Thursday, March 7, 2013

To the Galapagos - Part 2

I'll just pick up where I left off last time. Tuesday night had us (me) very occupied during the shifts. There were quite a few squalls around (hurray for the extra "boost" of breeze) and the wind shifted and fluctuated a lot. The bad weather cells eventually dissipated, but we kept checking the radar every 20 minutes or so. Electricity is precious while you are sailing long distance with not much solar or wind energy "coming in". The spinnaker was up and that kept me on the edge of my seat. These light wind sails collapse very easily and a vigilant watch has to be kept. So, for three hours, my eyes were on the instruments and the white and red sail flying ahead, like an inflated balloon. I adjusted course frequently to keep the sail full and hold our speed at 4 knots. No time for dozing off that night.

When it was his turn, Mark set the auto pilot and let the spinnaker do its thing. He didn't mind losing a half a knot of speed to get comfort in return. It is much easier that way. When I tried to be more relaxed about it later that night, the wind disappeared almost completely and I got used to a limp spinnaker hanging above the trampoline when the wind meter showed 0.0. At those times we were doing 2.8 knots over the ground and the boat bounced around erratically. Once the wind picked up to 1 or 2 knots - hey, some wind is better than none, especially with the spinnaker - we were "moving along" again at 3 knots. The performance of this sail is unbelievable and under these circumstances it is to our advantage to be light and small! I am amazed that Irie can do 2 knots over water in 2 knots of true wind! Then there is the 1 knot of favorable current on top of that.

Day 5 started with no wind and us bobbing along with the current for a few hours; the spinnaker doing its best trying to billow. We were stalled, but still going the right direction. At least we weren't going backwards! At 10:00 we placed the spinnaker on the other side of the boat - a 20 minute ordeal - and the wind picked up to 2-4 knots, resulting in a new and highly improved cruising speed of 4-5 knots, which in turn offered us a pleasant and relatively comfortable time on board. Ah, the little things in life...

Then, at 15:30, whoosh, the sail backed, bottom edge in the deep blue water. The wind totally died and became "light and variable", meaning the arrow of the wind meter went in circles. No sail could do anything about our new situation and we were doomed to turn the engines on. For hours and hours and hours. Who said sailing in the lowest latitudes was ideal? Or was even possible? But, Mark made giant pretzels and they tasted awesome!

The sea was flat and we didn't need to rig a sail for the night. The weather predictions didn't matter much either, since we were on a direct westerly course to the Galapagos now, in an area of little wind and little change. We motored into the sunset (18:44, was it?) and saw some new type of dolphins - small and black - frolic in the current. The day's highlight happened at 23:18 or so, when we crossed the equator. The plan was to have a virgin rum&coke with a Greek appetizer/snack of filled grape leaves, or Belgian truffles, depending on the hour of "changing hemispheres". It being night and the beginning of my shift - talk about inconvenience - Mark (together with Neptune) imbibed the rum part and I had a glass (yes, real glass ware for the occasion) of coke with a shot of lime juice! Our drinks were accompanied by pieces of chocolate delight from Belgium. Thank you, Griet and Wim. You made our transition from north to south extra sweet! It was quite the party on Irie.

A few hours after the "equator party" (attendees: Mark, Liesbet, Mr. Gecko and a winged hitchhiker), the weirdest thing happened. An hour prior, a slight puff of wind had us turn the engines off and raise the spinnaker in the moonlight. Mark was at the helm, keeping an eye on the radar screen, where squalls dotted the area, a respectable distance away. You don't want to be surprised by one of those, especially flying a very flexble, laid-back, light sail. All of a sudden, a purple smudge on the screen closed in on us, very fast. I was woken up and we immediately dropped the spinnaker. "Hurry!" Mark urged, "I would rather not get wet!" In the quiet of the night we could hear the rain approach. But, there was no wetness involved. Because it wasn't rain. The rustling water sound was created by a series of little waves rushing towards and underneath us like a white water river. A funny current phenomenon. Picked up by the radar, amazingly enough.

Since the sails were down and real squalls were approaching, we took to motoring again, for the rest of the night. One of the systems went over Irie, who was in desperate need of a good fresh water rinse. After months of dry season in Panama, the shower was welcome. Engines roaring, diesel fumes wafting through still air, helm seat vibrating; hour after hour our little boat kept plowing westward at six knots, making decent progress again, "cheating". I'm sure our "competitors" were motoring as well, in this notoriously wind deprived part of the ocean.

The sun woke up and so did Mark. Day 6 arrived, but forgot to bring wind. I was sick of motoring (and we have a small fuel tank), so the alternative was ... drifting. I switched the engines off. Thoughts of movie characters acting out seaventures, sailors caught in the doldrums, and ship wrecked people floating in an endlessly flat ocean crossed my mind. It was dead quiet. Peaceful. Mirror-like seas. Half of my vision filled with water; the other half with air. Both fields separated by a perfectly straight line; the infinite horizon. I saw ripples in the distance, behind us. Within half an hour - joy of joys - a fresh breeze caught up with us. Ready. Set. Action! Spinnaker up, mainsail up (new trick), and off we went for the most perfect sail of the trip, doing 6.5 knots in 12 knot winds! Life is good. ;-)

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