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April 15, 2019

Day 192

Noon Position: 18 29S  22 50W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NxW 6

Wind(t/tws): ExN 15

Sea(t/ft): NE 4

Sky: Cumulus

10ths Cloud Cover: 2

Bar(mb): 1019, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 83

Relative Humidity(%): 67

Sail: Working jib and main, close reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 139

Miles since departure: 26,191

Avg. Miles/Day: 136

Leg North Days: 26

Leg North Miles: 3,241

Avg. Miles/Day: 125

Wind has stayed blessedly consistent the last 24 hours and the sky clear. On a 12 – 15 knot northeasterly we’ve made good time.

As I type, it’s approximately 1,000 miles to the line (the equator). Now the question of how we handle the approaching doldrums comes to the fore.

Conventional wisdom has it that a sailing vessel should stay to the west of that belt of calms, and a daily examination of weather at the ITCZ these last weeks shows that to be good advice. Calms there are, but toward the South American coast there is often a light wind bridging the southeast and northeast trades.

Of course, once through the ITCZ, winds come on strong and makes the entire run of coast to the west a lee shore, so don’t cut the cape too fine. Currently we’re edging slowly west and toward a waypoint about 400 miles east of the Arquipelago de Fernando de Noronha at 4S and 32W.

I came on deck this morning to find clear evidence that the skipper has relaxed the footware policy for the crew. As is only right and just when the temperature rises from 45 to 85 degrees in three weeks.

Now that it has warmed up, my craving for calories has dropped way off. It used to be that my breakfast was a Clif Bar followed by a big bowl of muesli, and often I’d continue scrounging after that.

This morning, I had the requisite Clif Bar and forgot to eat the Muesli until noon.

No birds again. Only the occasional flying fish. Strikingly lonely here.

Mo spends plenty of time heeled to 20 degrees and pounding, which can be an uncomfortable ride after a time. But I am pleased to report I found a lovely napping position in the cockpit.

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April 14, 2019

Day 191

Noon Position: 20 22S  22 08W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NWxN 6

Wind(t/tws): ENE 10 – 15

Sea(t/ft): ENE 5

Sky: Clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1018, falling ever so slowly

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 82

Relative Humidity(%): 68

Sail: Working jib and main, close reaching, starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 135

Miles since departure: 26,052

Avg. Miles/Day: 136

Leg North Days: 25

Leg North Miles: 3,102

Avg. Miles/Day: 124

If you like blue, this is your place. Under a broad sun, the ocean is a field of undulating sapphire with such texture and richness that the eye searches its depths longingly for it knows not what. I stand at the weather rail, ostensibly studying cloud in an attempt to ferret out the next squall. But in fact, I am staring into the blue yonder; hypnotized by blue, bathing in blue.

I scoop it up for cleaning dishes expecting to bucket blue, but the blue escapes the bucket.

Always and forever right there and out of reach, the big blue.

I’m struggling to balance Mo today. Same old story. Wind fluctuates. I reef after hours of being heeled so much I pull a couple Gs just sitting here. The wind drops. After an hour of this, I pop the reef. Wind jumps.

I’ve opted to stay over-canvased. We do a steady six knots with here and there touches of seven.

Not a bird today. For a week the only bird species I’ve seen is the Atlantic variant of the White Chinned petrel, which was our constant companion in the south and one of my favorites.

The White Chinned gives the unmatched grace of the Wanderer a run for its money. Small by comparison (in overall size, just smaller than a Western Seagull), they are stocky, compact and efficient gliders and live in a covering of chocolate brown feathers, save a tiny spot of white, a stinger, just under the bill.

In the south, they would often accompany Mo all day in groups of three to five and would frequently swoop in close over the radar tower to examine the odd gesticulations of her passanger (I was just saying hello).

The Atlantic variant is quite different. For one thing, it sports a mask of white that gives the impression it is wearing a Batman costume. For another, it usually travels alone. Yesterday near sundown a group of five played around the boat for a time, a first. None at all today is also a first. We may be exiting their range.

It is strange, this lack of bird life here after the recent months of avian fellowship. If we were northing in the Pacific, the Cook Islands would soon hove into view. The “kreck” of Tropic Birds would call me on deck. Boobies would be competing for night accommodations on the rail.

But I guess that’s the difference. We’ve not passed close to any islands, as yet.

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April 13, 2019

Day 190

Noon Position: 22 43S  21 31W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NWxN 5+

Wind(t/tws): ExN 6 – 9

Sea(t/ft): E 3 – 4

Sky: Cumulus. Only one squall by noon.

10ths Cloud Cover: 4

Bar(mb): 1020+

Cabin Temp(f): 84

Water Temp(f): 83

Relative Humidity(%): 71

Sail: Working jib and main, full, reaching to starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 123

Miles since departure: 25,917

Avg. Miles/Day: 136

Leg North Days: 24

Leg North Miles: 2,967

Avg. Miles/Day: 124

In the evening of yesterday, we slipped at last over the high and into the Trades. The day had been squally, muggy; the zephyrs, indifferent. But then the sun set. And as dark came on, the sky melted away to clear and a cool breeze filled in from just north of east.

At first, it was only eight knots, a near gale compared to four, but by the time dinner had been eaten and the washing done, wind was twelve knots. By midnight I was tucking a reef into the main. Mo charged off.

The reef shook out soon after sunrise and wind today has oscillated, but has never dropped away to threadbare as it has done so often this last week.

We are on the move again.

That said, I’m still on deck at all hours helping Monte negotiate squalls. Last night after just such a bout and when we emerged into the open, I was stunned to see the handle of the Big Dipper well above the northern horizon. Think on it. North! We are making our return, and here is indisputable evidence.

The Southern cross is still very high astern. I’d guess it declines at something like 50 degrees or better. So, I’m curious to see when it sets vs when Polaris bobs above the sea.

My photos of the night sky are nothing but black, so you’ll have to settle for a crude drawing.

One joy to be had in the tropics is a consistent view of the sky. Thus, not only am I back at daytime celestial navigation, but I can now continue with star memorization.

The aid I use is a poster-sized map of the astral sky hung in the pilot house and often consulted.

At first glance, the map looks impossibly busy, but it is actually quite concise. The stars depicted by name are only the 57 used for navigation and only the constellations key to those stars are pictured. The lines you see between stars are the identification pathways. Think of it as a street map. Only the destinations have names, but what you are memorizing are both the destinations and the connections between them.

