPS Distance = 4221nm
    • Duration = 31 days 10 hours
    • Average speed = 5.4kt
    • Average VMG = 5.0kt
    • Average day's run = 130nm
    • Best day's run = 151nm (6.3kt)
    • Minimum boat speed = 3 kt
    • Maximum boat speed = 8 kt
  • Weather
    • Minimum wind speed = 4 kt
    • Average wind speed = 16 knots
    • Maximum wind speed = ~30kt (in squalls)
    • Apparent wind angle range = 60 to 150
    • Seas up to 2m
    • Swell up to 2.5m
    • Often cloudy but some gloriously sunny days and starlit nights
  • Engine
    • Total = 40 hours
    • Driving = 16 hours (in ITCZ)
    • Charging = 24 hours (mainly to ensure good power for our HF net control work)
  • Consumption
    • Water = 200 litres (6.5 litres / day)
    • Fuel = 60 litres
  • Failures
    • None!
  • Stars
    • The boat!
    • Extreme Sails mainsail and yankee
    • Aries vane gear (steered 75% of passage)
    • Icom HF/SSB radio
    • Frigoboat fridge
    • Sodastream water carbonator
    • St Helena potatoes (lasted all the way)
    • Satphone.Me email system (over Iridium GO!)
    • PredictWind Offshore app (over Iridium GO!) for obtaining GRIBs
    • qtVlm GRIB viewer and weather-routing software
    • SeaIQ iPad navigation software

Current played a major part in the ITCZ and NE trades phases of the passage.  We found the RTOFS GRIB data very helpful.  Current assistance saved us at least a day at sea.  Staying out of adverse current kept us out of very messy sea states.  It is my belief the current flows are often narrower than shown by RTOFS, possibly with eddies around them which are not resolvable by RTOFS.  This would explain the rapidly changing sea states we encountered from time to time.  Along the north coast of Brazil we found best current a few miles off the continental shelf.  One boat found very strong (4 knot) currents inshore as she approached a Brazilian port.

The SE trades were gentle, rarely rising above 18 knots.  However they blew straight down the course so we did a lot of extra miles zig-zagging.  Despite that it was mostly champagne sailing - very pleasant.  Although there was swell it was quite long and the ride was mostly quite comfortable.  Rain squalls were brief and with only slight increases in wind speed ahead of them.

We spent 3-4 days transiting the ITCZ.  It appeared to jump around a lot while we were passing through, at least according to the Met Area V text forecasts.  We saw no more than 25 knots of wind in the ITCZ so were very lucky.  We did see lots of sheet lightning and were becalmed under several storm systems from which we escaped by motoring for several hours each time.

The NE trades were stronger than the SE trades and the swell shorter.  The wind was generally a little aft of the beam.  The swell was initially from the N and later from the NE.  The N swell created a cross sea which made the ride less than comfortable.  The swell originated from the North Atlantic (Azores) high pressure system which was very strong at the time.  Staying in positive current was important here.

Commercial traffic was very intermittent during the passage, clearly running in shipping lanes which we went in and out of.  Most coming close seemed to change course well in advance so we rarely felt the need to call them.  Needless to say AIS was of great assistance, and our transmitter clearly encouraged ships to change course earlier than they would otherwise have done.

We were the HF/SSB net controller throughout the passage, recording over 300 positions.  Our radio performed well.  We also used DSC routine calling to poll the positions of some boats.

We used 200 of the 280 litres of fresh water aboard, an average of 6.5 litres per day (or 3.25 litres per person).  We drank as much as we wanted without rationing.  We drank a _lot_ in the ITCZ where the heat was oppresive.  We did ration water for washing, each "earning" 0.5 litres/day which we used every other day or so.

We ate very well during the passage.  Nic baked fresh bread every few days and even baked a cake when those prepared before departure were consumed.  The St Helena potatoes lasted all the way (we ate some with lunch today).  Nic is planning to post on her catering for the trip in a day or two.

Overall it was a great passage and a fantastic experience.  It will take us a few days and a few rum punches for it to sink in that we are really in the Caribbean.  Very cool.

St Lucia Arrival

Hi everyone,
We anchored in Rodney Bay, St Lucia at 2345 last night.  The bay is well protected so it was nice but strange to find the boat suddenly still.  We anchored at 14 05.12N 060 57.49W in 9m over sand, amongst about 30 or so other boats.  Entry to the bay at night was straight-forward and we only motored the last few hundred meters.

Yesterday afternoon winds stayed in the 20-25 knot range generally, with more in occasional rain squalls which passed by quite quickly.  We spotted St Vincent first at 1500, followed by St Lucia at 1730.  After sunset we came abeam of St Lucia and sailed north along the east side of the island with 1 - 1.5 knots of current behind us.  From 2230 we gradually turned to port to round the north of the island.  The ENE wind held in and after gybing we carried the wind all the way into the mouth of Rodney Bay.

Rodney Bay approach track

We decided against an immediate rum punch on board, instead having a cuppa.  We tidied up the boat a little and then crashed.  We slept like the dead for 6 hours and then were both ready for action.  We set to work at 0600 this morning, me washing down the s/s on deck and Nic cleaning below decks.

At 0900 we weighed anchor and motored in to Rodney Bay marina.  The entrance channel is narrow so I'm not surprised the recommendation is not to enter at night.  Navionics charts correctly show the arrangement of jetties in the marina but CM93 do not.  We were allocated a berth via VHF and came alongside a few minutes later.

With the boat secure I went up to the office and we were cleared in about 30 minutes later.  All very straight-forward and friendly.

Back on board we continued the big clean up.  It will take a couple of days or so.  Nic continued cleaning below and I worked on deck.  I am still hosing South African manganese dust out of the shrouds!

We arrived with two full jerry cans of water plus about 30 litres of water in the main tanks - about 70 litres.  So we used 200 litres in 31 days.  On the rubbish front, our non-biodegradable rubbish filled five 2 litre containers plus a couple of aerosol cans. 

31 days of compressed rubbish

It being Good Friday the sale of alcohol is banned today until 1800.  So we can't get a rum punch before then.  Gives us a chance to hydrate and to get the boat ship-shape.  We'll be at a bar at 1800!

I'll post a passage summary shortly. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 31

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 13 07N 060 24W, saillng at 5.5 knots on a course of 000M. Our ground speed is 6.5 knots. The wind is NE at 20-24 knots with a 1.5m sea and 1.5m swell. We are sailing under double-reefed main and triple-furled yankee. Scattered small cumulus. Our day's run was 139nm, our DMG was 152nm and we have 75nm to go - less than a Fremantle-Bunbury!!!

The NE trades have held in for the last 24 hours at 20-25 knots. Overnight we had several squalls come through which drove us down to the staysail (storm jib) for short periods. One large squall gave us 30 knots or so for 30 minutes and then left us with only 10 knots from the SE for a further 30 minutes. Eventually the NE wind returned.

