Cape Town to St Helena - Day Four 27 44.660S 010 25.590E

Mike and Liz Downing
Mon 17 Mar 2014 15:25
The winds came up yesterday afternoon and have stayed in the low twenties, gusting to the high twenties and occasionally to 30kts. The seas have come up too to 2 to 3 metres, occasional a bit bigger. They are what we call churning - lots of white horses and no real pattern of peaks and troughs. Although it appears fairly random when waves pass us, they do have one thing in common, as said the other day, they are all going in approximately the same direction as the wind, and us. So no cross seas, at least not so far! As the waves come past, some queue up and we get 2 or 3 biggies in quick succession, but then may get a quiet period for a minute or two before the next batch arrive. We were well reefed down last night with what was quite an odd sail plan. Mid-afternoon both genoas were fully out, and poled out, and we were over-canvassed, more so than we thought. Taking over half the sail area away, the speed hardly dropped! It's easy to fall into the trap of having too much sail up when going down wind, especially when you're a bit rusty.

Not knowing how high the winds might go overnight we decided to take the working genoa pole down, so the outer genoa would be well reefed and poled out and the working genoa well reefed and sheeted normally. This gives a lot of flexibility if the winds come up. The outer genoa can be rolled away (and its pole left up) and the working genoa reefed as necessary for the conditions. We do have to move the wind (so to speak) from dead down wind to the port side (in this case)to ensure the sail not poled out will fill and not keep collapsing. The decision to take the pole down was made late and it was dark when we finished, but instead of putting the working genoa back up, having taken the pole down, we tried the small staysail, re-feeding the sheets (have to do that as although we have 3 headsails, our turning blocks only cater for 2, so one of the sheets sits in the cockpit and is fed through the turning block when needed). So we ended up with a tiny handkerchief of outer genoa poled out to windward and the small staysail sheeted normally to leeward. An odd combination that you won't find in any text book, but it worked really well, keeping the boat moving and very steady. It's amazing how little sail area we had up, but still made 6 to 7kts most of the time, and with the boat on a very even keel, so very comfortable considering the conditions. Anyway, the net result was a noon-to-noon run of 155.8 miles. 150 miles a day is good, and anything over we consider a bonus.

At lunchtime today we effectively gybed, taking the wind from the port side to starboard, and replaced the staysail with the working genoa. The reason is sea mounts. There's a ridge of sea mounts across our path about 200 miles ahead. They're not shown on any of our Navionics electronic charts, but are on the paper chart we have. We can sail over them, but one is only 23 metres below the surface. Okay, we only draw just over 2 metres, but in moderately rough conditions who knows what the sea state is going to be like around them. Also, there's more likelihood of encountering fishing boats in the vicinity, so as far as we're concerned they're best avoided and given a wide berth. Electronic charts are good, but in open ocean they don't show the detail that the paper ones do and we like to know what we're sailing over!

Had a special visitor today - our first albatross of the passage. It came close and circled around the area of the boat a few times and was then gone. We are seeing more bird life on this passage, particularly Shearwaters. It'll be interesting to see if that continues as our feeling is that generally there was far more wildlife to see in the North Atlantic than in the Pacific or Indian Ocean. There were exceptions, like around the Galapagos, but in deep ocean, the Pacific and Indian oceans seemed quite sterile with very little to see. Perhaps it's the distances from land involved - they are so much bigger. Currently we're only about 270 miles off the coast of Africa, although that's increasing as we head north.

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