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Friday, April 13, 2012

Day 9 Mexico to the Marquesas

April 12, 2012
0200UTC or 7PM boat time
Position at 0200UTC: 10°15'N 118°02'W

Day 9: Mexico to Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia

All is well aboard. As I mentioned in a earlier post we've had a spinnaker up non-stop for the last few days and as I write that makes 59 hours. The plan is to keep it flying overnight and maybe change for a bigger sail in the morning. At the moment, we're using our smallest spinnaker, the 'gun', as winds are near 24 knots true and this sail is perfect for running deep downwind as it requires very little attention. The sail is 2.2oz and apparently a storm spinnaker of some 27' Ericson from the 1980's. From a value stand point the $120 I gave for the sail several years ago when we were passing through Eureka, CA is really paying off. The boat course can swing around at the mercy of the waves and despite some pretty big changes in the apparent wind angle all the way from 130 apparent on port to 130 apparent on starboard the small spinnaker is happy to stay set. This is working out even better than I expected.

I thought it was just me thinking that the swell period seemed short and choppy, but tonight on the PPJ net nearly every boat in the neighborhood lamented about the steep and confused seas. Many boats reported lots of 'boat bites' or bruises from getting dashed around their cabins, luckily LightSpeed is still pretty comfortable despite the active sea state, we remain unscathed. We are however, experiencing much more frequent under deck slamming as white crested breaking waves overtake us and bump the underwing between hulls. This slamming is loud and definitely disruptive to my sleep and many times a night I wake with a start and burst of adrenaline which is not complimentary to getting back to sleep. We've experimented with altering the course a bit, but at the end of the day we are just a small boat at the mercy of the sea.

Due to the active sea state our autopilot is working hard to keep pace with the short period swells that seemed to have a mixed direction and shove the boat around. So, to give the autopilot motor time to cool off we've implemented a new policy that requires everyone to hand steer at least once throughout the day. Andrew and I each spent at least 1 hour on the wheel, which also had a benefit of reduced electrical consumption while the autopilot rested. As a result our batteries were fully recharged via our solar panels today. Most days we can't quite get a full charge due to cloud cover or shading from the sails. Less sunny days we've run our Honda generator for about an hour to provide a boost to the batteries. Luckily we've only had to do this twice so far this voyage. Kelsey and Kathy also took turns at the helm while I was napping today and as a result everyone is getting quite good at hand steering which seems to be a skill in decline since the advent of modern reliable autopilots.

The weather is certainly warming up with temperatures in the cabin today ranging from 88F in the hulls to 94F in the pilot house. Even our cat 'Shell' was feeling the heat and spent most of the day sprawled out on the floor. At one point I took her in the shower and got her half soaked, of which she not only didn't complain, but seemed to enjoy the coolness of her soaked coat. The sea temperature is now up to 82.4F. Due to the heat I never even bothered to put on a shirt this morning and by noon was pretty burned on my torso and regretting my early morning decision.

Yesterday, we spotted a ship that passed within about 8 nautical miles and around the same time we unknowingly overtook a 53' Amel named s/v Cest La Vie. We didn't even see s/v Cest La Vie, maybe because she was out of sight or perhaps since we were occupied by the huge tanker ship at the same time. It wasn't until we checked in on the PPJ net that we realized that Cest La Vie was only 10nm distant. At that point I called them on the VHF channel 16 to ensure our paths wouldn't be crossing again. As of net check in tonight we now are 50nm south of Cest La Vie so nothing more to be concerned with.

This afternoon we hooked a small Mahi Mahi which will make a great meal. Not knowing what we had on the line when the reel began to sing as the line ripped off, Andrew and I tackled taking down the spinnaker to slow the boat so we could land the fish. Kelsey was in the shower and Kathy was taking a nap at the time so we had our hands full as the spinnaker doesn't have a sock and we are not flying the mainsail which would have been useful to 'cover' the spinnaker for the take down. Andrew provided the brute force gathering the sail on the trampoline while I managed the two guys, two sheets and the halyard. It wasn't perfect, but we got the sail down and landed the fish about the time the girls showed up on deck. Launching the spinnaker was a bit easier with Kelsey helping, but the foredeck crew made a classic mistake and didn't ensure the halyard was clear before giving the ok to hoist the sail. With 20 knots of wind the sail tends to fill quickly and thus requires the halyard to be winched to the final position. This is the point where a halyard wrap on the forestay starts to do damage as the halyard is loaded and as it's winched it cuts into whatever it's wrapped on. As we were trimming the sail I noticed Andrew really struggling with the spinnaker halyard winch exerting more pressure than would be expected if there wasn't a problem somewhere. I called for him to stop then looked aloft to see the issue. In this case the spinnaker halyard was mostly in contact with the jib halyard and likely sawing through the line due to heat and friction. So, down came the spinnaker, the wrap sorted out and then one of my classic lectures about 'Watching what you winch' was endured by the crew before the sail was reset. The next time the wind drops we'll need to drop the jib and splice the line after removing the damaged portion.

We are starting to look ahead to crossing the ITCZ aka: doldrums near the equator. Deciding where to cross is critical, if you pick well you get to keep sailing and if you pick poorly or get unlucky you are overtaken by days of squalls, torrential down pours, lightning and little useable wind to sail. For the record I really think this ends up more about luck than planning, but we'll still try to stack the odds in our favor. At our present speed and course we'll be at 05N 124W in about 48 hours. 05N is where the winds seem to start getting light and going East, so we might be better off to try to get more Westing in our course for the next few days and aim more toward 05N 127W from there we could jibe over on to port tack and sail south with light winds on or our ahead of our beam. I'd like to get as far south as possible before the SE trades fill in. When they do I hope to be positioned so we can lay the Marquesas by running deep downwind under spinnaker, our most comfortable point of sail.

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