We have continued our arc to the west of the rhumb line and now are close reaching north towards the Pointe Hardy, the NEmost point of St Lucia. We'll go "over the top" to stay in the wind. Rodney Bay is on the NW side of the island, just around the cape. We have a nice 1 knot of current with us and have shortened the range to the boat ahead to about 50nm.

At present it looks like we'll arrive in the small hours of tomorrow morning so this is probably our last at sea post for this passage. Time flies when having fun. A month at sea and over 4000nm logged. It has been a great experience, and a very enjoyable one too!

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 30

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 11 10N 058 41W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 330M.  Our ground speed is 6.5 knots.  The wind is E at 20-24 knots with a 1.5m sea and 2.5m NE swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and double-furled yankee.  Broken small cumulus.  Our day's run was 143nm, our DMG was 149nm and we have 227nm to go - a Fremantle-Geraldton!!

Bedraggled but Proud

We have been flying our small ensign throughout the passage.  It started a little sad near the fly seam.  It has now lost quite a bit of material and one star.  Time for a new one, but I'm not sure we'll find one in the Caribbean.  This is the ensign we flew throughout our SE Asia cruise too.

We have had winds of 18-26 knots during the last 24 hours.  As it has waxed and waned we've had between 1 furl and 3 furls in the yankee.  By the way, the terminology there relates to the markers on the yankee.  They equate (more or less) to 1 furl = "No 2 jib"; 2 furls = "No 3 jib"; and 3 furls = "No 4 jib" to use the old language where boats carried N jibs for different wind strengths.  At least that's how we think of them and the sizes look about right.

We have been out of the strong current for much of the last 24 hours, but have avoided getting into adverse current by staying west of the rhumb line.  The boat ahead of us tried the rhumb line and her VMG fell from 6 to 4.5 knots.  She's now running due west to escape.  We closed the range by about 30nm in 24 hours and had much smoother seas too.  We both expect to get back into positive current overnight or tomorrow.

Last night we had a nearly full moon and it was super-bright.  With a cloudless sky the seas were clearly visible in the moonlight and we could trim the sails by its light too.  Couldn't see many stars though!

The evening HF/SSB net is now down to a handful of boats.  Many boats have arrived at their destinations, ranging from ports in Brazil, Barbados, Grenada, The Grenadines and Martinique.  We continue to be net controller but with this number of boats the net becomes more of a chat than a rapid rollcall collecting positions.

We are starting to feel we're nearly there.  A time for extra care and vigilance!  And a time to dig out our slightly more presentable large ensign and the Q flag for our arrival.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 29

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 09 47N 056 29W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 320M.  Our ground speed is 7.5 knots.  The wind is E at 18-22 knots with a 1.5m sea and 2m NE swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and single-furled yankee.  Broken small cumulus.  Our day's run was 149nm, our DMG was 177nm and we have 376nm to go - less than a Fremantle-Albany!

We've been enjoying very nice assistance from current over the last 24 hours.  Our strategy of following an arc to stay in current - rather than taking the rhumb line - gave us a 20nm gain compared to the yacht closest ahead of us.  Nice!

RTOFS Current GRIB - Zen Again at bottom right

Yesterday afternoon the winds were around 18-22 knots and we had a nice sail.  The seas were relatively quiet.  Late in the afternoon the winds built to 25+ knots and the seas built up too.  The night was overcast and the seas very lumpy with spray coming over the whole boat frequently and occasionally green water.  The ride was bumpy to say the least.  But it was fast, with 6.5 knot boat speed and 8 knots, occasionally up to 10 knots, over the ground.  The wind got close to 30 knots at times and seemed to be up and down all night.  The almost-full moon shone through the thinner clouds with a nice halo at times..

Nicki heroically baked bread rolls during her night watch.  Unfortunately she now has couple of small burns to prove just how bumpy it was.  She discovered bread rolls are called rolls for a reason - they like to roll around and she chased them around a hot oven.  Very nice rolls nonetheless!

This morning the wind has moderated a little and we've increased the yankee from triple-furled to single-furled.

Preparing for the Dawn Patrol

Overnight our "pet" noddy returned - as he had the previous night too - and he brought a friend.  The two of them roosted aboard all night before once more heading off around dawn.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 28

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 08 18N 053 52W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 320M.  Our ground speed is 7.0 knots.  The wind is ENE at 20-25 knots with a 2m sea and 2m NNE swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and double-furled yankee.  Blue sky.  Our day's run was 139nm, our DMG was 159nm and we have 553nm to go - less than a Sydney-Hobart!

First a correction.  Yesterday's day's run was 138nm not 148nm which makes a lot more sense, being almost exactly equal to our DMG as we had no current.  Mental arithmetic doesn't work well when tired - navigators beware!!!

We have completed our fourth week at sea so here are some stats.  First our speed plot for the passage to date.  Note that this shows ground speed, not velocity made good (VMG).

Zen Again Speed Over Ground - Passage to Date

And here are the stats:
  • Log Distance = 3596nm
  • Average Boat Speed = 5.3knots
  • Distance Made Good = 3226nm
  • Average VMG = 4.8knots
  • Engine Hours (approx) = 29 hours charging & 16 hours motoring


Sunset Yesterday

We've had winds of over 20 knots for most of the last 24 hours, often around 25 knots.  We're making great progress despite being well the boat is reefed down.  The ride is reasonable despite the cross seas, which themselves aren't as bad in the new NNE swell.  We using the autopilot since the Aries struggled overnight, either heading above the desired course or threatening to gybe.

With these stronger winds the other boats are making better miles than us.  Waterline length talks amongst cruising boats once there's a brisk and free breeze.  We're going to be doing an arc to the west of the rhumb line to stay in good current.  That's about all we can do to improve our performance.  Not that we're complaining but I would like to overtake one bigger boat on a bluewater passage one day!

Our snacks situation has been improved after finding several packets of biscuits and some biltong.  These, with the last nuts and chocolate bars, will have to see us through to our destination.

This afternoon we are putting our clocks back for the final time on this passage.  UTC-4 puts us 12 hours "away" from our home in WA and into the Caribbean's time zone.  Feels like a long way from home.  On the other hand we're getting close to those rum punches!

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 27

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 06 49N 051 38W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 330M. Our ground speed is 6.5-7.0 knots so we are back in the current. The wind is NE at 18-22 knots with a 1.5m sea and 2m N swell. We are sailing under double-reefed main and double-furled yankee. Broken cumulus clouds. Our day's run was 148nm, our DMG was 137nm and we have 712nm to go.

Yesterday we decided on our initial landfall in the Caribbean. We intend to stop at Rodney Bay marina in St Lucia. We called them on the satphone (Iridium Go!) to check they'll have room for us, and they said they will. This explains the sudden reduction in our distance to go above - St Lucia is about 125nm closer than Antigua. We plan to spend Easter in St Lucia before sailing north to Antigua and then westward to the BVIs.