Another benefit of such a tool is that you see the whole sky in one frame, but it is easy to break out certain segments for memorization. For example, while running south in the Pacific, our early night consisted of The Great Square and Cygnus clusters. So, those got memorized together. Now my early night sky is Orion, Scorpius, Corvus and Crux. Start small. Go for just the stars clustered around Orion. Then expand out. It’s a lot of fun.

The map is produced by Celestaire and is also on the back cover of their Site Reduction Tables (H.O. 249). I recently asked Ken Gebhardt, my contact there, how such a thing came to be. Apparently, the map was used by the Airforce as a memorization aid for pilots through at least the 1950s–back when celestial navigation was a requirement, not only for graduating the Academy, but also for, well, finding where you were.

Celestaire also makes the sextant I use, the Astra IIIb. If you are the least bit curious about celestial navigation, their site is a fun browse.

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April 12, 2019

Day 189

Noon Position: 24 45S  21 16W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NxW 3

Wind(t/tws): ExN 4-5

Sea(t/ft): NE 2- 3; S 5

Sky: Clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1021+, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 82

Water Temp(f): 82

Relative Humidity(%): 73

Sail: Big genoa and main, reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 93

Miles since departure: 25,794

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 23

Leg North Miles: 2,844

Avg. Miles/Day: 124

Better mileage, hard won, and still slow.

Wind light and unsteady; add in squalls, and the result is that I am at the tiller several times per hour to chat with Monte. Here, and after the usual pleasentries, I make offhand and “if you please” suggestions regarding course, which I want to be due north, not 30 degrees either side.

Monte mentions that “the wind she is fickle” and that things might go easier if I trimmed the genoa just so, which I do. Then he gives a meaningful glance at the main. I trim that too. I do not remark that I have trimmed these two many times already today. And Monte does not remark it either, but he eases north.

I go below. North does not last long. I bring Monte his requested restorative against the heat, a Madeira with a splash of seltzer, and we start again.

All day and half the night in like form. All for around 3 knots of speed.

Am ready for steady wind with a tad more oomph. Likely a day or two before that fills in.

Wash day. Starting with the socks that have been hanging in the main cabin for months and smell like fetid sausages wrapped in wet dog and served with a side of peat bog.

A soak in salt water. Drain. Again. Drain. Then a soak in salt water with laundry detergent. Lots. Massage with feet (now squeaky clean). Let soak. Then three salt-water rinses.

Now the socks are drying. Once they are more or less dripless, they’ll get a rinse in fresh water and another extended dry. I have a couple gallons set aside for just these and for some long overdue long underwear.

Already the cabin smells like daisies.

When my wife read about the state of some of my well-worn clothing, she wrote:

“Speaking of, my dear, remember I can bring you new cold weather undergarments for the Arctic when I come to St John’s. From what I can tell, what you’ve been wearing should be burnt, preferably while you are at sea and away from civilization. By way of expectation setting: none of that stuff you’ve described is making it into my car, let alone the house. And no, we do not need more rags.”

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April 10, 2019

Day 187

Noon Position: 27 33S  21 23W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NExE 3.5

Wind(t/tws): WNW 6

Sea(t/ft): NW 1

Sky: Squalls

10ths Cloud Cover: 9

Bar(mb): 1019+, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 79

Water Temp(f): 79

Relative Humidity(%): 81

Sail: Big genoa and main, close reaching on port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 77

Miles since departure: 25,626

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 21

Leg North Miles: 2,676

Avg. Miles/Day: 127

Slow gets slower as we push deeper into the high. Wind has tailed right off and the sky has gotten intensely cloudy and confused. The breeze outside squalls is 4 – 6 knots and in which we’ve been averaging 3 knots. Monte has steerage but not much else.

It’s evening.

Over the last few hours we’ve ridden through two line squalls. Actually, I don’ think that’s the proper meteorological term for this phenomenon, but I don’t have a better one. Imagine a solid line of cloud, flat on the bottom, connected up like a river, and snaking from one horizon to the next. It flows forward like a wave and is preceded by a phalanx of towering cumulus. Inside could be anything, more squally cumulus or high, indistinct cloud and rain.

The first was rain. The second carried a punch of wind as we came under the wave that required I luff the entire main for twenty minutes. Mo took off close reaching; rail in the water on the big genoa alone. This one we are still in, though the winds has subsided to something like 10 knots. The leading edge of this giant is a great U-shape of cloud, the bottom of which is traveling east. We entered through one arms of the “U” and will exit the other by dark.

Past the the edge of this one are two massive squall clouds pouring rain in a vertical column.

So, it’s back on deck for me. Looks to be an active night.

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April 9, 2019

Day 186

Noon Position: 28 42S  22 01W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NExN 5.5

Wind(t/tws): NWxW 10

Sea(t/ft): NW 2

Sky: Clear, but big cumulus ahead

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 10-18+

Cabin Temp(f): 81

Water Temp(f): 77

Relative Humidity(%): 82

Sail: All working sail full; close reaching on port.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 144

Miles since departure: 25,549

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 20

Leg North Miles: 2,599

Avg. Miles/Day: 130

Good wind overnight and until early afternoon when our luck finally ran out.

The day had been utterly clear and sun-soaked, and a cooling northwesterly riffled the water, sending up silvery sparkles from the cobalt surface. But ahead was a wall of towering cumulus whose towers did not lean but billowed straight up. That was a pretty clear sign we’d come to the end of what has been a long stretch of solid sailing wind.

We’ve averaged about 3 knots since entering squall territory.

A day of firsts:

-This is the first it’s been over 80 degrees in the cabin since day 30 of this Figure 8 attempt. That was on November 3rd of last year; we were in the South Pacific, our position, 22S and 128W. The next day we would sight Henderson Island.

-The first flying fish since the Pacific tropics was sighted today. Actually, two were seen. Now we see the occasional Gadfly petrel and smaller, brown petrels, but still only one or two at a time.

-The first tropical squalls of the Atlantic were encountered today. Some rain. Not much wind.

-I changed out of my long-legged under-layer fleece and into short briefs today. I’d been wearing that fleece since…well, hmm…long enough that I don’t recall how long, long enough that they had an earthy tang worthy of its on space on the aroma wheel–somewhere between, say, moldy truffles and spoiled sausage and very close to disgusting. The change represents some of the most fun I’ve had in weeks, partly because the briefs were not just fresh, they were NEW out of the bag. What luxury!

