Sunday, December 2, 2012

Settling into the Northern Hemisphere

Position: 04°55'N, 133°30'W

Ten days in and so far, it's been a world apart from our New
Zealand-Tahiti ocean passage. The wind has been steady at a comfortable
15-20 knots, the sun has shone every day and the moon has risen every
night. Ashling is sailing well, and the sea and sky conditions are
putting minimal stress on her rig so we are sleeping easy. Crossing the
equator on Wednesday gave crew morale a boost as we ticked off another
milestone on our adventure. The Northern Hemisphere never looked so good.

Now it's on to the hard part of this leg. Over the past ten days, we
sailed mainly north. Now we need to head east. Above us is the
Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), a belt of squalls and unsettled
weather that sits above the equator. Below us is the south equatorial
current, a current that runs from east to west and would send us back to
French Polynesia. So for the next two weeks, we'll be sandwiched between
both of these, doing everything we can to make our way east.

We are seeing a lot more activity in the ocean on this passage. As we
cracked open our beers for the week at sunset on Saturday, a large pod
of playful dolphins appeared around the boat. We have long given up
trying to capture sea life on camera so we raised our glasses and
toasted the playful creatures, jumping and diving beneath the boat from
port to starboard and back again. At night we often see big, round blobs
of pulsating light in the water around us and think these are some kind
of jellyfish, using light to either search for food or as a defence
mechanism.

Flying fish are a common sight, with many small ones landing up on board
and some adult ones even finding their way into the cockpit some nights.
They never fail to surprise us – our stomachs' sink at any new sounds as
our first thought is that something on the boat has come loose or
broken. However they soon give themselves away with their pungent fish
smell. Then it's just a matter of finding where they have landed and
chucking them back overboard. In any case, all of this evidence of life
in the waters around us has completely disproved the Skipper's
conclusion, after several unproductive fishing attempts, that there are
no fish left in the sea. So the line has been cast out again today and
fingers crossed, we'll have fish for dinner tonight.

On ocean passages such as these, we sail continuously through day and
night. The waters are too deep to anchor in and one of us must be alert
at all times in case of changing weather or sea conditions. So we have a
four-hours-on-four-hours-off routine:
• 0800 – 1200: First Mate on watch, Skipper sleeps. Breakfast.
• 1200 – 1600: Skipper on watch. Lunch.
• 1600 – 2000: First Mate on watch. Dinner.
• 2000 – 0000: Skipper on watch, First Mate sleeps.
• 0000 – 0400: First Mate on watch, Skipper sleeps.
• 0400 – 0800: Skipper on watch, First Mate sleeps.

'On watch' means keeping an eye on what the boat is doing and trimming
sails (loosening or tightening the sail) or making course changes
accordingly. It also means scanning the horizon for any sea traffic or
changes in weather that we should prepare for. So for the next month,
while you are getting up, at work, having lunch, watching TV or going to
sleep in your ever horizontal and stationary bed, one of us is here,
sitting at an angle of between 45° and 80°, watching out for anything
out of the ordinary.

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