Yesterday afternoon the wind held in at 18-22 knots ENE until 1800 when a rain squall came over with winds up to 28 knots. We swapped to the staysail again which works very well, getting the power down low.  After the squall passed we went back to the yankee again and stayed with it all night.

The night was mostly clear, with small banks of cloud coming over occasionally. Happily they didn't bring much more wind with them. Several ships passed in the night, none coming close. We found the current in the early hours of the morning and as it increased the sea state improved. It was nice to leave the messy seas behind. Based on the day's run and DMG above we may have had had current against us overall. The moon only set a couple of hours before sunrise so we had good light for most of the night.

After the moon set we started to see green lights all around. They were startlingly bright and in the water - the brightest bioluminescence we've ever seen. It was like green party lights going past underwater. When one went under the boat we could see the light emerging all around the boat. Surreal.

On the HF net last night two boats reported close encounters (of the no contact kind) with separate pods of whales. That had us a little on-edge for the night, not that there's much one can do to avoid them. One tries to remember the odds are in favour of missing them! :^| We didn't see any sign of them.

This morning we've had a couple more rain squalls requiring us to swap to the staysail for a short time for each. The weather seems to be clearing up at present so hopefully we won't see any more of them today. Rain squalls do seem to like the late afternoons around here.

Our water supplies are lasting well and we have no doubt they will get us to St Lucia comfortably Likewise food supplies are lasting well, although fresh veg is just about gone. Those St Helena potatoes were marvellous. Snacks and chocolate are however in short supply. We need to increase our provisioning of these items in future. Comfort food is important for those on whale watch!

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 26

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 05 13N 049 41W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 335M. Our ground speed is also 6 knots so very little current. The wind is ENE at 18-22 knots with a 2m sea and 2m N swell. We are sailing under double-reefed main and double-furled yankee. Scattered small cumulus clouds. Our day's run was 130nm, our DMG was 139nm and we have 1006nm to go.

Yesterday afternoon we noticed a lot of weed in the water and also some rubbish. Later we noticed a "rivery" smell. We were in the massive outflow area off the mouth of the Amazon River. That explained why the NW current had stopped. It seems the outflow may be deflected NW by the current since we were well past the mouth by the time we found ourselves out of current. The water wasn't especially discoloured, although it was hard to tell in the overcast conditions. This morning the weed and smell have gone but we haven't found the current yet. We believe the current "dives" under the fresh water and reappears north of it. Hoping to find it soon.

After lunch yesterday the wind increased from 18-22 knots to 25-28. This only lasted for an hour or less but we put the second reef in the main, rolled away the yankee and unrolled the staysail (= storm jib). That quietened things down nicely. After the wind eased we went back to the yankee but kept the second reef in. We've been sailing like that since, furling and unfurling yankee as the wind goes up and down. This works very nicely with the apparent wind on the beam, much as it does broad reaching.

We're now using the autopilot about as often as the Aries vane gear. The cross sea is quite nasty at times and when the wind drops out the Aries definitely struggles and threatens to gybe us. Not as badly as in the Indian Ocean but the 2m N swell and 2m ENE seas are certainly making a messy seaway. Yesterday we were sideswiped by one large sea/swell combo which put enough water on deck to briefly defeat the dorade vents and let water below. I'd have paid good money for a photo of the boat right then! ;) Happily the vent over the TV was sealed.

Last night the boat was very comfortable and moving along nicely at 6 knots despite the confused sea state. We had our best sleep since entering the ITCZ. While on watch the sky was almost completely clear so we had a lovely 3/4 moon and star-lit night. Very nice so long as one stayed behind the dodger so as not to catch the occasional heavy spray from small side-swipers!

Friday, 18 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 25

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 03 39N 047 57W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 335M.  Our ground speed is 6.0-6.5 knots.  The wind is NE at 20-25 knots with a 1.5m sea and 1.5m N swell.  We are sailing under single-reefed main and double-furled yankee.  Broken, occasionally scattered, small cumulus clouds.  Our day's run was 139nm, our DMG was 144nm and we have 1145nm to go.  That's our best DMG of the passage so far.

Current Flow (Zen Again at bottom-right)

We've had our first full 24 hours of good wind from a good direction.  Around 20 knots mostly and from NNE to NE, giving us a beam reach.  We've had our foot well off the accelerator, keeping the boat comfortable and moving along well.  The sea state was quite uncomfortable yesterday afternoon and overnight.  We think that had to do with the current which was sometimes with us and sometimes across our course.

Last night we actually saw the moon for the first time in several nights.  It's now a day or so after half-moon and it cast a nice light until it set around midnight.  We spent most of the night under double-reefed main and double-furled yankee.

This morning we exchanged positions with the two yachts closest ahead of us.  One is an Outbound 46 and the other a Westerly 40.  Their range from us didn't change overnight which we're pleased with given we're a little 34!  I think we found better current than them, although they may have had a more comfortable ride!  None of us are racing - we still have a long way to go.  Today we have the main single-reefed which is giving us a little more speed and a steadier ride.  The seas seem less confused now and the current is reduced.  I suspect we're in the outflow area of the Amazon since we've seen rubbish and weed in the water.  The sea also looks and smells different!

We saw very few ships for a couple of days but they are back now.  It's very obvious when you're in a shipping lane.  Happily just about all the ships coming close see us on AIS and alter course well before we have to call them.


Thursday, 17 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 24

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 02 03N 046 08W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 330M.  Our ground speed is 6.5-7.0 knots.  The wind is NE at 18-22 knots with a 1m sea and 1m N swell.  We are sailing under single-reefed main and triple-furled yankee.  Scattered small cumulus clouds with broken mid-level clouds above.  Our day's run was 116nm, our DMG was 121nm and we have 1289nm to go.

Dawn Today

Yesterday afternoon was overcast with rain squalls around.  At 1500 we found ourselves under a large cloud with no wind.  We motored for three hours to get out of there.  As we motored along tuna fish were jumping out of the water near the boat.  They were about 0.3m long so something big was chasing them.

We sailed from 1800 to 2330 in varying winds from 8-12 knots.  Lots of black rain clouds all around and hard to pick them out clearly due to the mid-level cloud above them.  At 2330 we were again becalmed and motored for another 3 hours until a breeze returned.  Since 0300 we've had a nice sailing breeze which gradually filled in.

Overnight we used the autopilot since winds were so variable and at times very light.  Whenever the wind is steady and strong enough we've been using the Aries vane gear very successfully.

We now have partly sunny skies but are not convinced we're clear of the ITCZ yet.  Regardless, we're making great progress straight down our route.  The latest MetArea V forecast shows the ITCZ south of us which is a hopeful sign.

We've had about a knot of current for the last 24 hours, sometimes with us and at other times flowing inshore.  We are off the mouth of the Amazon so I wonder if that is influencing the current.  The water is still clear blue and 29.5C.

