Tag Archives: sailing

Seeking Trade Winds

PLEASE NOTE: This post belongs after “Westward to Distant Marquesas” and before “Broken Shroud.”

This passage isn’t going the way I pictured it. No surprise, right? None of the places we’ve visited have matched my preconceived notions of what they’d be like. But I’ve crossed oceans before, so I thought I knew what to expect at sea. After a few hundred miles sailing or motoring SW from the Galapagos, we should hit constant trade winds of about 15 knots, and be zipping along on a broad reach under spinnaker for the last two-thirds of the trip. We’re going into our sixth day, and we’re still looking for that constant trade wind, and we have yet to set a spinnaker. Right now we have about 10 knots, from the expected SE. But for much of the day we had 7 or 8 knots — very light. Plus patches where it changes 45 degrees and/or nearly stops blowing. What’s happened to the trade winds!?

And what should our strategy be to make the most of the situation? The wind is generally stronger further south. And when the wind is light, we sail fastest on a close reach — going across the wind rather than with it. So we’ve been continuing to sail SW, beyond what we had planned. Getting more South, and keeping our boat speed up. We are now south of the two boats ahead of us. Soon we will have to turn west for the Marquesas. Will our additional “southing” give us a payoff, or are we simply sailing unnecessary added distance?

We make our guesses about the trade-offs based on “grib files” — wind predictions that we receive via the SSB radio, in a .GRB file format. I don’t remember what GRB stands for, if anything. A file is very slowly coming in over the radio now, as I write, but the software estimates it will take another 35 minutes to completely receive it. It will show wind predictions every six hours for the next two days. Based on what, I honestly don’t know! How much data is available, and how much is interpolation? [We have a drifter buoy aboard, that we will be deploying when we get to 108 degrees west longitude. That will add one more data point. Other BPO boats are deploying buoys at various longitudes, but still there can’t be all that many buoys transmitting weather data…]

Based on the previous grib files from the previous two mornings, we expect to see a trough of confused and light winds to our north, and gradually stronger winds as one moves further south and west from there. Two days ago it looked like we were far enough south to avoid the messy area. Yesterday it appeared that we would have to get further south. Today…we’ll know soon.

Jimmy Cornell likes to say that GRB stands for “garbage,” and we should ignore these predictions. Or at least not “outsmart” ourselves by taking the predictions too seriously, and making course changes on account of them. Yet that is what we’re doing, and so far the gribs have been helpful. We’ll see over the next few days if our southing has a payoff…


Fresh food and a hot shower. From past experience, these are the things I have missed after a week or so at sea, that were the plus side of arriving somewhere. If not for those benefits, I’d have preferred that the passage not end.

And these benefits are calling to me now. But their song is not so compelling as in the past. The reason is that we have amenities that I’ve never had on my boats before: a refrigerator, a freezer, and a water maker. Okay, I’ve had a fridge on past boats, but never one that we relied on for an ocean crossing.

It’s true that we are running out of fresh fruits and vegetables. But our freezer is well stocked with meats and cheese. We have fresh baked bread. We have cold beer and soft drinks. Sure, a good dinner at a restaurant sounds delightful, but I wouldn’t trade it for tonight’s beautiful sail under the stars in the warm breeze. I do miss having a regular supply of cookies…

And with a water maker we can use water much more freely than if we were limited to what we started with in our tanks. So we can take showers. Not like showers ashore, but at least a fresh water rinse every couple of days, to get off the salt. It’s wonderful!

So upon completion of our 3,000 miles, will I be happy to arrive, or disappointed that we have to stop? Not sure yet. I suppose it will be both, as in the past. Sorry to see it end, and happy to have cookies!

Westward Toward the Distant Marquesas

First day out was fantastic. The BPO had a scheduled noon “start,” which I guess was essentially a chance for the shore crew to come out and take photos of the boats. We were anxious to go, and got out to the start at least an hour early. Do we keep going, or wait around? We decided it would be good form to wait, and that gave us a chance to clean most of the crud off our waterline that had accumulated in the dirty Galapagos harbors. But when noon arrived and most of the other boats were still motoring toward the start, up went our sails and off we went. There was a surprisingly pleasant wind, and we made the most of it, staying in front of all but one of the other boats.

It’s not a race, we are frequently reminded, and we remind ourselves. But in fact, for us, it is two races. The most important one is to make the best possible crossing given whatever conditions we encounter. In this race I think we are doing very well. The winds have been unusual/challenging. But we have kept the boat moving nicely, taking advantage of whatever is available, and I can see only minor details (even in retrospect) that we could have done better. Our second race is against the other boats. For starters we want to prove (to ourselves) we are faster under sail than the other catamarans. This is pretty much accomplished already, as they are 60+ miles behind us. But there are two boats ahead of us. Blue Wind is reputed to be a serious racing boat, though I know nothing more about this than seeing how fast they go! Tohawus is a fast cruiser, but is 54 feet long to our 42. We’d like to prove (to ourselves) that we can go faster than they can, in certain conditions. So far we have not found those conditions. We have been going fast, but they have been going equally fast, or slightly faster. They have been about 30 miles ahead of us for the past two days. I think there are conditions (fairly high wind, downwind, where we might be surfing at 13 knots or more) where we could overtake them, but we haven’t had such winds, and I’m not sure if we will on this crossing.

Our second day/night out was more what we expected for the first few hundred miles — very light winds; everybody motoring. Most of the boats go under power at about the same speed, but Tohawus is faster under power, so they pulled ahead. But we stayed in front of the pack, so when the wind came up, we got it before they did. And the wind has gradually increased each day, allowing us to stretch ahead of them (while Tohawus stretched their lead on us). Stay tuned. Check the Cornell Sailing “track the boats” web site to see how we’re doing!

During the day I do a lot of staring at the horizon, half expecting to see something. But there is nothing here but ocean, more ocean, an occasional bird, and lots of flying fish. I did see a whale spout once, but it remained in the distance, taking no interest in us. We haven’t seen another boat since our second day, nor do we expect to at this point. We’ve had a lot of pleasant idle time. I have a book to read, but that feels like a distraction from just sitting and watching the ocean go by.

Life has been pretty smooth aboard. The first days we tend to feel lethargic — just a touch of sea sickness. That is now past, and we have more energy. I started baking bread today, as our bread from the Galapagos has already turned moldy. Mine is a hundred times better than the crap they have there anyway. I don’t understand how such interesting people can put up with such lousy bread!

I’m on my night watch, and it is a black night — no moon, no stars. We are scooting along at 9+ knots with no fuss at all. Very cool that this boat can move like this, though eerie to be speeding into blackness.

I’m very, very happy to be exactly where I am right now! 🙂