-First day of fresh air everywhere in the boat since the Pacific, as I finally put all the dorade vents back in service. I had covered them with a stainless steel plate to keep overwhelming southern seas from pumping water into the cabin. The plates were on the boat when I bought her–an essential item for a boat headed to southern high latitudes. I had also stuffed a rag in the ceiling hole of the dorades, and when these came out, an aroma of long unwashed wet dog filled the cabin such that I had to spend an hour on deck pretending to chat with Monte. Wow, what a smell! Thankfully, it flushed out after a bit.

The cloud-sky is lovely and complex. But it means we’ll be very slow for several days and until we can reach the trades.

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April 8, 2019

Day 185

Noon Position: 30 35S  23 41W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 7

Wind(t/tws): NNW 16+

Sea(t/ft): NW 5

Sky: Alt cum and strat

10ths Cloud Cover: 9

Bar(mb): 1017, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 77

Water Temp(f): 73

Relative Humidity(%): 87

Sail: Working, sail, close hauled, port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 150

Miles since departure: 25,405

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 19

Leg North Miles: 2,455

Avg. Miles/Day: 129

A fast night. Somehow I found Monte’s sweet spot, and with two reefs in everything, I didn’t have to touch sail or tiller line all night. And our course, 30 degrees on the button. Excellent. Rough, but excellent.

Today has also been fast. We’re averaging 7 knots at moment, but the wind is beginning to ease. I think morning will initiate the next chapter of this northing saga: Getting Through the South Atlantic High. At moment there are nearly 600 miles of light to no wind between us and the Trades. It’s a broad swath, this calm. No going around it. Time to break out the oars.

Just after writing last night’s litany of complaints, the VHF radio sounded.

“Mohla, Uloos.” it said. The signal was strong; the vessel, close.

I dashed on deck to check the horizon for lights, a fishing boat without AIS hailing its partner, perhaps? The only ship on the scope was a bulk carrier named BK ALICE; she had passed unseen half an hour ago, was now well to the SE.

Nothing on the horizon.

The radio again. Same call. Very strong.

“Mohla” and “Moli” are not such similar sounds but similar enough to warrant an exploration. I grabbed the mic and said, “Uloos, sailing vessel Moli.”

Nothing.

Again.

“This is Uloos,” said the radio.

“This is Moli, did you call for Moli?”

Silence.

“Yes, Moli. Yes, yes, I called.”

“Good evening,” I said, and then, not knowing how to proceed, “How may I help you?”

“Yes, hello,” said the voice. “I just want you to know that I think it is very brave, going to sea in such a little vessel. It requires very much courage.”

The voice, from a man I judged to be in his thirties, spoke softly and with precision. The accent, I thought, might be Indian.

“Thank you,” I said. “What vessel are you calling from?”

“Uloos, the ship, we have just passed.”

“Oh, are you the BK ALICE?” I asked.

“Yes, yes, that is me. Alice. Yes. Alice. I just want to ask one question. How do you do for food? And for fuel? I mean, on such a small boat, how is there room?”

I explained that for a singlehander, my boat was not very small, that I could easily carry a year’s supplies. That being a sailboat, I mostly sailed and so did not use much fuel.

“And where are you bound?”

“To St John’s, Newfoundland; then the Arctic and home.” I briefly described the Figure 8, the southern ocean rounding, the Northwest Passage, 180 days at sea, etc.

“Ah, that is very good. A very beautiful voyage. I have very much respect for your voyage. Thank you for your time, and I hope you have a good evening…”

“WAIT, wait,” I said. So typical, these ship guys…one question and they ring off. “And where are you bound?” I asked.

“I am bound for Kandla, India, arrive 5th May.

“And what is your position?”

The man began to run through his coordinates, “Thirty two degrees, zero three decimal five minutes south…”

“No,” I interrupted, “I mean your position on the ship, your job.”

“Oh, I am the first officer. My name is Biko. I am from Indonesia.”

We signed off soon after as my transmissions had been deteriorating during the brief call. Mo’s masthead VHF antenna quit months ago, and I’ve been using the spare mounted on the radar arch; thus, my rage is poor.

But, though brief, and for reasons not entirely clear to me, the call was a real pick-me-up. Sure, it is pleasant to be appreciated, but it was more that–something to do with receiving respect from a professional mariner, a man who makes his living out here.

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April 7, 2019

Day 184

Noon Position: 32 25S  25 46W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NExE 6

Wind(t/tws): NWxN 16 – 18

Sea(t/ft): NW 4

Sky: Solid altcum layer with cum and strat beneath

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar(mb): 1017+ steady

Cabin Temp(f): 75

Water Temp(f): 73

Relative Humidity(%): 90

Sail: Working jib, one reef; main two reefs, close hauled.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 130

Miles since departure: 25,255

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 18

Leg North Miles: 2,305

Avg. Miles/Day: 128

A godforsaken bit of water, this.

Same ritual overnight; wind accelerates; I kit up and reef. By the time I’m back in the cockpit, another reef is needed. That’s at 11PM. At 3AM I wake to find we’re doing 4 knots and headed east. Wind has dropped way off. Let out reefs. Rain. Let out more reefs at dawn. All reefs back in by noon.

A thick, light-blocking sky today such that I made the first two log entries by headlamp. The upper deck is horizon-to-horizon, without definition and relentlessly, unforgivingly, utterly gray; the lower deck is a mix of billowing gray squall cloud and gray stratus. Rain off and on.

Wind cycles between 10 and 20 knots. I’m constantly adjusting Monte and the main in a vain attempt at balance and a straight course. NxE we can do and E, all other points of sail are fleetingly attained.

Between the rain and the humidity (80 – 90 percent for a week now) everything below is sopping. It’s pointless to attempt to wipe up the floors because none of the tea towels are dry enough to do anything but move the water around. I don foulies before going on deck in order to keep from getting more wet rather than to stay dry.

Below is stuffy and sticky and cloying. The breeze through the dorades is so saturated it drips from the vent cowlings. But go on deck for a bit of fresh air and you’ll catch a face full of spray in no time. The only safe place is huddled under the pup tent.