Some of the cruisers sailing with us are starting to arrive in the Caribbean.  Boats are going to a variety of initial destinations, including Barbados, Grenada, St Lucia and Martinique.  We're keeping our options open as to exactly where we make landfall but St Lucia is our current favourite.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 23

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 00 50N 044 30W, saillng at 34.5 knots on a course of 320M.  Our ground speed is 6 knots.  The wind is NE at 10-15 knots with a slight sea and 1m N swell.  We are sailing under full main and single-furled yankee.  Overcast sky with occasional light rain showers.  Our day's run was 123nm, our DMG was 132nm and we have 1410nm to go.

We crossed the equator at 1530 local time (1830utc) yesterday afternoon.  King Neptune got his tot of rum and our thanks.  We whet our lips with a little rum only.  Twasn't much of a party because the weather was inclement.  Nevertheless we're very pleased to be in the northern hemisphere.

Crossing the Line

Yesterday afternoon wind increased to 18-22 knots as we crossed the line.  The sky was overcast with rain showers but we were making excellent progress.  By 2100 the wind had dropped out entirely.  We were probably under a large rain cloud, these frequently have calms under them.  We motored for a couple of hours to get clear and into some breeze, about 12 knots from the NE.  At least the winds are staying between N and E now.

In the small hours of the morning the winds once more got up to 20 knots or so with showers and sheet lightning all around.  We sailed on with a single reef in the main, furling and unfurling the yankee as the wind varied.  By dawn the wind was down to 8-10 knots but we kept the boat moving OK.

We're looking forward to breaking out of this cloudy area.  We think it will take a few days.  Happily we have a nice current helping us along.  At the moment it is about 1.5 knots.  Also the overcast has lowered the temperature on board which is very welcome.  Still very humid but not as hot.  The wind conditions here are constantly varying so there's plenty of sail trimming practice going on.

On the provisions front, yesterday we discovered weavils in packets of rice and crisp bread.  We think both were purchased in Mauritius which was some months ago now.  One of the problems of provisioning is making sure we eat up before this type of development occurs.  While on this subject we found weavils in muesli bars the hard way while enroute to St Helena - after taking a bite.  Yuk!  Foods don't keep long when stored in boats in warm water!  On the other hand, the potatoes we bought in St Helena are still perfectly fresh.  That's old-style "organic" produce for you.

The HF radio net are continuing with yachts starting to rejoin the net after departing Brazillian ports.  Our evening net is now taking place at 2100utc on 6224kHz.  Three of the boats are within 200nm of us at the moment.  Amazingly we're actually catching one of them!  That doesn't happen often when you're the smallest boat in the fleet!

Thanks to Anne for her comment on yesterday's blog.  It seems our "pet" bird is in fact a brown noddy.  No wonder he seemed bemused when I addressed him! ;)  We really must find a good eBook (note the 'e') on sea birds of the world.  Recommendations welcome.


Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 22

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 00 09S 042 23W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 320M.  Our ground speed is 6.5-7.5 knots.  The wind is NE at 15-18 knots with a 1m sea and 1m N swell.  We are sailing under full main and yankee.  Broken cumulus, some rain-bearing.  Our day's run was 114nm, our DMG was 132nm and we have 1542nm to go.

We are now only 9nm from the equator.  We expect to cross into the northern hemisphere this afternoon.  Although we reached the northern hemisphere in SE Asia in 2012 this feels like a bigger milestone.  I think that's because we're also crossing the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) which will put us "in northern hemisphere weather".  We're looking forward to putting both "the line" and the ITCZ behind us.

Pre-Dawn Today

We had a good sail yesterday afternoon in 18-22 knots of NE wind.  During the afternoon I downloaded the text forecast for the area (Met Area V).  This forecast includes a set of locations which show the position of the ITCZ.  Interestingly the ITCZ had "jumped" 2-4 degrees north from its previous day's position.  This moved it from just south of us (where we want it) to a long way north of us.  Nevertheless the NE breeze seemed to indicate we were north of the ITCZ.

Late in the afternoon we noticed a large black cloud line approaching from the ESE.  It looked quite ominous in the twilight - very black.  When it arrived the wind swung around to the ESE.  Happily it only piped up to 25 knots or so with moderate rain.  The winds gradually decreased but stayed in the ESE.  We think this was the SE trades forcing their way back north towards the ITCZ.

The sea state when the ESE wind arrived was horrible - square waves everywhere as multiple wavetrains collided.  This took several hours to settle.  We had green water over the boat for the first time on this passage.  By 2000 the ESE wind had died to only 5 knots and the seas were still unsettled so the motor came on.  At 2300 the wind swung to the ENE and filled in to 8-12 knots so the engine was shutdown.  Since then the wind has backed further to the NE, returning us to beam reaching conditions.  Huzzah!

This morning I downloaded today's Met Area V forecast.  Guess what - the ITCZ had jumped south again.  Hence the return of the NE wind perhaps.  The ITCZ location seems to provide quite useful information, and it's not always where the NE/SE wind change on GRIBs shows!

The return of the hitchhiker (and its mess)

Our "pet" sooty tern has returned to roost for 3 of the last 4 nights.  He's gradually figuring out the most comfortable spot.  As you can see above he now likes the solar panels for a nice view of the dawn.

A few days ago I emailed Zen Again's designer Ken Hayashi and friends of her first owners Yoshio and Akemi Amanuma.  I advised them their boat had completed a circumnavigation.  They replied with congratulations which was very nice of them.  It's great to be in touch with so many of the previous owners of our lovely boat.  Our cruising barely compares to the voyage undertaken by the Amanumas.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 21

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 01 18S 040 27W, saillng at 6 knots on a course of 320M.  Our ground speed is 6.5-7.5 knots.  The wind is NE at 15-18 knots with a 1m sea and 1m N swell.  We are sailing under single-reefed main and double-furled yankee.  Broken alto-cumulus with scattered small cumulus.  Our day's run was 124nm, our DMG was 140nm and we have 1674nm to go.

The best thing about the above is that we are no longer broad-reaching.  The wind is on the beam.  Huzzah!  That doesn't mean we're through the ITCZ but it's nice to no longer need to zigzag down the course.  And we have enough wind to get the boat moving well.  And we have current with us.  Tis a marvel.  The winds "should" stay roughly NE all the way to the Caribbean.  The cloud is stopping the oppressive heat we've had for the last few days so that's good too.

We have completed our third week at sea so here are some stats.  First our speed plot for the passage to date.  Note that this shows ground speed, not velocity made good (VMG).

Zen Again Speed Over Ground - Passage To Date

And here are the stats:
  • Log Distance = 2689nm
  • Average Boat Speed = 5.3knots
  • Distance Made Good = 2226nm
  • Average VMG = 4.4knots
  • Engine Hours = 24 hours charging (5%) & 5 hours motoring (1%)

Yesterday afternoon winds lightened gradually until at 1700 we motored for the first time on the passage.  Winds were down to 4-6 knots and boat speed was down into the 2 knot range under sail.  We motored for 5 hours which gave the batteries a good charge.  At 2100 a nice 8-10 knots breeze appeared and we shut down the engine.  The wind gradually backed from ENE to NNE overnight, initially giving us several hours of close reaching.  After dawn it veered NE giving us a beam reach.

