Ascension Northwards - Day Eight 00 53.099S 030 43.724W

Mike and Liz Downing
Mon 21 Apr 2014 18:12
Had a significant weather event yesterday and still not sure how significant. It was a nasty squall that lasted about 90 minutes. The winds weren't too bad for a squall, staying around 20 to 33kts, but the rain was torrential. However, it wasn't that that made it significant, it was that it was really the start of the ITCZ for us, and secondly, once it had passed the winds came from the north east for the first time. We hope that's a sign that the consistent north east wind, that we're expecting once through the ITCZ, is not too far away and the ITCZ band is not too wide. Since the squall the winds have been light and mostly around east to ENE, but it has been from the north for a while (after more squalls) forcing us to go more westerly. We've had quite few squalls pass over us now, but none as big in terms of wind strength and rain. Some have actually turned out to be just heavy rain showers and we haven't had to change the sails at all. Between the squalls the sea stays lumpy for a while, but then settles down and is often slight, if not almost calm, until he next one comes along. After one came through in the night the wind dropped completely and the motor went on for the first time at sea since leaving Cape Town. But within the hour a light wind came up and we were able to turn it off and sail again at around 4kts. Until we really know how wide the ITCZ is it is important to conserve fuel in case we lose the wind and have to motor a long way to find it again.

When the big squall came through both genoas were poled out and, as can be the case with squalls the wind went forward of the beam and we had to get the sails away quickly, which we did. It would have been more difficult at night with only one on watch. Another boat reported this morning that they got hit by a big squall at midnight last night with too much sail and it took them a hour to get the boat back under control! We are now rigged for squalls - leeward genoa pole is down and the genoa sheeted normally, the windward pole is up and well forward so we can set the outer genoa with the wind from the stern to the beam, and the staysail sheet has been fed on the leeward side. So if a squall comes, the windward genoa is rolled away. The leeward genoa is reefed according to the wind strength (want to make the best use of whatever wind we get) and if necessary replaced with the staysail. That can all be done quite quickly and in pitch black if necessary (the moon's not coming up until the early hours now). We'll keep this arrangement until through the ITCZ.

The Equator is only 50 miles to the north, but with light winds and being forced more westerly every so often, it's seems like it's taking an age to reach it. Our planned crossing point is around 32W. Once across, the ITCZ will continue, but we hope it won't be too wide. With the light winds our noon-to-noon run was 111.4 which is actually better than I thought it would be. We have two reasons to celebrate today - we've sailed over 1,000 miles from Ascension Island and have less than 2,000 miles to go to St Lucia.

Going back to conserving fuel, we didn't run the generator as much as we should the other day and the freezer started to defrost. That's always the risk when sailing in light conditions as we lose power from everything - the tow gen, wind gen and solar panels if cloudy, as it is tending to be in the ITCZ. There wasn't a lot left in it and a few things that had thawed completely went over the side just in case (don't want upset tummies out here!) and Liz cooked the rest. So the freezer is now off and power is no longer an issue. The freezer is great if we are plugged into the mains or in a windy anchorage or on a windy passage, but it's not good in light conditions (unless you have easy access to diesel).

That's it for today - another squall approaching!

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