Not a bird. Not one. Nor any other sign of life save now and then a piece of plastic trash or a passing ship, of which there is at least one on the scope every few hours. If outbound, they all seem to be headed for Singapore. All bulkies so far.

The anemometer quit today; its twirly bit at the head of the mast has inexplicably stopped spinning. It has been iffy for some time now, and I suspect has been underreporting blows in the south for a while. I am now reporting wind via a handheld. It’s a only a convenience, the masthead anemometer, but sorely missed, especially true wind direction.

Wind we have, and that is good. That is very good. But it is unremittingly ahead. We have been close hauled or close reaching on port for two weeks and are barley making a degree of northing a day. At this rate it will be nearly a month to the equator, and we have yet to reach the Horse Latitude calms.

And how we pound! I mean really, how much more of this can she take?

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April 6, 2019

Day 184

Noon Position: 33 39S  27 54W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 6+

Wind(t/tws): NWxN 14+

Sea(t/ft):NW 4

Sky: Overcast, amazingly complex sky

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar(mb): 1017+, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 73

Water Temp(f): 70

Relative Humidity(%): 88

Sail: Working jib; one tuck in the main, close reaching on port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 129

Miles since departure: 25,125

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 172

Leg North Miles: 2,175

Avg. Miles/Day: 128

Tough night. Wind began to increase just as I started my sleep cycle (typical!). First one, then two, and then three reefs. I sat up with “the blow” and dozing in the pilot house till about 3AM, when things settled in at 20 knots from the NWxN.

More bang and slosh.

I put “the blow” in quotation marks because there was no change to the barometer and hardly any change to the sky. Just incrementally more wind as the hours passed.

Regarding the sky, not so by morning, when what the day delivered was a complex, ever changing mash-up of cloud, criss-crossed cirrus and towing cumulus. As I type, the sky if flat gray and raining.

And all the while, our northwest wind continues.

I think we are passing through a weather nursery.

You may recall that when Mo and I were making our way most recently through the Indian Ocean, I often wrote of what I called “Rio Lows,” low pressure systems that I noticed developing off the coast of South America at roughly the latitude of Rio de Janiero.

If they survived a few days in the lee of the continent, these Rio Lows would often wander off diagonally south and east, sometimes becoming powerful southern blows in their own right or joining up with an existing southern low to produce a whopper of a storm.

The knockdown in the Indian Ocean that took out Mo’s pilot house window was the result of a low that started its life off Rio.

Well, we’re here (more or less). This is Rio Low territory–where the low pressure systems are born. And I think this turbulent, confused, muggy, rainy, on-again, off-again weather is what the “birth of weather” looks like.

If true, I’m happy to report that it’s as messy and complicated as other births.

The below photo is from early this morning and is looking directly overhead. Notice that the ribbed cirrus clouds are traveling in at least three directions and that in the mix are both cirrocumulus and cirrostratus cloud. What more could you ask for?

This photo was taken at the *same time* as the above and shows a great wall of towering cumulonimbus directly in our path. This wall stretched horizon to horizon. Sadly, the photo doesn’t do its grandure justice.

And, by way of illustrating how fast things were changing, here’s a shot from ten minutes later.

The cirrus sky has been covered over by altocumulus and the wall of towering cumulus has simply evaporated.

But somehow we make our northing despite what the cloud does.

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April 5, 2019

Day 183

Noon Position: 34 56S  30 00W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NExE 5

Wind(t/tws): NWxN 8

Sea(t/ft): NW 2

Sky: Altcum becoming cirrus with cum as a front approaches.

10ths Cloud Cover: 5

Bar(mb): 1017, falling slowly

Cabin Temp(f): 75

Water Temp(f): 70

Relative Humidity(%): 84

Sail: Big genoa and main, close hauled on port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 121

Miles since departure: 24,996

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 16

Leg North Miles: 2,046

Avg. Miles/Day: 128

We just can’t shake off slow days. On four of the last six, we’ve logged fewer than 127 miles in 24 hours, and those two exceptions were less than our average of 137 miles a day. I must refrain from complaining, however, as we’ve experienced a steady westerly with no calms at all since Cape Horn, but I’m beginning to forget what it was like to go fast.

Right now: 8 knots of wind; the big genoa and main up and the cover down to catch a bit more breeze, and all we can muster is 4.5 knots of speed. Nary a white cap to be seen.

On the positive side, it is warm. I’m in a t-shirt. Today I washed my head in the cockpit and without heating the water. Took it straight from the sea. Been months since the water has been warm enough for that.

Another first: hatches OPEN. Laundry (not clean, still dirty, still wet from action in the Roaring Forties) out to dry, but it remains too humid for this. Clothes come back below as heavy and damp as they were when laid out.

We crossed the latitude of 35S today and our first distinct shipping lane.

At 10:30AM, three bulk carriers came onto the chart plotter screen in a loose convoy headed due west and riding the 35S line. The BULK POLAND, MEDI KAZAHAYA, and the MIMOSA, all bound for Recalada, which I presume is around Rio de la Plata. All were making the bulk carrier’s signature speed, 12.6 knots.

Our intercept was such that the middle of the three, the MEDI, had to alter course for Mo by north three degrees, and even then, she passed within a mile. I sat on deck watching her slow maneuver and wondering at the sequence of events aboard the MEDI. Who on the bridge first reported the AIS target; who gave the order to alter course; who pushed the button on the autopilot that would engage the giant hydraulic ram to turn the rudder that would gently ease these many tons of steel three degrees to the north; who made note of these actions in the log? Was it all the same person?

I could have altered course by pulling one of Monte’s a strings, and certainly that would have been the polite thing to do, but I’d spent the last hour balancing sail and tiller in these zephyrs. And we all had bags of sea room. And I was curious …

The MEDI never rang as she passed. With binoculars, I could see that no one came out to the fly bridge to inspect the little, gray mosquito off to port. She made up the three degrees before going over the horizon. A clean, smart-looking ship. I was pleased we had crossed paths.

Two hours later, two more bulk carriers outbound on the 35S line and headed for Singapore.

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April 4, 2019

Day 182

Noon Position: 36 08S  31 59W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NExE 5.5

Wind(t/tws): NNW 12

Sea(t/ft): N4-6

Sky: Clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1013, rising

Cabin Temp(f): 73

Water Temp(f): 67

Relative Humidity(%): 86

Sail: Working sail, close reaching on port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 126

Miles since departure: 24,873

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 15

Leg North Miles: 1,925

Avg. Miles/Day: 128

Close hauled. Boom boom. Like thunder. Mo drops cantwise off a sea into the next or an approaching sea catches her smack in the bilge, and one imagines the gates of hell have opened.

