Kodiak to Straits of Juan de Fuca
Noon position: 52.03.89N by 135.21.85W
Miles since last noon: 148
Total miles of passage: 706
Avg. Miles per Day: 141
Speed: 5 – 7 knots
Wind: SW and W 5 – 15 to S and SSW 20+
The wind vane and I are still coming to terms.
(Those who are curious but unfamiliar with wind vanes, mechanical self-steering devices for sailboats, can visitwww.selfsteer.com to read about how they work. This boat sports a Monitor, which I’ve used before and adore, to varying degrees depending on…)
If the first four days of this passage saw trade-wind like winds, the fifth has been anything but. On the first two we had vacant, powdery blue skies and consistent northwesterlies, and on the following two, a sky battleship gray and texture-less with consistent southwesterlies.
During this time I barely touched the wind vane.
I’d come on deck at 3am, for example. “Status report, please,” I’d say.
“Who are you?” would ask the vane.
“Why, I’m the captain of this fine ship,” I’d say.
“Well, I’ve never heard of you and I’ve been here since the beginning. Now, why don’t you do something useful; go back to bed and leave the sailing to us.”
And I would.
But yesterday everything changed. At sunset a break in the cloud formed astern. Sun streamed through, golden and warm, and though very far away, I thought we might see fine weather by morning.
At 3am I came on deck to find we were heading NE for Haida Gwai. “Status report, please.”
“Where is wind?” asked the vane, wide-eyed and pale.
“Why, it’s right there, you ninny. Look, that little luffer just whaffed you in the face,” I said.
“Wha … I didn’t feel a thing!”
The problem was the “apparent” wind. Wind vanes use wind direction, and to some degree, velocity, to determine the ship’s course. The dude in charge (that be me) sets the vane into the wind, and then any time the ship veers from course, the vane dips and moves the tiller, and thus the boat, back to my desired angle off the wind.
But in light, inconsistent winds off the boat’s quarter the wind direction the vane perceives (apparent wind) changes dramatically with boat speed. As boat speed increases the apparent wind direction moves forward…a lot…such that a gust can send the boat dashing off irrecoverably for Never Never Land with the vane none the wiser.
So, I sat up for several hours last night holding the dear’s hand.
When I woke this morning my meteorological skills were proved: the sky was low and ragged and squally; wind southerly and on the build. Clearly, we’d missed sliding under the Gulf of Alaska low.
I had a quick cup of coffee and then started to work by swapping out for the smaller genoa and putting the boat back on course close hauled. Then I reefed the main. Then I reefed the genoa. Winds were up and down, but usually 18 to 23 knots at 40 to 60 degrees off the bow. Though she could handle it, the boat seemed to be laboring still. So I put a second reef in the main, and there we have been all day, the boat at or around 7 knots of speed depending on which side of a rain squall she’s rounding.
This is the rule I learn so slowly: it takes surprisingly little sail area to get a good boat to steady going.