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May 14, 2019

Day 221

Noon Position: 24 28N  59 12W

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

Wind(t/tws): SSE 11

Sea(t/ft): SW 3

Sky: Squally; big thunderheads moving slowly

10ths Cloud Cover: 8

Bar(mb): 1022+

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 79

Relative Humidity(%): 60

Sail: Twin headsails poled out.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 60

Miles since departure: 29, 692

Avg. Miles/Day: 134

Leg North Miles: 6,764

Leg North Days: 55

Avg. Miles/Day: 123

Mo made two and three knots most of yesterday and lay becalmed soon after the sun went down. I put away the sails, had a glass of wine in the cockpit, and admired the stars. Especially one bright object on the horizon to the west, which I did not recognize.

It twinkled like a star, but for whole minutes it stayed right there and did not slip into the sea as it should. Then I saw the shimmer of green and then red. “Sailboat WOMBAT” said the chart plotter.

I can count the number of times I’ve seen a sailboat out here on the first two digits of one hand, so this was something to take note of, especially as her heading was a direct intercept.

For the longest time it was unclear if she saw Mo. I finished the wine (things happen slowly at sea), switched on the engine and motored due north for a time to create some room between us. Her course, about 60 degrees true, lay for the Strait of Gibraltar; her departure could only be the Caribbean.

In the dark I never saw more than her lights, white above, green and red below, and later, white aft. She did not call on the radio and neither did I. I still wonder why we both stayed mum.

Some time back I mused over a strange weather phenomenon, namely squalls that, for a time, were forming in the night and dissipating with the day. For those unfamiliar with weather at sea, squalls are nothing more than what you would call thunder or cumulonimbus clouds. In this cloud, hot air is accumulating and rising as an organized mass; as it reaches altitude, it condenses and, if large enough, later rains some of its moisture back down to sea.

Note the root of accumulate, “to heap together” is the same as cumulus. Nimubus typically refers to the cloud’s rain potential.

During the day, the driver, that thing that heats things up and starts the convection process, is the sun.

But, lacking solar radiation, what on earth could create enough heat at night to form squall clouds, and having formed, how could they possibly dissipate when the sun arrived in the morning. I just seemed backwards.

Recently we received an answer, an email into the Figure 8 site.

It went like this…

“Randall,

“My name is Dennis Decker, and I’m a retired National Weather Service Meteorologist. I found your recent weather quandary interesting, and, as it’s a rainy day here in the mountains of North Carolina, I thought I would tackle your question about the diurnal tropical rainfall.

“A little reading reveals that it’s not an easily described process. One major component of night time tropical convection is the change in the vertical temperature profile. To put it simply, when it’s warmer than normal in the lower levels or cooler than normal in the upper levels, upward motion or convection will begin.

As you well know, the daily air temperature fluctuation over tropical oceans is very small even though there can be a lot of daily sunshine. That’s because the ocean absorbs most of the incoming solar energy.  So, to produce an unstable atmosphere there must be cooling in the mid to upper levels. This takes place when an upper cloud layer radiates energy into space. This causes the atmosphere at that level to cool and the temperature profile becomes favorable for convection. During the day the same upper region can absorb solar energy and warm and stabilize the atmosphere.

“These are very subtle changes in the atmosphere and can only be observed over the tropical oceans. Over continents or islands the solar heating of the surface overpowers these subtle affects and produces a daytime rainfall maximum, as does the presence of fronts or organize tropical systems or surface convergence.

“Hope this helps.

Dennis”

Hey Dennis, many thanks for taking the time to explain the mystery of nighttime squalls. Much appreciated, and yes, that make sense now.

Today, found stuck to the side of the boat, the world’s smallest flying fish…

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May 13, 2019

Day 220

Noon Position: 23 34N  58 45W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): N 2.5

Wind(t/tws): SSE 4

Sea(t/ft): NE 3

Sky: Clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1021

Cabin Temp(f): 88

Water Temp(f): 81

Relative Humidity(%): 44

Sail: Spinnaker and main.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 112

Miles since departure: 29,632

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 6,704

Leg North Days: 54

Avg. Miles/Day: 124

We sailed slowly north most of the morning, not for our course but to keep the sails full. At noon I raised the spinnaker for more speed and bore away. This, as it turns out, is the international sign calling for the wind to go from not very much to none at all.

