St Helena Northwards - Day Four 10 30.706S 011 35.743W

Mike and Liz Downing
Mon 7 Apr 2014 17:27
There's no doubt that this is very pleasant sailing! Another glorious day without a cloud in the sky and the beautiful colour of the sea stretching to the horizon in every direction. Even in these calm conditions there is swell and we do still roll a bit, but it is very gentle. So it's a great way to travel, as long as you have plenty of time! It was very light last night and we spent quite a few hours only just above 2kts. Our noon-to-noon run was the lowest for a very long time at just 87.7 miles. The wind's been a little better today (up from around 5kts to around 9) and we've been making 3 to 4kts most of the time. A cheer went up when we reached 5kts just before lunch! But it was just a fleeting surge and within minutes we settled back to the 3 to 4kts that's continued all afternoon.

Last night was the clearest yet - not a cloud in the sky the whole night. There's no light pollution out here so star gazing was at it's best. The iPad, which never usually goes on deck, did last night and the StarWalk app came into it's own as we tracked Mars, Saturn and a host of others that we wouldn't normally recognise. Talking of being out here, ignoring St Helena and Ascension, we are just about as far in the middle of the South Atlantic as you can get at this latitude - about 1,400 miles from Africa and the same from South America. Ascension is 216 miles ahead. Not that far, but far enough when only making 3 to 4kts. Hope the swell is low enough to allow us to make a brief stop.

It's interesting to think (had a lot more time to ponder overnight!) that the last time we experienced such light conditions and were totally becalmed was crossing the North Atlantic, heading for the Caribbean, back in 2008. At no time in the Pacific, other than a small bit heading for the Galapagos, or the Indian Ocean did we ever have conditions that remotely resemble these. There was always plenty of wind and generally too much rather than too little. The cruising chute was buried in the forward locker after that Atlantic crossing and it's never been given another thought. So why is the Atlantic different? Two reasons. Firstly all the Oceans have their high pressure zones, but it's only in the Atlantic that you go close to these when following the main traditional sailing routes. So in the North Atlantic it's the Azores High, which you go to the south of when heading for the Caribbean and north of when heading back to Europe. In the South Atlantic the high sits between South Africa and Argentina and boats doing the Cape to Rio race (which had very light conditions) sail round it - to the north to get to South America and to the south of it to sail back to South Africa. The high pressure areas of the Pacific and Indian Oceans are not on the main sailing routes for yachts, so you don't experience the very light winds. The other area of light winds is either side of the Equator, where the tradewinds peter out and the doldrums begin. The routes we took across the Indian Ocean and the Pacific, apart from the 1,000 mile stretch from Panama to Galapagos, were not that close to the Equator. The passage from Cape Town to the Caribbean clearly crosses the equator so we will have to cross the light wind zone on both sides. And that's what we're doing now, with very light tradewinds and the doldrums a few hundred miles ahead.

Meeting up with a few boats in St Helena, we've joined another SSB net. There's 6 boats calling in twice a day, at 08.00 and 19.00. Two are at Ascension Island already and awaiting parts! With its strategic position, Ascension is a communications base and an Air Force base (for the UK and USA), and has a runway with two military flights a week from Brize Norton in the UK. It would appear that it's not too difficult to get parts sent out on these planes. One of the other boats is about 180 miles behind us and the other two are about 300 miles behind. So unlike the passage from Cape Town to St Helena, we do have some company, albeit well spread out!

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