From inside, it is as if you are living within a bass drum being played to some alien rhythm or inside a vault as the massive metal door slams shut. Then there’s the vibration, the rending of the hull, at least. You check the bilges for water. You cross yourself and pray that the welds are as good as their reputation.

When the northerly wind hit a steady 25 true, I put in third reefs and went to bed.

All night crash and bang. And at a crawling pace we made mostly easting. Not much real sleep.

By 2am the wind began to ease. By 4am, I started letting reefs out. By daylight, the sky was a chaos of gray and rain. And by noon it was all over. Skies were clear, and our winds returned to the gentle northwesterly we’ve carried since the Falklands.

Not for long though. The calms of the Horse Latitudes are dead ahead.

Since the Falklands, I have dived headlong back into astronavigation. I took but a handful of sights in the south. There was enough to do without layering on extra. But now that skies are mostly clear (rather than the reverse), I’ve unleashed the sextant once more.

Most gratifyingly, I’ve started dabbling in The Sailings, navigational formulas that are aids to Dead Reckoning. With The Sailings, one can mathematically project his current position from a known position and the intervening course and distance sailed. Alternatively, one can calculate his course and distance from one known position to another.

Sure, either can be done on a chart, but when one’s chart covers an entire ocean, the width of a pencil mark is several miles, so one has a better chance of accuracy with math. Not to mention that the chart got wet and no longer enjoys the touch of a pencil. Ehem.

For someone with a Trigonometry background, the various formulas are child’s play. For this English Major, they require hours with Bowditch open to pages 351 – 361, and lots of scratch paper, all of which has yielded the following triangle and useful formulas, from which all blessings flow.

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April 3, 2019

Day 181

Noon Position: 36 54S  34 25W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NExE 5.5

Wind(t/tws): NxE 15 – 17 (straight 20 by 1400)

Sea(t/ft): N 5

Sky: Cumulus and a mackerel sky. (Heavy squalls by 1400)

10ths Cloud Cover: 5

Bar(mb): 1600

Cabin Temp(f): 77

Water Temp(f): 67

Relative Humidity(%): 81

Sail: Working sail, one reef. Two reefs by 1400.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 124

Miles since departure: 24,749

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 14

Leg North Miles: 1,799

Avg. Miles/Day: 129

Another slow night rewarded with a warm sunrise and delicately colored cumulus.

All changed by early afternoon. Now Mo pounds unmercifully into a growing sea. The wind is 20 knots and better from the N and as much as 25 degrees E. The main and number two have two reefs and are sheeted in tight. We are as close hauled as can be. From below it sounds like

World War III has just erupted out there. No one is comfortable.

I owe Mo another reef before sundown if this continues, but for the moment we need as much press of sail as she can hold in order to claw even 20 degrees of northing out of this. N winds to 25 overnight says the forecast.

So ends the gentle ride.

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April 1, 2019

Day 179

Noon Position: 39 49S  38 20W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NE 6

Wind(t/tws): WNW 17 – 20

Sea(t/ft): NW 5

Sky: Alt Cum 3, mostly clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 3

Bar(mb): 1021+ steady

Cabin Temp(f): 72

Water Temp(f): 65

Relative Humidity(%): 80

Sail: Working jib and main, one reef; reaching.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 122

Miles since departure: 24,492

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 12

Leg North Miles: 1,543

Avg. Miles/Day: 129

Wind went light overnight, but that wasn’t so much the issue as the SE setting current we had to plow through. Speeds over the ground were four knots and less, though we were much faster through the water.

Rain by sunrise with a twenty knot northwesterly and a deck of very serious cloud, low and ragged and a reminder that this is not the tropics and our blessedly steady wind is not blowing trade just yet.

Today we officially departed the Roaring Forties.

Mo entered 40S from the north Pacific on November 15th of last year–four and a half months ago. In that time we’ve sailed nearly 20,000 non-stop miles below the Capes, and most of that below latitude 45S.

Psychologically and physically it is a relief to be headed out. There is no one thing that makes sailing in the Roaring Forties difficult, but the compounding of cold, lack of consistent sleep, constantly shifting winds driving sail change after sail changes, the race to stay on top of maintenance issues, extreme boat motion, concerns for the actual (not forecast) intensity of the next low and the push to move to a safer quadrant, concerns for the exit gate, Cape Horn, and the sheer length of time a full lap requires…were all beginning to wear.

I am deeply, deeply grateful to have seen so much southern ocean. I could never have expected to be so lucky as to spend the better part of two consecutive summers communing with the great waves and the Wanderers, exploring the most mysterious and awing wilderness on the planet.

That said, I’m ready to depart for easier climes … for now.

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March 31, 2019

Day 178

Noon Position: 41 05S  40 25W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NE 5.5

Wind(t/tws): NW 10 – 15

Sea(t/ft): NW 4

Sky: Few wispy cirrus; mostly clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 2

Bar(mb): 1022, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 70

Water Temp(f): 62 (Note!)

Relative Humidity(%): 79

Sail: Working sail, full, reaching.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 136

Miles since departure: 23,370

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 11

Leg North Miles: 1,421

Avg. Miles/Day: 129

Lazy days, warm and gentle. We are riding still our light but constant northwesterly; that faithful wind we picked up just above the Falklands continues on without a pause.

Each day it appears in the forecast that tomorrow we will reach the center edge of this high pressure system and run smack into calms, and each day the high recedes a bit further north, delivering another good day’s sail.

It’s a much appreciated gift, this breeze; quite a change from the protean blows further south. I feel a sense of release, the more so as we climb. This sensation may, in part, be due to a deck warm enough to be trod bare footed. Feet that have been encased in thick wool and rubber boots for months have finally emerged as like the groundhog, which they resembled before a soak in the passing sea and a long deferred trim. I’ll spare you the photos.

I watch the birds with anticipation. Still they are my friends from the south, the Albatross and White Chinned Petrel, but I wonder at what latitude they will depart, and then how long before we are called upon by our first Tropic Bird.