Which it did.

Hard not to be frustrated. Forecast calls for light winds of nine knots from the SE that feed into a larger wind river to the west. Big difference between that and two knots of nothing.

Large squall clouds on the distant horizon astern have not moved all day. Raggedy desiccated cirrus ahead foretell more dead air.

Where is the wind? I expect flat calm in a week. Not now.

Today I replaced the anchor windlass switch with a switch from the spares bin. Nice weather for digging into the anchor locker, where lives the windlass.

The old switch fell apart in my hands the last time I raised anchor to begin this trip. That was Drake’s Bay just north of San Francisco in October of 2018.

Haven’t needed an anchor much since, but it might be called for along the coast of Newfoundland prior to St John’s. I did a neat job if splicing in the spare only to find it does not work.

So, we’ll be hot wiring the switch if the anchor is needed.

You know it’s approaching time to make landfall when…

The locker that held over forty packets of ground coffee upon departure now has nine.

The two milk crates that once were full of two-pound bags of muesli now have but two bags.

The locker that was bursting with toilet paper now has twelve rolls.

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May 12, 2019

Day 219

Noon Position: 21 52N  57 54W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): WxN 2.5

Wind(t/tws): ExS 4.5

Sea(t/ft): NE 8

Sky: Squalls

10ths Cloud Cover: 9

Bar(mb): 1023

Cabin Temp(f): 90

Water Temp(f): 81

Relative Humidity(%): 61

Sail: Twins poled, running.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 108

Miles since departure: 29,520

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 6,592

Leg North Days: 53

Avg. Miles/Day: 124

The sails began barking before dawn, the main in particular.

While there are many reasons to appreciate a fully battened main (which Mo has) the battens and cars put hardware aloft that slaps and bangs horribly in light airs. The main came down after morning coffee, and I tried to squeeze a broad reach out of poled out twins. They too just ground and ground in a breeze I could barely feel on my face.

The problem is not just light airs but a large swell coming down from the NE that’s catching us flat on the beam. We roll so heavily that the sails simply dump whatever small wind they’ve been able to gather up.

Saint John’s is still 2,000 north.

Back on May 4th, S/V Voyager commented “Watching your course I think you are heading straight for Nova Scotia. Can you give some insight to how far west you think you need to be?”

After exiting the doldrums at about 4N, I set a course for Bermuda with the idea of rounding it to the west or east depending on conditions when I got nearer. Pilot Charts suggest Bermuda’s position make it a natural way point and a kind of hub where prevailing east and southeast winds begin to veer south and then southwest. Rounding to the west would get us nearer the north-setting Gulf Stream but would mean going further west than St John’s requires. Cutting too far east of Bermuda risks getting becalmed.

A scan of the ten day forecast doesn’t really shed light on which is the better option. A huge area of calm is building between our current position, Bermuda and Florida which will then resolve into a line of high pressure running east / west and cutting off access to any northing anywhere near Bermuda.

I could turn due north now (700 miles south and east of Bermuda) and ride the western half of the North Atlantic High, but to be well above Bermuda this far east risks the full force of low pressure systems coming off the northeast US and would still not avoid the developing calm.

Also, staying within reach of Bermuda gives me a fuel option if the North Atlantic looks like it might go quiet for an extended period.

Which is a long winded way of saying that I’m not sure. Am continuing to trend toward Bermuda and we’ll play the weather we get.

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May 11, 2019

Day 218

Noon Position: 20 34N  56 33W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NW 4

Wind(t/tws): NExE 6

Sea(t/ft): E 3

Sky: Cirrus haze and cumulus

10ths Cloud Cover: 5

Bar(mb): 1019

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 80

Relative Humidity(%): 60

Sail: #2 poled to windward, #1 and main out to leeward, broad reach, starboard

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

Miles since departure: 29,412

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 6,484

Leg North Days: 52

Avg. Miles/Day: 125

Wind picked up in the afternoon and stayed moderate (10 knots) all night. Died back with the day.

I think the rest of this leap to St. John’s will be like this: variable. Variable to weak winds for the next 15 degrees of latitude and variable to strong the rest of the way.

A day of animals.

One of the Skua’s returned, proving that the raviolis I fed it and a partner the other day were at least not universally fatal.

