The Alba Chronicles
Neville Howarth
Sun 28 May 2017 03:06



17:28S  067:14E


So far we've done 840 miles with 260 miles to go. We did 130 miles in the last 24 hours.  We have 90% cloud cover and 15-20 knot SE winds.  We’re on a broad reach with 3 metre seas. We’re expecting to arrive in Rodrigues on the morning of Tuesday 30th May – only two more nights to go.  Here's what we did yesterday and overnight.


27 May 2017   Chagos to Rodrigues (Day 6)

At dawn, the sea was a churning cauldron, with 4 metre waves and breaking white caps as far as the eye could see.  Winds of 25-35 knots were whistling through the rigging and the skies were grey and dismal.  We were on a beam reach, so the waves were hitting us side-on, occasionally tipping us over beyond 45° and sending walls of water over the deck.  Fortunately, the bimini side flap and the new dodger that Glenys made recently are doing a sterling job of keeping water out of the cockpit.


Every morning, I’ve been getting a High Seas weather forecast from Mauritius (Saildocs: “send Met.8s”).  We’re in Area 8/3 and today’s forecast was “20 knot ESE winds, locally gusting to 30 knots.  Seas moderate to locally rough. A few showers. Visibility moderate in showers.”  There was no mention of any troughs or other weather features in our area.  The GRIB files showed ESE 20-22 knot winds for the next two days and then dropping to 17 knots.  We resigned ourselves to another two days of discomfort.


During the morning, we had a few 35 knot spats with one recorded at 40 knots, but sailing with only the stay sail kept us moving along without having to do any sail changes. The GRIB file forecast showed the rain to be patchy in the area, but it looked like it might get better overnight. The high wind had definitely been associated with rain, so we hoped for a steadier night.


My unintentional gybe last night has bent one of the stanchions on the starboard bow – the preventer runs from the front cleat, outside the guard rails to the end of the boom and my gybe pulled the preventer rope onto the stanchion - it’s now got a 20° bend.  I don’t think that the stanchion is any weaker, so it is doing its job holding the guard rails.  I might leave it bent, I think that it adds character to the boat and is a talking point – “No shit, there we were in the middle of the Indian Ocean...”


The strength of wind constantly amazes me.  I think that I read somewhere that the force of the wind on the sails doubles for each increase of 5 knots.  I  can believe it , the sound of the wind definitely doubles for every 5 knots.  At 20 knots, it seems a bit noisy.  At 25 knots, it’s a roar.  At 30 knots, the bimini starts to flap and shake. Over 35 knots, the wind is whistling through the rigging and we start to shout at each other.


Unfortunately, in high wind conditions, the wind doesn’t steadily increase.  Instead, it tends to leap up by 15 knots, so a 20 knot (a bit noisy) wind suddenly becomes a 35 knot gale.  Combined with a sudden increase in breaking white caps on the waves, it all becomes a bit scary.


In these heavy conditions, our autopilot has been working overtime and using a lot of battery power.  When I checked this morning, I found that our domestic batteries were down to 12.3V, so I had to run the engine for a hour to charge them.  With the lack of sunlight, our solar panels are not producing any charge and I can’t run our KISS wind generator because I know that it overheats in winds over 25 knots – very annoying.


Around lunchtime, a patch of blue sky appeared on the horizon ahead of us, giving us hope of better weather.  Unfortunately, the hole soon closed up and the 35 knots squalls continued to plague us throughout the afternoon.  After 24 hours of being battered by noise and motion, we were feeling tired and despondent.


There was no sunset, just a gradual dimming of the already grey skies, but there was some optimism as the clouds seemed to be a little thinner.  On my 7-10 watch, the gusts never exceeded 30 knots and stars started to appear.  By 01:00, we had 18-25 knot winds, which had backed to ESE.  We were still on a course of 220°, so we finally had the wind behind the beam at 110° apparent.  In the pitch black of the moonless night, we couldn’t see the waves, but they felt smaller, without any walls of water breaking across the deck.


Despite the improvement in the weather, we still had a couple of 30 knot sessions, so we continued sailing with only the staysail for the rest of the night.  Our average boat speed was less than 5 knots, but we had a favourable 0.5 knot current helping us out.  After being hammered over the past 36 hours, it was nice to have a more relaxed sail without the worry about heavy squalls and big waves.