We are heading a little inshore to get back into the best current.  While broad reaching we were being forced offshore but can now head back in.  There's a nice patch of 3 knot current begging to be ridden ahead!  Finding the current seems to be a bit hit & miss.  Some boats report not finding the current and declare the GRIBs rubbish.  Others had ridden the current all the way.  I suspect the strong current is narrower than the GRIBs show.


Sunday, 13 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 20

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 02 33S 038 26W, saillng at 5.5 knots on a course of 340M.  Our ground speed is 6.5-7.0 knots.  The wind is ESE at 10-15 knots with a 1m sea.  We are sailing under full main and single-furled yankee.  Scattered small cumulus.  Our day's run was 123nm, our DMG was 141nm and we have 1814nm to go.

At midday today we moved our clocks back to the UTC-3 time zone, having crossed 37.5W latitude last night.  The stats above don't include the extra hour by the way.  We would celebrate but for the oppressive heat which would probably give us headaches if mixed with even a little alcohol.  We'll save the tots for crossing the equator.

Yesterday evening we saw our first thunderstorm for quite a while.  It was many miles away over the land.  Looked like it was in the final stages of collapse.  The GRIBs show plenty of rain over the land each afternoon.

Sunset Yesterday

Yesterday afternoon and overnight winds stayed around 12-15 knots which kept us moving nicely.  At sunset we dropped a reef in to be on the safe side and the boat was still doing 5 knots boat speed and 6 knots over the ground.  We didn't want to risk a squall sneaking up on us, particularly when the wind was sufficiient to keep us moving along quite well.

Around dawn the winds lightened off as they frequently seem to do.  We shook out the reef which restored our speed to 5 knots plus 1 knot of current.  The current has certainly made a big difference to our DMG!

We've had a steady stream of cargo ships passing by, some down to about one mile CPA (closest point of approach).  Haven't had to call anyone on VHF for some days.

The afternoon net is down to half a dozen boats now since several have made port in Brazil.  Today we're slipping the net a further hour later to 2100utc.  Nice being net controller - one can shift the net when one's own ship time slips. ;)  When we pass French Guyana we expect one boat to join the net - they've spent a few days there for R&R.

I've finally finished Ken Follett's novel World Without End.  For a while I thought it should be named Book Without End!  Despite its length it had a lot of interesting stuff about English history and customs in the 14th century.  I'm now rereading Steve and Linda Dashew's Mariner's Weather Handbook, another enormous work.  Studying the section on squalls with particular interest.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Caribbean Inbound Day 19

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 04 01S 036 36W, saillng at 5 knots on a course of 350M.  The wind is E at 10-12 knots with a slight sea and short 1.5m SE swell.  We are sailing under full main and double-furled yankee.  Scattered small cumulus.  Our day's run was 112nm, our DMG was 88nm and we have 1955nm to go.

The speed and course above are our speed through the water and our heading.  Our SOG (speed over the ground) is 6.0 knots and COG (course over the ground) is 335M, so we have over 1.5 knots of current flowing approx 290M.  Nice!  Quite close to that predicted by RTOFS.

Below is a screenshot from the routing app qtVlm showing the ocean currents for today off the Brazillian north coast.  Yellow is up to1 knot, orange is 1 to 2, red is 2 to 3 and the dark blue offshore area has over 3 knots!  The current flows strongest along the continental shelf.  QtVlm can take these currents into account when producing routes from A to B, as well as wind data and the boat's polars of course. 

RTOFS GRIB

Yesterday afternoon the winds were ESE at 8-10 knots which made progress a little slow.  During the afternoon we noticed we had an escort of several fish, each about 0.3m in length.  They seemed quite happy to keep us company.  Later a pod of dolphins sped past our bow, clearly on an important mission elsewhere.  It's always a treat to see dolphins at sea.  The water here is very clear and we could see the dolphins when they were well underwater.  Although we're off the continental shelf there are an array of shallow sea-mounts along this coast and they probably attract a lot of sea life.

At sunset we gybed onto port and headed WSW to close the coast and get into the current.  This "zig" reduced our DMG for the day but hopefully sets us up for good current for several days.  For much of the night winds were 6-8 knots and we were struggling to keep the boat speed over 3.5 knots.

Around dawn a bank of clouds came over and the wind backed to ENE and picked up to 8-12 knots or so.  By that time we were in good current and there were an array of lights - probably fishing boats - several miles ahead so we gybed back onto stbd.  The wind has gradually filled in a little more, the skies have cleared and we're having a great sail now.

Hopefully we can stay in this current without having to gybe to and fro often.  It will be well worth it if necessary though.  Still waiting for the ITCZ to materialise!

Friday, 11 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 18

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 04 20S 034 56W, saillng at 5.5 knots on a course of 350M. The wind is ESE at 12-16 knots with a slight sea and short 1.5m SE swell. We are sailing under full main and double-furled yankee. Scattered small cumulus. Our day's run was 114nm, our DMG was 111nm and we have 2043nm to go.

We have passed our waypoint off Cabo Calcanhar and the next is in the Caribbean! Unfortunately we were too far off the coast to see any lights - not even their looms. We're having to take care navigationally since there are a number of shallow sea mounts and a few islands between the mainland and Fernando de Noronha.

Yesterday afternoon the winds remained light. Overnight they lightened further, reaching 6-8 knots around dawn. At that stage we needed to run the engine to charge batteries so motored for an hour. Happily a bank of cloud came over which brought a new wind which built up to the 12-16 we have now.

Overnight we had a little assistance from current, probably less than 0.5 knot. Now we have around 0.5 knot of west-flowing current. We expect this to increase to at least 1 knot as we get further west.

We are now half way to the Caribbean in terms of route miles and hopefully beyond half way in time. If so we should complete our passage before Easter comfortably. We won't finally decide where we make landfall until we're much closer, so these posts will become "Caribbean Inbound Day N" from tomorrow.

For the last couple of nights we've a few seen aircraft passing overhead. That's something we hadn't seen at all since Cape Town. Also our friendly sooty tern came back to visit, perching this time on s/s lifeline. He helped himself to a freshly stranded flying fish, made an even less attractive deposit and finally flew away at dawn! He left a feather as a keepsake.

Trust all's well where you are.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 17

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 05 56S 033 55W, saillng at 5 knots on a course of 340M.  The wind is ESE at 10-14 knots with a slight sea and short 1.5m SE swell.  We are sailing under full main and single-furled yankee.  Scattered small cumulus.  Our day's run was 113nm, our DMG was 111nm and we have 2154nm to go.  The DMG is misleading since I have moved our waypoint off Cabo Calcanhar south to suit our approach from the SSE.

