The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Fri 28 Apr 2017 03:43



02:27S  072:50E


So far we've done 108 miles with 180 miles to go. We’ve got blues skies with scattered fluffy clouds and 5-8 knot SSW winds.  We’re motor-sailing upwind with 2 foot seas.   Here's what we did yesterday and overnight.


27 April 2017   Gan to Chagos (Day 1)

A squall passed through in the middle of the night with strong winds, forcing me out of bed to check that we weren’t swinging into the reef. All was well, but I didn’t get much more sleep before the alarm went off at 05:30.  I checked the weather and the two forecasting models still don’t agree, but GFS shows 10 knot west winds, so we decided that was good enough to head for Chagos.


We stowed the dinghy on deck; prepared for sea and by 06:50 we were on our way.  After motoring out of the southern pass, we were able to sail, but the wind had more south than forecast, so we were hard on the wind and only able to lay a course over the ground of 170 degrees – 30 degrees off our rhumb line of 200 degrees.  There’s a very strong 1 to 2 knot east setting current, which is giving us 20 degrees leeway – we’re steering 190 degrees, but only achieving 170 degrees over the ground.


We bumbled south in the light winds and sunny skies, then a huge squall system appeared from the south-west and remorselessly headed for us.  By starting the engine and speeding up, I managed to avoid the first rain squall, but the second one hit us with a vengeance. The wind veered by 30 degrees, which allowed us to steer a better course, but it quickly picked up to over 30 knots with torrential rain. 


We ran downwind while I put two reefs in the main and then came back on course, which was a tough beat upwind.  A couple of times, the wind became so strong that I was forced to run downwind again to ease the pressure on the sails.  We had a horrible hour before the skies brightened and the wind dropped to 20 knots.  The winds and seas were terribly confused for the next 30 minutes, so we motor sailed to maintain our momentum, but gradually, the sun came out and things settled down, so we were able to turn the engine off.


After lunch, the wind stayed at 15 knots from the west allowing us to sail on a course of 200 degrees over the ground – we were 8 miles downwind of the rhumb line, but at least we were heading towards our destination.  Glenys took advantage of the settled conditions to make dinner – she normally makes two meals before we leave port, so she’s kicking herself because she didn’t bother this time.  We were both expecting light wind conditions with a lot of motoring, so this squally weather was a bit of a shock.


I went to bed for my afternoon off-watch nap leaving Glenys motor-sailing, slowly edging back towards the rhumb line.  When I got up 90 minutes later, the wind had backed by 45 degrees and another huge squall system was bearing down on us.  We headed south-east to try to get out of the way and were able to turn off the engine as the wind increased.  Fortunately, we managed to out-run the  squall system and then the wind gradually veered, so that we could steer almost south. Our track since leaving Gan looks like the weaving of a drunken sailor.


The skies looked better as we ate our dinner, with no signs of squall systems nearby, but the skies were overcast and unsettled.  We had a spectacular sunset with the sun going down behind towering clouds causing a couple of impressive rays of light streaming into the sky.


As darkness fell, a Red-footed Booby land on our solar panels.  This happened a lot in the Pacific Ocean, but we haven’t had one for ages.  They see our 6ft * 6ft solar panels as a perfect landing platform.  While it’s nice to see birds really close up, we end up with hard-crusted guano all over the solar panels and it’s a devil to clean off.  Our friend was not for moving, so after he snapped at my hand a couple of times, I gently prodded him off with a pole.


At the start of my 7-10 watch, the wind backed and dropped to less than 10 knots, forcing us nearly south-east, so I started the engine and headed back south, motoring directly into the 8 knot wind and waves – very, very frustrating.  At least we were heading towards Chagos albeit at 4 knots to conserve fuel.  The stars came out at about 21:00, but with no moon it was a dark night.