Much Wind

Noon Position: 26 51.4 S 165 14.5 E
Course: West Sou’ West Speed: 4 knots
Wind: Sou’ Sou’ West, F5: fresh breeze
Sea: moderate Swell: South West 1.5 meters
Weather: mostly sunny, mild
Day’s run: 90 nm

Yesterday’s light headwind freshened during the afternoon to a gentle breeze. Initially I put a couple of a rolls in the genoa and a reef in the mainsail anticipating freshening conditions but Sylph was not happy. In the lulls she wallowed, under-canvassed, so I shook out the reef in the main and gave her back the full genoa. She heeled slightly to the sunny breeze and leapt ahead; to quote a more poetic friend, she “moved like silk through the water / breath of it whispered past the hull.”

The sailing was delightful, a gentle breeze keeping the sails full, the seas slight on a low swell, the sky clear, the sun shining. In the evening a bright moon led the way, Sylph’s bow seeking its silver path, the sky remained clear overhead, the stars shone. All was right with the world, but …

We were under the influence of a high pressure system sitting over New South Wales, squeezing against the lows passing to its south and east heading up the Tasman Sea. And there was this problem with Sylph’s genoa. The fabric was weak and the forecast was for the winds to pick up to 20 knots. I had spent the morning reinforcing the sail where I thought it was weakest with sticky back sail tape, but knew that it was a token job. I thought of rolling some of it up for the evening but the problem with partially furling the headsail is that it loads up the fabric in the areas where it is the weakest. At least if I kept it full the loads would be more evenly distributed. I figured I was in a no win situation, that no matter what I did the genoa was likely to rend in the rising wind. I was loathe to sacrifice the good sailing while it lasted. I figured that the genoa was basically at the end of its life, so I decided to take my chances and leave the genoa fully set for the evening.

At 2.30 I awoke to the wind rising. I immediately went on deck to check the sails and sure enough the genoa had already torn completely across a lower panel. I furled it, put a reef in the mainsail, and set the staysail. With the small staysail set we picked up speed to about three knots with which, under the circumstances, I had to be satisfied.

Since then the seas have risen, the wind has freshened some more and backed into the sou’ sou’ west, so we are now able to sail pretty close, though not quite, to our desired heading for Sydney. “Mostly storms and gales’ is how old Joshua Slocum summarised his passage through this part of the world back in 1898, though he was rather late in the season. The Tasman is, in my experience, not a friendly patch of water.

All is well.