Again the last 24 hours have been quite pleasant albeit hot and humid during the day.  Winds were 8-10 knots all day yesterday and only picked up to 10-14 this morning.  It has been quite slow going.  Yesterday afternoon we raised the main to the first reef and headed a little higher to get better apparent wind.  This got us to within 80nm of the Brazillian coast where we gybed on to stbd tack just before sunset.

We had hoped to find north-going current but haven't found it yet.  It is probably inshore of us but it isn't worth the extra miles since we're heading for our waypoint at a decent speed.  We have about 100nm to run before we'll turn NW to follow the Brazillian coast.  We should certainly find current there - 1.5 to 2.0 knots.

When we do round Capo Calcanhar tomorrow morning and it will be a big milestone for Zen Again.  She will have circumnavigated the globe.  Her first owners, Yoshio and Akemi Amanuma, sailed Shirahae from Japan to the US west coast then circumnavigated South America.  In June 1991 they visited the Brazillian port of Natal which is currently 70nm away.  From Natal they sailed around Capo Calcanhar to the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and home to Japan.  Her second owner, Takashi Nishikubo, sailed Zen to Canada, the US and through the South Pacific in the 1990s to Australia.  We, her seventh owners, sailed her from the east coast of Australia to now being very close to "completing the circle".

I wonder how many cruises ultimately producing circumnavigations have featured:
  • several owners, one of which was the Crown (the boat was confiscated after use in drug trafficking);
  • so many ocean crossings (3 North Pacific, 1 South Pacific, 1 Indian, 1 South Atlantic);
  • so many miles (well in excess of 60,000nm)
  • cruising Patagonia and rounding Cape Horn!
Suffice to say we're very proud of our little boat.

Trust all's well where you are.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 16

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 07 00S 032 47W, saillng at 4.5 knots on a course of 300M.  The wind is SE at 8-10 knots with a slight sea and minimal swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and full yankee.  Scattered small cumulus.  Our day's run was 110nm, our DMG was 66nm (ugh!) and we have 2265nm to go.

The last 24 hours has seen slow progress.  The wind has been 6-10 knots throughout    We kept sailing, albeit slowly, and we had to head up to maintain even that speed.  We are about 150nm off the Brazllian coast.  We expect to gybe sometime this afternoon to head for our waypoint off Cabo Calcanhar, the NE point of South America.  The waypoint is about 160nm away.

The night sky last night was spectacular yet again.  No moon so the stars were very bright.  Quite a few shooting stars.  A couple of ships came by but were several miles away.

The afternoon HF/SSB net will be running at 2000utc from this afternoon.  We have to keep the net time in sync with the sun since the sun dictates HF propagation.  So as we move west the net's UTC time gets later.  The net will continue to run on 6224kHz with a backup of 6227kHz in case of conflicting traffic.

We haven't described our plans for this year previously.  Since we've done something like 4000nm on the water already perhaps I should.  Overall the plan is to sail to the UK, arriving in early July.  We plan the following stops:
  • St Helena
  • Lesser Antilles (eastern Caribbean)
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Bermuda (maybe - see below)
  • Azores
  • UK
We departed South Africa at the beginning of February so have 5 months to complete the plan.  Total route mileage is just under 10,000nm, so we are already 40% of the way there!  Doesn't feel like it yet.

Below are this year's plans graphically.  Last year's plans were presented in terms of "bites of the elephant".  This year the pie is a large bowl of rum punch.  Sorry - best I could come up with but it reflects the reward we hope to enjoy in the Caribbean!

The chart below shows the relative lengths of the passages, labelled by destination.  The South Atlantic is big!



The chart below shows where the time is expected to be spent.  Each slice represents the time to get to the labelled location and the time we'll stay there.


The time getting to and spent in the BVI is our "Caribbean Cruise" which we expect to start in Antigua.  Looking forward to some day sailing and the occasional rum punch.

We'd like to visit Bermuda but whether we do so depends on weather at the time.  Often the best route to the Azores goes close past Bermuda, in which case we'd stop.  However if a weather window allowing a more direct route to the Azores comes up we'll take it.

Trust all's well where you are.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 15

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 07 05S 031 01W, saillng at 5.5 knots on a course of 300M.  The wind is SE at 15-18 knots with a slight sea and minimal swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and full yankee.  Scattered small cumulus.  Our day's run was 114nm, our DMG was 102nm and we have 2331nm to go.

We have logged 2002nm for the passage to date.  Amazingly this means our average boat speed (through the water) is still 5.5knots despite being under headsail only for the last week.  And this is now the longest time we're ever spent at sea - 15 days.  I think that record's going to tumble in a big way on this passage!  Also it's nice to finally have our DMG only a little less than the day's run - shows we're able to head in the right direction at last!

We've had a very pleasant sail over the last 24 hours.  The wind was 10-12 knots last night which was enough to keep us moving along.  The sky was clear all night apart from a few small cumulus which passed over.  A spectacular moonless night.  A couple of ships came by but neither was close.

Our course is taking us approximately west (true vice magnetic) towards the coast of S America.  Hopefully we will find the predicted northerly current off the coast and gybe north to ride it to the cape (and beyond).

Yesterday afternoon we transferred 15 litres of water from a jerry can into the bladder which supplies the faucet in the head.  We also transferred 20 litres from a jerry into the main tanks which left them as full as we can get them at sea.  So far we have used no more than 80 litres of water in two weeks.  That's less then 3 litres per person per day.  We're pleased with that since it means the remaining 200 litres will last for over 5 weeks!  We're sure we won't need that long.

Here's where the fresh water goes, with a total usage of 6 litres each day:
  • 1 litre for hand/face washing and brushing teeth in the head
  • 0.6 litre for washing (in a pump bottle) we wash every other day, using fresh water for rinsing only
  • 0.4 ltre for rinsing dishes (in a spray bottle)
  • 4 litres drinking, cooking and shaving

We're making sure we stay well hydrated and 2 litres each per day seems to be all we need.  We also drink fruit juice, milk with our breakfast cereal and the juice from our daily fruit dessert.  Together these probably add 0.5 litre/day.

If the ITCZ delivers heavy rain we now have three empty jerry cans able to be filled.  Not that we need more water, but a daily wash might be nice!

Monday, 7 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 14

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 07 22S 029 02W, saillng at 5.5 knots on a course of 290M. The wind is E at 12-16 knots with a slight sea and a 1.5m swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and full yankee.  Broken low cloud with rain showers have given way to scattered cumulus.  Our day's run was 114nm, our DMG was 100nm and we have 2433nm to go.

We have completed our second week at sea so here are some stats.  First our speed plot for the passage to date.  Note that this shows speed over ground, not distance made good.