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March 30, 2019

Day 177

Noon Position: 42 45S  42 28W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NE 6

Wind(t/tws): NW 15

Sea(t/ft): NW 3

Sky: Clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1021+, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 66

Water Temp(f): 55

Relative Humidity(%): 79

Sail: Working sail, full, reaching.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 142

Miles since departure: 24,234

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 10

Leg North Miles: 1,285

Avg. Miles/Day: 129

Today is sunny and warm, a most excellent day to make a video…long overdue…

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March 29, 2019

Day 176

Noon Position: 44 28S  44 42W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NExE 6+

Wind(t/tws): NWxW 15

Sea(t/ft): NW 5

Sky: Altostratus and altocumulus; front coming in from S

10ths Cloud Cover: 7

Bar(mb): 1023, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 64

Water Temp(f): 54

Relative Humidity(%): 82

Sail: Working jib and main, close reaching on port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 145

Miles since departure: 24,092

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 9

Leg North Miles: 1,143

Avg. Miles/Day: 127

A mash-up of dark clouds to windward and a fresh breeze this morning made me run through my heavy weather checklist before breakfast. But by noon we had clear skies and a beautiful 15 knots just forward of the beam and on which Mo pushes happily along.

The sea is not blue but green again. No, not the muddy greens and browns of bays but a clear, sparkling, emerald green. This is common near coasts, but we are nearly a thousand miles east of Argentina.

Today around noon we left behind our course from the first Cape Horn rounding–our course out to the east and around Antarctica. Now the next leg really begins, the push north into the Atlantic, virgin territory for me.

This turn north, the warmer weather and smaller sea allow thoughts to roam over the next big challenge–The Arctic–and accordingly, today, I brought down the RCC Pilotage Foundation Guide to the Arctic and Northern Waters. Time to become reacquainted with that route.

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March 28, 2019

Day 175

Noon Position: 46 13S  47 04W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NExN 7

Wind(t/tws): WxN 20 – 25

Sea(t/ft): W 10

Sky: Clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1022

Cabin Temp(f): 66 (!)

Water Temp(f): 58 (!)

Relative Humidity(%): 83

Sail: Working jib, two reefs; main, three; reaching to port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 156

Miles since departure: 23,947

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 8

Leg North Miles: 998

Avg. Miles/Day: 125

Night dramas continue.

I had been in my bunk an hour when Mo began to pound. Winds were the better part of 30 knots on the beam and the sea had been bouldery all day, so I knew we had rounded up. But why? I got up and suited up.

In the pilot house, the chart plotter showed Mo doing a handy seven knots (good) but due north (not good). Once in the cockpit, I saw that Monte’s tiller lines were limp and the tiller, free-wheeling. This usually means one of the crew has failed to lock Monte’s chain in its chock with a small lashing, without which the chain can slip out. But tonight the lashing was in place. I climbed to the transom and peered over the side. There I saw that the windward tiller line had parted near the lowest block.

This line has parted once before–on January 10 to be specific, and after 13,543 miles of hard pulling. With nothing inside the Monitor frame tubing to chafe on, the only explanation is that this 1/4 inch Dyneema with a cover of tightly woven Dyneema and a working load of 2,000 pounds–extraordinarily tough stuff–simply wore out. I replaced it back then with an entirely new run of line and made a note (mental) to inspect it at around 10,000 miles of use.

It parted at 10,404 miles. Southern Ocean miles.

I quickly did an end for end of the line–effectively taking the chafed part out of service–and we were back underway in fifteen minutes.

Warm. And suddenly. Only five days ago the cabin was 45 degrees at sunrise. This morning’s cabin temperature was 60 degrees. The cause may simply be the rapid rise in water temperature, which was 42 degrees a week ago and is now just shy of 60 degrees. Remarkable. And we’re still well within the Roaring Forties.

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March 27, 2019

Day 174

Noon Position: 48 03S  49 48W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NE 6

Wind(t/tws): WxS 19 – 26

Sea(t/ft): W 10

Sky: Overcast, flat gray

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar(mb): 1020, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 59

Water Temp(f): 54 (BIG jump from yesterday of 43)

Relative Humidity(%): 83

Sail: Working Jib, one reef

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 163

Miles since departure: 23,791

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 7

Leg North Miles: 842

Avg. Miles/Day: 120

Up most of the night. Winds went due west and began increasing slowly but steadily in the evening until, by midnight, we had a straight 30 knots. I’d been running one pole, but at that point switched down to triple reefs and all sail set for a broad reach on port. By dawn, 35 knots.

I note this because a) such winds were not in the forecast; and more interestingly, b) were not foretold by the barometer, which read between 1019 and 1018 for the duration and has been high and steady for several days. Thus, not all strong wind is a function of *local* changing pressure.

Fast days due to wind and a north-setting current. We pound in a lumpy sea, but all is forgiven when the miles are good.

We are in the company of birds again. Three Wandering Albatross, double that in White Chinned Petrels and a smattering of Prions, all playing in the warm light of a lovely sunset.

In my first Cape Horn post of a few days ago, I asked if it might be possible that I was the first to round that famous promontory twice in one non-stop, solo passage.

Thank you to Michael Thurston and Eric Mathewson for noting in the Figure 8 site comments that such a prize actually goes to Jon Sanders of Australia.

I’d heard of Sanders when I was in Hobart and knew he was a prolific single-hander but had allowed my own accomplishment to crowd out any specific memory of his.

His are notable in the extreme and worthy of a review.

Jon Sanders, born in Perth in 1939 and a sheep shearer by trade, was the first man to circumnavigate Antarctica, circling the continent twice in 1981 – 1982 in his S&S 34 PERIE BANOU.

Departing from Fremantle, Sanders successfully passed south of the three great capes: Horn, Good Hope and Leeuwin, before rounding Cape Horn a second time. Here he turned north to Plymouth, UK and then returned to Fremantle via Cape Good Hope, all non-stop.

This voyage was recognized in the Guinness Book of Records for the following:

• The first single-handed sailor to remain continuously at sea twice around the world.

• First single-handed sailor to round the five southern most Capes twice on one voyage.

• First single-handed sailor to round the five southern most Capes twice.

• Longest distance continuously sailed by any yacht: 48,510 miles (78,070 km).

• Longest period alone at sea during a continuous voyage: 419 days: 22 hours: 10 minutes” (RR Note: I wonder where Ried Stowe figures in here?)

