First of all, I apologise that the following is entirely concerned with the somewhat uninspiring subject of the weather. Those of you who are in the UK will perhaps sympathise, since the weather is usually miserable and frequently therefore a convenient point of reliable conversation. It’s mildly soothing to gripe and moan about it after all, and usually a safe subject since the odds are that the person you are griping and moaning about it to more than likely shares your views on the topic. ‘The weather’ is perhaps the most talked-about subject in the UK, not least because it serves as a convenient launch-pad from which to initiate a conversation, sound-out ones prospective conversational partner and, if conditions are favourable, henceforth diversify and expand cautiously into topical areas of greater controversiality. Or not. Compared to the standard quintessentially British weather-based gripe however, my situation is somewhat sadder. I am going to talk almost exclusively about the weather because the weather is almost exclusively what has occupied my mind in one form or another for the entirety of the last 6 days.
We’ve been at sea now for 6 days and have made good progress. Our noon position was 10 degrees 12 minutes south, 099 degrees 12 minutes west. That puts us 780 miles from our point of departure from the Galapagos Islands and 1980 miles from Pitcairn Island. That’s almost the same distance remaining as the entire width of the USA from San Francisco to Washington. The closest mainland is the coast of Peru, 1200 miles upwind to the East.
If you are British and tired of hearing about the weather, you can stop reading now.
We’ve been exceptionally lucky so far. Having caught the trade winds after less than one day they have remained consistent and moderate right up until now and we have been able to log some fast days. 148 miles between the 14th and 15th; 150 miles between the 15th and 16th. Unfortunately we have slowed down a touch now and only managed to log 118 miles over the last 24 hours. The reason for this is that we have encountered a greater and greater number of squalls. They haven’t been particularly strong ones – perhaps 25 knots of wind at the most, but in between the squalls winds have been light – between 5 and 12 knots, and this has made choosing an appropriate amount of canvas to carry a challenge. With a large crew it would be no trouble to take in sail as each squall approaches and then re-set it once it has passed, or at least turn down-wind with each squall and run with it. With only two of us however, and squalls hitting every half an hour or so, such tactics would quickly tire us beyond reasonable limits. There are therefore two choices – either carry the appropriate amount of sail for the light patches in between the squalls and accept being overpowered during them, or, more conservatively, carry appropriate canvas for the squalls and then be under-powered the rest of the time. On a voyage such as this, we simply cannot afford breakages, so the more conservative option has been decided upon, however frustrating it may be to crawl along at 3 knots while rolling uncomfortably in the cross-sea. Despite this tactic of essentially doing as little as possible, I was up at least 10 times during the night to tend to one thing or another and did not greet daybreak with particularly great gusto or enthusiasm.
It is now 2pm and someone appears to have taken pity on us. Following a period of an hour or so when visibility dropped to about 2 miles and the world seemed to be made up entirely of dark, brooding clouds, they have broken and for now at least we are enjoying a pleasant beam-reach romp in consistent 18-knot winds.
We have just downloaded some updated weather information and it looks fairly encouraging. The forecast is for winds to drop to 12 knots and come aft, then build to about 20 knots but stay behind us. Provided the seas aren’t too great that should with luck make for a comfortable down-wind ride for a few days. Fingers and toes are crossed. Pitcairn is looking a little more likely now – maybe 70%. If only these squalls wouldn’t mind taking their business elsewhere. Permanently!