This morning I woke up just before 11 and had a hot shower! Then I arrived on deck to the latest weather update, basically no wind in the Atlantic and a huge hole chasing us round. So we had been sailing in what looked like the Trade Winds off Africa, but since we made the turn right we have left that band of breeze and have been suffering with an average of 8 – 10 knots true wind.
We need some longer term weather info and it is impossible to shape a long course on a two day forecast, so our skipper sets about patiently keeping the Iridium and Ipad connection going to download 9 days worth of weather files. The situation looks worse not better! Between Bermuda and 15N there is a pressure gradient of a whopping 9mb, so not much wind anywhere and this whole seems to be building around our latitude with another vacuum forming over the Caribbean. The Trade Winds don’t seem to have developed anywhere yet.
I spend the first hour of my watch trying to see if we can set up to sail dead downwind – nope is the short answer! I try goosewinging, but at the point the jib sets the main just backwinds at the top, the absence of a whisker pole makes it impossible to keep the jib out. I’m steering as low as I can and struggling to keep the sails filling, the autopilot wouldn’t be able to sail her on the edge like this for long. If only we had a spinnaker instead of a washing machine. The crew got their first real introduction to my inner genetic Dragon, which only unleashes it self in a handful of situations, one of them is being on a slow boat in no breeze. Luckily there are four corners on this boat that they could scatter do – and they did! Effing boat.
We have estimated enough fuel for 8 days constant running, so assumed worst case at 5 knots we can motor just shy of 900 miles. We have 1700 miles to Antigua. A plan is needed and it is falling to me to come up with one…
I tame the Dragon a little and channel my energy into assessing our options based on the weather forecast. It is hard to gauge position, scale and distance using the GRIB file for the whole Atlantic, I have come prepared with hurricane plotting sheets from NOAA for this exact reason and they are really handy. It is easy to project our course options on the sheet and compare with the GRIB file as the scales are similar.
I assess our options, we are 700 mile from Cape Verde which is upwind, up current and the exact opposite way that we are trying to go, but if the wind does vanish for weeks we can get there under motor, but it wouldn’t be pleasant.
Looking at the weather files and my tracking plots we have two options, a huge dive south down to 15 or 16N where there seems to be a constant, but still light breeze all the way across. Our nearest landfall if we did have to motor would be Barbados. This option would also involve us motoring SW for 24 hours potentially early on, looking at the weather files we are going to need to save all the fuel for the other end.
To the north there seems to be a band of breeze starting from 37W and running along the 22N parallel. The breeze is going to die completely at some point on this route too, but in terms of distance to run, available breeze and time to get to Antigua this will probably be the favoured route. Strange things are forecast at the other end in around 7 days time, zero wind, or wind possibly even coming out of the SW, which is really unusual, plus more weather systems moving in the north Atlantic which will hopefully suck in some circulation from this latitude. There is more chance of a change in pressure gradient, and therefore wind, to the north and the more I weigh it up to more this option seems favourable.
So the mission now is to get ourselves to 22N 37W by Sunday lunchtime, we have 48 hours to cover the 300 miles and now we are set on a heading of 290 our apparent wind angle has come closer to 120, the sails are filling and the boat is moving, so we’re only doing around 4 to 5 knots, but we are moving under sail and not burning fuel. However, if we do run out of wind we will have to motor or we risk being stuck in a doldrum like area for weeks…. From there we should have enough breeze to get us to within motoring distance of Antigua some time by the end of next week at the latest I hope. Teabags might run out before the end of the trip.
So far it is the end of day 11 and we haven’t reached half way yet, but that is ok. I like the view from my cabin window, all I can see is sea for miles and miles and miles, everywhere sea, sky, clouds, flying fish. I like the noise in my cabin, the ocean gliding gently past the window (occasionally sneaking a small splash into my cabin), the bricks being thrown at the wheelie bin have stopped somewhat, we just get the occasional water bomb now.
I was treated to another stunning starry night, with the Moon rising later giving more darkness and more stars, tonight I’m on 2200 – 0200 and then 0600 – 0900