Such a voyage might overflow the cup of any normal ocean soloist, but not Sanders, who departed Fremantle again in 1986 for a successful attempt at *three* continuous circumnavigations south of the Great Capes, this in his 47-foot PARRY ENDEAVOR.

All told, Sanders voyages include the following ocean transits:

• Indian Ocean (14 times)

• Atlantic Ocean (11 times)

• Pacific Ocean (12 times)

• Australian seaboard, west-to-east and east-to-west (45 times)

• Cape Horn (5 times)

• Cape of Good Hope (11 times)

• Panama Canal (6 times)

• Suez Canal (x4)

And a summary of his firsts include:

• 5 x non-stop circumnavigations (the first in 1981-82 and the last in 1986-1987).

• 5 x Cape Horn roundings (one east-west & four west-east).

• 5 x Cape Horn roundings during non-stop circumnavigations.

• 4 x roundings of the five southernmost capes.

• 1 x circumnavigation using the east-west route.

• 4 x circumnavigations using the west-east route.

• Circumnavigate non-stop via Cape Horn west-about and east-about.

If there is a banquet table in heaven for the world’s single-handers, surely Sanders will be at its head.

(The above was cribbed from Wikipedia and this article.)

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March 26, 2019

Day 173

Noon Position: 49 58S  52 42W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NE 7

Wind(t/tws): WxS 20

Sea(t/ft): W 4

Sky: Cirrus and Altostratus

10ths Cloud Cover: 6

Bar(mb): 1018, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 50

Water Temp(f): 43

Relative Humidity(%): 84

Sail: Singe reefs in the working jib and main; broad reaching to port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 143

Miles since departure: 23,628

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 6

Leg North Miles: 679

Avg. Miles/Day: 113

It’s colder on this side of South America than the other. Though this statistic isn’t evidenced in the temperature readings of the cabin thermometer, it is clearly corroborated by hands and feet that are only warm when tucked into a down sleeping bag at night. Other data points: I shiver on deck. My nose is drippy. Today I made a cup of tea and unwittingly burned the skin of the hand holding the cup because the hand was too cold to feel how hot the cup had become.

My guess as to the cause is land, or rather, mountains. Our winds are still coming from the west, which means they must pass over the chill Andes to get to us, and the chill rides for free.

I take this as my excuse for not toasting our recent rounding of Cape Horn with champagne. While there’s no bad time for bubbly, it’s just too cold on deck for that right now. I’ve got the bottle out and ready, but let’s get a little northing first.

I have, however, made the traditional, celebratory breakfast. Recall that I eat muesli every morning. So, on “holidays” I’ll make “scrambled” eggs (from dehydrated whole egg powder) and hash browns (also from dehydrated) fried in butter. With ketchup! The only appropriate exclamation for that breakfast after weeks of muesli is WOOF!

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March 25, 2019

Day 172

Noon Position: 51 40S  55 21W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 7

Wind(t/tws): WxS 20

Sea(t/ft): W10+

Sky: Altocumulus, clearing

10ths Cloud Cover: 7

Bar(mb): 1013+, rising

Cabin Temp(f): 48

Water Temp(f): 42

Relative Humidity(%): 86

Sail: Broad reaching with working jib and main; one reef and two, respectively.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 170 (Yes, that is correct.)

Miles since departure: 23,485

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 5

Leg North Miles: 536

Avg. Miles/Day: 107

Our fastest day in months! Frankly, I wasn’t sure we could do a straight seven knots for twenty four hours any more.

Wind came on strong last night from the NW. The forecast called for velocities in the low 20s…so, what we got was an unvarying 30 knots for a full eight hours, which we took just foreward of the beam with three reefs in everything.

A very uncomfortable ride, if I may be blunt.

I slept more on my bunk’s cushion back than on the seat and actually didn’t sleep much at all due to the racket. In the cabin, I moved around on all fours. Making coffee in the morning felt like a trapeze act. And pooping? Well, let’s just say that it is practically an act of valor to do any business in the head when Mo is in such froth. You take your life into your own hands in there.

But we were fast! And that made the domestic difficulties worthwhile.

Of course, now we pay for that speed. The wind has vanished; down to 10 knots, and we’re being thrown around like a raft in rapids on the leftover swell.

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March 24, 2019

Day 171

Noon Position: 52 38S  59 41W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ExN 7

Wind(t/tws): N 18 – 21

Sea(t/ft): N 4

Sky: Altostratus

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar(mb): 1022+, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 50

Water Temp(f): 45

Relative Humidity(%): 70

Sail: One reef in working jib and main, close reach to port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 73

Miles since departure: 23,315

Avg. Miles/Day: 136

Leg North Days: 4

Leg North Miles: 366

Avg. Miles/Day: 91

Another desperately slow day. Overnight, wind remained in the 6 – 10 knot range and backed slowly into the north. I let it gently ease Mo first into the north and then east and until the wind direction gave us a nice purchase on a tack. That was 3AM.

Soon after, the sun came up. This was the real beauty spot of the day, but it also indicated I’ve been slow to change ship’s clock recently.

We slid east and out from under the Falklands by early afternoon. By now winds are 20-25, and as I type we’re down to double reefs. The ride is uncomfortable, but our speeds are 7 and 8 knots. All of us aboard are willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort for that!

We sailed over the shallows below the Falklands, the rise between Sea Lion Islands to the north and Beauchene to the south. Most of the day I’ve seen whale spouts in the distance whenever I look up. One spouted within three boat lengths. I got the camera out, but he was already gone.

The real zinger came when I happened to glace to windward and saw the boiling water left from a whale’s fluke thrust, then I saw another, and another. Connecting them led directly to Mo. There was one right off windward bow. I braced for impact. Then, in a moment, a boil of water appeared to leeward, then another and another tracing a line away. The whale swam directly under us.

Later in the day, a cormorant. Haven’t seen a cormorant since San Francisco. Then dolphins, Southern White Sided, I think.

Now we are back in deep water and are alone.

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A Klatch of Albatross

March 23, 2019

Day 170

Noon Position: 53 30S  61 04W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NNE 4.5

Wind(t/tws): E 10

Sea(t/ft): E 2

Sky: Overcast

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar(mb): 1017+, rising

Cabin Temp(f): 50

Water Temp(f): 43

Relative Humidity(%): 72

Sail: #1 genoa and main, full, close hauled.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 84

Miles since departure: 23,242

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Days: 3

Leg North Miles: 293

Avg. Miles/Day: 98

What a strange turn of days. To come from the windiest place in the world to a place where the breeze’s only commitment is to a light contrariness! I feel like Scott and his polar party, trapped under an inversion layer that never lets them go.