Zen Again Speed Over Ground - Passage to Date

And here are the stats:
  • Log Distance = 1878nm
  • Average Boat Speed = 5.6knots (decreased following our change of strategy)
  • Distance Made Good = 1455nm
  • Average VMG = 4.3knots (increased following our change of strategy)
  • Engine Hours = 14 hours (charging only)

Yesterday afternoon the lightish winds continued but we kept the boat moving OK.  It was a cloudless afternoon and quite hot.  The water temperature is now 29C and on sunny days it is hot and humid below.  The fans are on 24/7.

Overnight the winds picked up to 10-15 knots and the skies clouded over.  By midnight we were starting to have occasional light rain showers in complete overcast.  The wind varied from 6 to 20 knots.  The dark night may have contributed to our seeing lots of bioluminescence in the water and particularly in our wake.  Lots of tiny greenish lights in the water - spectacular.

This morning we've had more rain showers and have gybed twice as the winds backed and veered under them.  We're no longer heading straight down the track but we're making pretty reasonable progress considering the strength and direction of the wind.

I've been continuing to exchange emails with Colin the Winlink system operator in Cape Town.  He has created a set of waypoint files for OpenCPN.  Each contains all stations with particular capabilities (Pactor, Winmor etc) in their global network.  Great idea, especially given the software doesn't illustrate station location at all.  I'm hoping Colin will make them publicly available.

Winlink Pactor Stations (in magenta) in OpenCPN

Several ships have passed by over the last 3 days so we appear to be crossing the shipping lane to/from the Cape of Good Hope.  We only had to speak to one on the VHF to confirm he had changed course to avoid us.  The others passed several miles clear.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 13

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 08 47S 027 59W, saillng at 4.5 knots on a course of 340M. The wind is E at 8-10 knots with a slight sea and a short 1.5m SE swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and full yankee.  Cloudless sky.  Our day's run was 125nm, our DMG was 106nm and we have 2533nm to go.

Visitor

It has been another 24 hours of very pleasant sailing.  The wind was steady at 10-15 knots until this morning when it lightened off.  At 1800 yesterday it backed from ESE to E and we gybed.  That put us on a course of 330M, straight towards our waypoint for the first time since leaving St Helena.  Naturally that didn't last long but even now we are only 10 degrees off course.  This explains the good stats despite the low winds.

Last night was moonless until about 0300 and there were only occasional small clouds around.  Very spectacular sky.

At around 0200 a guest arrived, a sooty tern (we think).  He perched on the reefed mainsail on the boom until daybreak. He or she wasn't fazed by torchlight or the camera flash, presumably due to exhaustion.  Other boats further north have reported flocks landing aboard and flying close around them.

Yesterday afternoon's HF net had 12 yachts reporting in.  One was an American single-hander who sailed past both St Helena and Ascension and has now set course for the Caribbean.  He likes his sailing!

Saturday, 5 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 12

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 09 45S 026 29W, saillng at 5.5 knots on a course of 300M. The wind is ESE at 14-16 knots with a 1.5m SE sea and a 1m S swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and full yankee.  Scattered small cumulus clouds, some with very light rain underneath.  Our day's run was 128nm, our DMG was 100nm and we have 2639nm to go.

Winds have been quite stable over the last 24 hours.  The boat is loving it, just cruisin' along nicely.  Occasionally the sea state is confused but generally its pretty good.  Overall this really is champagne sailing.  Can't last!

In fact it certainly won't last.  In 4-6 days we'll be entering the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone or "doldrums").  There we are sure to encounter unpleasant weather (as mentioned yesterday).  We've been positioning ourselves to try to minimise our exposure to nasty weather as we approach the ITCZ.  That's why we're quite a way south of the rhumb line.

We obtain various weather information, most of which is in the form of GRIB files (GRIdded Binary).  GRIB files can contain various data including wind speed, wind direction, atmospheric pressure, wave height, swell height and others.  Three of the "others" we use are rain, CAPE and current.

Rain is pretty obvious, showing where and how much (in mm/hour) rain is expected.  As you can see below, we're well away from the heavy rain area.

Rain

CAPE stands for Combined Available Potential Energy and is a measure of how much the air "wants" to rise.  High CAPE means thunderstorms are highly likely.  High CAPE is seen at the ITCZ all the time and also along cold fronts and deep troughs.  As you can see below we're keeping well south of the high (brown & red) CAPE areas for the time being.

CAPE

Depending on how the wind, rain and CAPE forecasts develop over the next few days we may continue west for quite a way.  As you can see below there is a nice N setting current up the coast of Brazil, which then turns W following the coast.  It may we worth getting on that oceanic travellator!  We'll certainly ride the current along the N coast of Brazil.

Current

On a different tack altogether, one of the things we do most mornings and evenings is listen to the news on the HF radio.  We've found both the BBC World Service and Voice of America on various AM shortwave frequencies.

The BBC transmits from:
  • Ascension on 6005kHz, 9915kHz, 11810kHz, 15400kHz and 17640kHz; and
  • South Africa on 12095kHz.
VoA transmits on:
  • 6080kHz, 7465kHz, 9885kHz, 15580kHz.

Note that all of these frequencies are active at particular times each day, mainly in the morning and early evening.  You may find other stations transmitting on these frequencies at other times.

Friday, 4 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 11

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 09 44S 024 26W, saillng at 5 knots on a course of 300M. The wind is ESE at 14-16 knots with a 2m SE sea and a 1.5m S swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and full yankee.  Scattered small cumulus clouds.  Our day's run was 126nm, our DMG was 99nm and we have 2739nm to go.

Sunrise this morning

Winds have been quiet consistent for the last 24 hours, varying only from 10-16 knots in strength and perhaps 10 degrees in direction.  The sea state has been surprisingly variable so we wonder if there are current eddies about which are alternately smoothing and roughening the seas.  Regardless, we're just letting the boat do the talking (walking?  sailing!) while we read our books, study Winlink/Go! interfacing, watch movies and err… keep a lookout!!!

Several people have contacted us to ask why we don't pole out the yankee to run deeper downwind.  That's easy to answer - we don't have a pole!  I think I've mentioned it in the past but the story is worth repeating.  When we converted Zen Again from a sloop to a cutter rig we needed a halyard for the staysail.  The pole topping lift was ideally located so that's what we used.  Without a topping lift we considered whether we wanted to keep the pole.  My feeling is that manoeuvring spinnaker poles around the foredeck on a small yacht in blue water is one of the most hazardous jobs aboard.  So we decided to get rid of it.  We don't feel its loss generally.  It's only long dead-downwind passages where its absence may slow us down a little.

Yesterday afternoon we wound our clocks back again to UTC-2.  That earned us another weak rum punch to celebrate crossing 22.5 degrees west.  It also moved the morning and evening radio nets (which are fixed to UTC times) to nicer boat times.

For those interested in our Winlink RMS Express to Iridium Go! interfacing problem we now have a pretty good idea of its cause.  We are running RMS Express on Windows in a Parallels virtual machine on our Macbook.  We bridge the Mac's WiFI interface to Windows but Parallels sets it up as an ethernet interface.  The interface works perfectly but RMS Express looks for a WiFi interface and can't find one.  In all other respects RMS Express works perfectly with Parallels so we hope Winlink will address the issue.

