Day 164 - Headwinds

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Fri 27 May 2022 07:18
Noon Position: 23 57.5 S 089 52.1 E
Course: ESE Speed: 3 knots
Wind: S Force 5
Sea: moderate Swell: SSE 3 m
Weather: sunny, warm
Day's Run: 70nm sailed, 53nm made good

We have managed to get across the Tropic of Capricorn and into the temperate
zone but haven't got much further than that. Our plan had been to carry the
trade winds down to about 26°S then muddle our way through the horse
latitudes down to about 30°S, then pick up the W'lies and run on home. But,
as Robert Burns has famously said, "the best laid plans of mice and men gang
go agley."
Here is what has happened in the last 24 hours:
The wind remained light yesterday afternoon and we did little better than
drift in roughly a S to SW direction at about one knot (though the fine
weather did allow me to get another coat of varnish on the fore-hatch).
Towards sunset some dark cloud were gathering on the horizon to the SW and I
was sure they were going to bring a change of some description. I put a
precautionary reef in the mainsail and rolled up some headsail expecting at
least some squalls in the evening. Nothing nasty eventuated but at 1900 the
wind started to pick up and by 2000 we were close hauled on the starboard
tack under full sail, making good a course of SSE at a speed of 5.5 knots,
the wind having veered into the SW. (I think it is safe to say we have left
the SE trade winds behind us on the other side of Capricorn, a lot earlier
than I was expecting.) Then the wind eased again but remained sufficient to
allow Sylph to continue making ground to the south, albeit at a leisurely
two knots, and allowing the crew to enjoy some quality sleep.
That is until 0500, at which time a rain squall came over. Presumably those
dark clouds I was concerned about had at last caught up with us. We reduced
sail to one reef in the main and 60% jib. The squall was soon past and the
wind easing again but as the night was pitch black except for an
occasional barely discernible slither of crescent moon breaking through the
overcast sky, I decided to remain under reduced canvas until dawn, which
wasn't far off.
Come dawn the sky was clear and blue with barely a cloud but the wind
continued to pick up and by mid-forenoon we were down to two reefs in the
main and the staysail in lieu of the jib, punching into a boisterous sea.
The wind is pretty much in the south now so, with with our next waypoint 385
miles due south, it is a dead muzzler. We have tacked a couple of times,
partly to shake the crew out of their tropical lassitude and back into an
ocean sailing mindset, but also with that clevis pin at the masthead in
mind. When I last checked the rig the pin had worked its way back to
starboard so, if my 'link plate ratchet theory' is correct, I need to favour
the starboard tack to pull the pin back to port. Hopefully I am worrying
about nothing and the split pins will easily cope with the sheer stresses
involved but I reckon putting a tack in every so often isn't going to hurt.
The weather fax is showing a low pressure system has developed to the south
of us, inserting itself into the elongated high that typically sits across
these longitudes. I expect it is this low pressure cell that is generating
the fresh SW to S winds and what has shot my carefully laid aforementioned
plan to pieces.
We make ourselves as comfortable as possible. Eventually fair winds
will return.
All is well.