Mo is close hauled in winds 6 – 10 on the nose and is averaging, at best, 4 knots. Even with the big sails up, there is just enough of a chop to impede her ability to build up a head of steam. Always we are on the verge of making good time. Of course, the heading this wind requires is right at the nearest island.

The only question now is will I have to tack before the Falklands or will the breeze finally be bent by the will of an approaching southern low and go west? With only sixty miles to North Arm, we’ll know by morning.

Last night, Mo and I were included in a moveable klatch hosted by a number of local avian socialites.

It was evening. The slate sky gave way at its margins to a clearing and, for a brief time, a setting sun, orange and warm, at least in appearance. I was on deck trimming the big genoa when I noticed we were in company with five Wandering albatross and four great petrels. There was so little wind, each was having to maintain his altitude with the force of his wings, and still, during the glides, they were grace incarnate.

They circled for some time. Then an albatross landed near Mo. Then another near that one. Then a great petrel joined them. Soon all were down in a group. They seemed not to be saying much, but their chosen proximity suggested a social exchange whose language I did not know. I watched until they were out of sight and then went on about my business.

Five minutes later we were in the company of birds again. More albatross and giant petrels swinging around Mo, ably making use of what minimal swell there was for lift. Then occurred the same landing ritual. Within a few minutes, the birds were on the water top and bunched together near where Mo and I passed.

It took a third instance for me to realize it was the same collection of birds that were rejoining Mo. But by then the sun had set and, apparently, that was the end of social hour. After the third gathering the birds vanished.

There are birds in other oceans, but not so numerous, nor so grand, nor so mysterious as here. These visitors were the first inkling of what we are giving up by exiting the south.

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March 22, 2019

Day 169

Noon Position: 54 41S  62 23W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): ENE 1

Wind(t/tws): SWxS 5

Sea(t/ft): —

Sky: Overcast

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar(mb): 1009, rising very slowly

Cabin Temp(f): 50

Water Temp(f): 43

Relative Humidity(%): —

Sail: All sails down, drifting

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 92

Miles since departure: 23,168

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North/Atlantic Days: 2

Leg North/Atlantic Miles: 209

Avg. Miles/Day: 105

The wind has abandoned the field these last two days. For a time yesterday when it wafted almost due west, I ran with all plain sail flying, main and #1 genoa out to port, #2 jib poled to starboard. On this plan we made what felt like a handy three and four knots. Today, wind is so light, all those same sails do is thrash. I put them out of their misery at noon and we drifted for a time.

If this had happened two weeks ago, I would have had a fit. We were on a mission to get around the Cape and out of harm’s way. Now I don’t care. The gray sky is flat and unthreatening, and the sea is as calm as the middle Pacific. It is illusory, this sense of safety. The screaming 50s can scream here as well as to windward of the Horn, but now we are headed north (albeit slowly), north and out.

I’ve often been asked by those unfamiliar with passage making how I deal with the threat of pirates. They have heard in the news of yachts being taken off the coast of Somalia or in the Phillipines and have generalized the very real danger there to any place offshore.

The question comes up so frequently that I’ve manufactured an entertaining (to me) response. I say, “I carry a Captain Phillips Kit.”

“Oh,” they say, “And what it that?”

“A water cannon that mounts on the bow. A bull horn for yelling very loudly at my pursuers. A grenade launcher…” I go on until they twig me.

From what I can tell, piracy is local to a very few, extremely poor countries and is, in all cases, a coastal issue. Mo and I are almost always well offshore, well beyond the range of a small, open boat with an outboard motor, and thus I haven’t given piracy as second thought.

Until yesterday at 11AM when I looked up and found that Mo was being chased.

Overnight we crossed the Burdwood Bank, a bean-shaped plateau between Isla de Los Estatos and the Falklands. We’ve crossed it twice before without encountering another vessel, but last night we cruised slowly past two large (200 and 300 foot) trawlers working around a hash mark on the chart noted only as an “obstruction.” I assumed this to be some kind of fish aggregation device.

We passed close enough that Mo’s AIS alarms began to sound, but by dawn, the two ships were far astern and forgotten, until late morning when I discovered one, the Echizen Maru, on a direct intercept and traveling at twice Mo’s speed. When I first spotted her on the scope, she was ten miles astern and below the horizon.

That a ship should pass close enough for worry is to be expected. It’s why we value AIS. But for all the times that alarm has sounded, I’ve never come to the chart plotter to find the other vessel in direct pursuit.

And for some reason, I immediately assumed the worst. The rationale went like this: the Echizen Maru, she must be a Japanese vessel on clandestine fishing maneuvers within Argentinian waters; overnight she saw Mo and knows Mo saw her; now she intends to take or sink Mo so that her position cannot be reported to the authorities.

Never mind that the other vessel with her overnight was clearly Argentinian (The San Vincente bound for Ushuaia). Never mind that we saw each other on AIS, a technology also used by Chilean and Argentinian authorities to keep track of local traffic. Never mind the most likely scenario, that she’s on her way to a new fishing spot that intersects our course, and she’s dropping by to have a look.

By now, the Echizen Maru was well above the horizon, a large, red vessel with a white house and clearly headed right for us.

I found I was quite afraid.

Quickly I dug through the navigation desk for the Piracy Defense Plan. None there. I did a mental inventory of weapons: a sailor’s knife; a bowie knife; a rusty machette, a spear gun, a flare pistol. No water cannon; no grenade launcher.

How about evasive action? Sure, maybe, but for how long? Besides, if she puts a launch over the side to board us…well,  we can’t outrun that.

What if I call on the radio and ask, “Echizen Maru, what is your intention?” That’s how Captain Picard always began an engagement on Star Trek. Then he’d give the order, “Shields up!” I looked around the pilot house for someone to receive that order. There was no one.

In short, beyond calling my wife as action commenced or going on deck with a cell phone in to my ear to indicate I was “in touch with the authorities,” I had no defense. None at all.

So, I was greatly relived when, two miles off, the Echizen Maru slowed, turned, began to feed nets astern and made slow way in the opposite direction.