In the afternoon, dolphins were found to be cavorting under Mo’s bow. A pod of three. Monte shook his head, but I thoroughly approve. Water is so clear, could see them racing beneath the surface a hundred feet away.

Then in the evening, the line landed another fish. A dusky brown … something. I don’t know what it is, do you? Mostly eaten by now. Not as dreamy as a Dorado, but certainly digestible.

My wife recently sent to me a batch of your comments from the Figure 8 site with the subject line, “Most of April.” As usual, they were fun to read. Many thanks to all of you for participating in the voyage.

Some quick, short replies now…and more later….

-Pam Wall, that was a fun story about the passing ship and the bottle toss. Yes, those days are long gone. What did you do for self steering back in 1966?

-Stacey Sarkis, but they DO make good rags… Your comment was a good belly laugh. Thank you.

-Mike Dodson/John Martin, bet that was the first time a hairy, shirtless guy has ever got in and out of the DC airport without getting arrested.

-Skip Dubrin, NOW I remember. Thanks for the nudge re how we met. I’ve noted your name popping up in the comments but couldn’t recall. I’ve enjoyed the Crawford book on Celestial. Have gotten some good tidbits out of it. Glad your repair of the Yanmar held. That’s my experience too.

-Joe Hagan, that’s a Man-o-War? The ones we have in the Pacific are (I thought) so much smaller.

-Todd Parsons, the paint I used was Smart Solution by SeaHawk. Previous to that, ePaint SN1. Both are non-metallic, which I require as I have an aluminum hull. Neither is as strong as the copper-based paints. I do have a fair crop of barnacles on the aft quarter only, and I have been surprised how much they DON’T slow Mo down. We still do six knots in a ten knot breeze abeam and seven plus without too much more encouragement. Plan to de-barnacle in St John’s.

-Chuck Fulton, we’re on the way for a close pass of the Sargasso Sea. I’ll bet bringing up a bucket of weed there will be very productive.

-Jean-Pierre Declemy, re plenty of sea room for sails behaving badly, indeed. Another attraction to sailing beyond the sight of land: no one can see you when you screw up the spinnaker.

-Richard Goldstein, we’re doing fine on water so far. I’m still drinking from the forward tank, into which I put all my caught water. According to my calculations, it should have been long gone by now. So, either I caught more than I thought or drank less in the south, or both. Water tastes/smells sulfury, which is too bad, but sailors can’t be choosy about water taste; it just needs to be wet. The aft tank, untouched since before Cape Horn first pass, should still have 70 gallons.

-John of Owl, nice to see your name in the queue. I think of you daily when I use your winch handles.

-Kowden, I think that’s the first time anyone has remarked that the Figure 8 reminds them of a line from Saving Private Ryan.

-Eric Moe, let’s wait to schedule the Figure 8 Regatta until AFTER I’ve returned from the proof-of-concept run.

-Mary, the technology you want to google is AIS (Automatic Information System). In a nut, it transmits coordinates, course, speed, type of vessel, collision potential (and other data) ship-to-ship over VHF radio signals. Don’t leave home without it.

-Kurt, 40 knot winds are quite sailable, and besides, you know they will blow out in a day or so. The doldrums, on the other hand, could last forever. So, doldrums are worse.

-Chris, re swimming. Haven’t yet. Should.

-Ben Ransom, nice summary of Albatross flight. Sorry you weren’t able to be the discoverer of the mechanics of flight, but kudos for honesty. You’ve heard of Safina’s *Eye of the Albatross?*

-Ben Markowitz gets 50 demerit points for asking a deep and philosophical question. Clearly he did not read the Figure 8 Comments Bylaws where it it is stated that the WHY? question is off limits. Kidding, will try to answer in future post. But will say here that you are being too hard on your teenager for not understanding what I’m doing. That makes him/her sound quite reasonable; quite well adjusted. And all it means is that the passion pursuit he/she eventually comes to … will likely not be adventure sailing.