Yesterday evening 14 yachts reported in on 6224kHz at 1900utc.  Everyone seems to be enjoying the great sailing conditions.  One boat further ahead suffered slight mainsail damage yesterday but had it fixed within the day.  Another boat has engine problems so is diverting to a port in Brazil to see to it.  We're all preparing ourselves for the ITCZ where we expect calms, sudden squalls and occasional heavy rain. That's still several days away for us but with the main already double-reefed we're well prepared!

Trust all's well where you are.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 10

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 10 48S 023 08W, saillng at 5 knots on a course of 350M. The wind is SE at 15-18 knots with a 2m SE sea and a 1.5m S swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and full yankee.  Mid-level overcast.  Our day's run was 137nm, our DMG was 102nm and we have 2838nm to go.

We didn't make as much progress as hoped since the winds decreased overnight and we stuck with the headsail-only rig.  Despite this we did better in DMG than we did for several days "working the angles".  It feels slow but the DMG is what counts.  This is a lesson in patience - as if after 55 years I'm going to get some of that! ;)

Yesterday afternoon winds were 20-25 knots from the ESE and we made good progress with two furls in the yankee.    The wind gradually dropped to 18-22 knots in the evening and then progressively down to 14-16 knots by morning.  The skies were partly cloudy last night.

This morning we've been cruising along under this rig to see how it goes in lighter winds of 12-14 knots.  We were slowing down but happily the wind has filled in a little and we now have 16-18 knots.  At 0900 we gybed onto stbd tack to close the rhumb line to our waypoint.

My reading is becoming more varied as my stock of SciFi eBooks is consumed.  Recently I've read:
  • The Lost World (sorta SciFi-ish)
  • Brave New World (SciFi)
  • Pinnochio (for light relief - I don't think I read it as a boy)
  • The 39 Steps
  • World Without End
We also listen to a lot of BBC podcasts:
  • Desert Island Disks (current and the 600 or so archive episodes)
  • Thinking Allowed (general)
  • Discovery (science)
  • History Extra (yes, history)
  • The Life Scientific (interviews with prominent scientists)
  • The Infinite Monkey Cage (relativity can be funny!)
We used to listen to the ABC's "Starstuff" podcast which had excellent stories of space exploration at it happened.  Sadly it was discontinued in at the end of last year.

I've also been reconfiguring our Icom M802 HF/SSB radio for the Caribbean and North Atlantic.  Things like replacing Australian and South African voice and fax weather stations with US and European stations.  And changing from Indian Ocean cruiser net frequencies to those used in the Caribbean.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 9

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 10 50S 021 10W, saillng at 5.5 knots on a course of 290M. The wind is ESE at 20-25 knots with a 2m SE sea and a 1.5m S swell.  We are sailing under double-reefed main and single-furled yankee.  Sunny with scattered small cumulus (again).  Our day's run was 138nm, our DMG was 111nm and we have 2940nm to go.

Rain shower passing by (Monday afternoon)

Following our first week's disappointing stats, particularly our speed down the course (VMG), we did some thinking.  We recalled our sail from the Wessel Islands off the Northern Territory of Australia to Darwin in 2011.  We had dead-running conditions there too and tried out a "trade wind rig" using only our No 1 Genoa.  This worked very nicely for us at the time.  FSC member Jim P also made us think about this in an email yesterday.

So yesterday afternoon we decided to try running more broadly downwind under our yankee with the main double-reefed (= trisail size) and hauled in tight amidships.  With the 18-22 knot wind the boat slowed by a knot or so.  Unfortunately the motion was more rolly which wasn't fun.  But our VMG was clearly better so we stuck with it.

We broad-reached in this manner all night and the motion didn't improve, but we like the faster progress towards those Caribbean rum punches.  Zigzagging all over the ocean was probably the best approach when winds were less than 15 knots but now our new cruisy approach is clearly the go.  Our gybing angles will be reduced from 80-90 degress to 50-60 degrees, perhaps even less.  We hope Jim is suitably chuffed!

Cruisy Broad-Reaching Rig

Our DMG (distance made good) from noon yesterday to noon today was the second best yet for this passage, and we weren't in the new mode for the entire 24 hours.  Here's hoping the wind holds in and we get a "record" tomorrow.

Last night was spectacular yet again.  The half moon really sets off the two types of night skies well.  First half with no moon and gazillons of stars.  Second half with bright moonlight and only limited stars.  It is also amazing how much the times of sunset and sunrise move as one travels west (or east).  We'll be in yet another time zone soon!

Trust all's well where you are.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

St Helena Outbound Day 8

Hi everyone,
We are currently in position 10 40S 019 00W, saillng at 6.5 knots on a course of 270M. The wind is ESE at 18-22 knots with a 2m SE sea and a 1m S swell. We are sailing under single-reefed main and triple-furled yankee. Sunny with scattered small cumulus. Our day's run was 151nm, our DMG was 100nm and we have 3051nm to go.

Yesterday afternoon we had a pleasant sail on port tack. We had the S swell on our beam which made the boat's motion much more regular. In the early evening the wind decreased to 10-12 knots but held in nicely overnight. Unfortunately the wind slowly backed so our course went from 280M to 260M. Period when we're not heading 45 degrees off our desired course seem to be few and far between!

The sky was clear for much of the night. The moon rose around midnight at the start of my watch. Twas a very pleasant night watching the stars, listening to music and working on our communications systems (see below).

This morning we transferred 30 litres of water from jerries into the main tanks. The filler is on the port side deck so we need to do this on port tack in reasonably settled conditions. Moving 20kg jerry cans around the cabin, up on deck and along the side deck can be exciting in a seaway. We believe we used about 50 litres in our first week at sea, out of the total of 270 litres. This is in line with expectations and means we still have about 4 weeks of water left. We expect to collect water in the ITCZ (doldrums) in a week or two.

I've been working on using our Iridium Go! with Winlink's RMS Express software. I'm discovering all sorts of interesting things about the Go! along the way but haven't got the two to play together yet. Winlink's Cape Town operator Colin (ZS1RS) is being a great help.

The voice nets on HF/SSB are continuing each day. Deesse runs the morning net on 6227kHz (changed from 6224kHz) at 0800utc and I run the afternoon net on 6224kHz at 1900utc. There are about 10 boats taking part. Some of the boats are now using DSC to exchange positions with me prior to the net. I wonder if this has been done before.

The only problem with being net controller and working on the computer half the night is the need to run the engine daily to charge batteries. The solar panels are giving us 15A for much of the day but that's not quite enough to get the battery voltage up to the level required for good HF transmission.

We're nearly half way to our waypoint near Fernando de Noronha. That's a good excuse for a (weak) rum punch this arvo. Gotta find and honour all the milestones!