Thursday, April 30, 2015

Day 17: Earning It

Before 1947, when Chuck Yeager flew a plane faster than the speed of sound, that threshold in the sky was called the sound barrier. Several lives and planes were lost trying to break through that wall in the sky. As I understand it, there is a drag coefficient that increases exponentially as a plane approaches the speed of sound, but that once you "break through" it's smooth sailing, so to speak.

Boy, does that ever sound like the "equator barrier" we have to break through to get to the southern hemisphere and the trade winds that are calling like Sirens. First we faced doldrums and squalls in the Monsoon Trough, and then in the ITCZ, and then the Equatorial Counter Current. (The last one was a doozy; why didn't anyone warn me of Equatorial Counter Current?)

Imagine trying to get to French Polynesia. You're halfway there, 1,300 miles away. It's still southwest of you. Imagine for days and days you've had every sail plan up and down and back up and down again, just trying to make miles. It's no fun. Imagine today the winds blowing directly from the southwest. So you tack and sail due south. All looks good on the magnetic compass, but then you see that your true heading is 25 degrees east of south. Yikes! Reticent to give up any of the westerly miles you've made, you tack over to 260 degrees, just south of due west. But in these seas and light airs, that isn't tenable, even with the motor going. You point, point, point and finally get her sailing at about 280, just north of west. You're slowly giving up your southerly progress and your speed over ground is almost zero (yes, the Equatorial Counter Current). Obviously, you were better off on the other tack-even given the easterly component--because that one at least helped you get south, out of this ocean river and closer to the elusive southern trades. So you tack again, only to realize that the wind has now dropped several knots and you really need the motor to assist, to keep both course and momentum in the large, steep, colliding chop of these confused seas. Of course, you only carry 50 gallons of fuel and you've already used a bunch motoring south through the doldrums, so you keep the RPMs low, just what is required, nothing more.

Down below, you study your new track on the iPad. The easterly component hurts, but you take comfort that you are moving south--though only at 1.9 knots. You check the fuel tank gauge and feel a tad anxious. How long will this go on?

You pull out the blender and the vacuum, taking advantage of the power that the engine is providing. You've finished your smoothie and vacuumed half the sole when you realize the motion has changed and you dart back to the cockpit.

After messing about with things for 20 minutes, you face the fact that the motor sailing isn't working out as well as it seemed when you went below. It would be nice if you could increase power, but you really can't. You shut down the motor and raise the code zero. You're pointing and the wind is light, but these conditions otherwise do not resemble any in which you've flown this sail in the past. An hour later, during which time you raised the code zero, unfurled it, furled it, dropped it, and stowed it, you realize the winds are just too light to sail upon these seas.

Maybe they're just enough to heave to?


Ahh, that's a bit better. You go below and check the iPad. You're moving three-quarters of a knot heading E-NE-back to Mexico.


Why did you want to leave Mexico?

My friend, Behan on Totem, says that longer passages remind her of her pregnancies. She said they, "begin with discomfort and a new reality, transition to a spectacular adventure with a natural high, and eventually become something I'm just ready to put behind me." That seems like a good analogy, but during which trimester does an expecting mother face the Monsoon Trough, the ITCZ, and the Equatorial Counter Current?

Behan also said that, "Just as the pain of childbirth is quickly forgotten, any tough days on a passage are quickly lost to memory."

I sure hope so. We're on track to log the longest passage in recorded history.


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1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear this is such a difficult time in the process of your journey, but I do believe the childbirth/pregnancy axiom will hold true for you. In the meantime, we just spent 5 full minutes blowing in a southwesterly direction, hoping we might help you along in some small way. ��

    We're looking forward to reading as your adventures continue, and I'm personally happy that you gave the time to blog more frequently. Safe travels.


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