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May 10, 2019

Day 217

Noon Position: 19 28N  54 27w

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NxW 3.8

Wind(t/tws): WNW 4

Sea(t/ft): —

Sky: Squalls on al sides

10ths Cloud Cover: 5

Bar(mb): 1017

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 90

Relative Humidity(%): 64

Sail: Big genoa and main, reaching on port

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 69

Miles since departure: 29,277

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 6,349

Leg North Days: 51

Avg. Miles/Day: 124

Most of the night we made between two and three knots. The sky started clear, but by morning, Mo was walled-in by heavy, black squalls. Nothing moved for several hours. Only when windlessness holds one prisoner in this way does such an intensity of quiet feel oppressive.

Then, just after noon, the squalls melted away and a cool, north wind filled in. On that we now make six knots on an empty sea under an empty sky.

I chose a challenging week on which to darken the chart plotter, and then I committed several bone-head blunders.

Firstly, we were passing under the sun on the first couple of days of this exercise. This phrase, “passing under the sun,” indicates that ship latitude and the sun’s declination (the celestial word for latitude) are converging. Ship and sun are nearly on the same plane.

In this case, when I switched off the plotter display, our latitude was just over 17N and the sun’s declination was approaching 17N.

The effect is that the day’s sun shots, which are attempts to triangulate your position from the sun’s different positions throughout the day, don’t produce a nice triangle of intersecting, you-are-here lines, what sailors call a cocked hat. Rather, the lines run nearly parallel to each other.

This does’t mean one’s results are wrong, they just appear less precise, and as such, they do not add to one’s confidence in his work.

Then I moved my watch up to GMT+4 and set the minute hand just slightly askew of its mark. That night’s star shots were a mess. A four second error in time keeping causes error of a mile in the results; so, you can imagine what being off sixty seconds will do.

Then I bonked the horizon mirror coming on deck and didn’t catch that I’d caused a two minute index error until the next day.

But we’ve worked through the bugs and have remained relatively sure of our position.

The most difficult day so far was yesterday. Recall that this is largely an exercise in dead reckoning (staying aware of ship position between fixes via compass and log), and you can imagine what light, fluky, ever changing wind will do. Now our course is northwest; now north; now west; now becalmed but moving with current. After a few hours of this, I’m lost. So it was gratifying to find that today’s dead reckoning was not too badly adrift from the noon fix.

Much of learning astronav is learning how to deal with error, because there is so much opportunity for it in the many steps from sight to fix. A three-shot sun fix (morning, noon, afternoon) requires roughly 60 separate actions; not one is the least bit difficult, but they are legion.

At first, you hedge your bets by taking multiple shots; if one doesn’t seem to be working out, move on to the next. But after a time you become confident in your ability to shoot a heavenly body (especially in middle latitude conditions), and so you take but one. If that shot fails, you backtrack into your calculations for the mistake.

Most errors are simple. Did you carry the one? Did you add rather than subtract? Some errors in time keeping are easy to remedy. For example, a shot that is out by around 15 miles is likely due to grabbing the wrong minute of time from the watch. Often if my corrected altitude and computed altitude aren’t close, I’ll scan the Sight Reduction Tables page for a computed altitude that is close and take its corresponding Local Hour Angle back into my computation. This often shows I’ve picked up the wrong data from the Almanac.

You also become fiendishly focused on accuracy. When recording an altitude, I often talk to myself as I read the result off the vernier. “That’s 34 degrees, not 35; not 39; that’s 45 minutes, not 35; not 40,” etc.

When it all comes together, it’s easy to feel The Great Navigator.

Then one must recall that there are more than a few people reading these reports who had to learn celestial to go off shore … because when they went exploring, there was no other option. In one generation, proven methods of way finding in use for hundreds of years, have been largely forgotten.

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May 9, 2019

Day 215

Noon Position: 19 18N  53 16W

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

Wind(t/tws): E 6.5

Sea(t/ft): E 3

Sky: Mostly clear. Some mares tales in the morning; now gone.

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1018

Cabin Temp(f): 88

Water Temp(f): 80 (interesting that temp is rising)

Relative Humidity(%): 59

Sail: Twin headsails

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 115

Miles since departure: 29,208

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 6,280

Leg North Days: 50

Avg. Miles/Day: 126

Slow but steady. What there is of wind is dead aft and in it we roll along at 3 knots on a small sea; the sun is hot, but not too hot; the water is refreshingly cool, and the neighborhood is quiet. Perfectly satisfying.

Yesterday, I took down the spinnaker before dark in favor of the twins for night running. I’ve flown the spinnaker at night before, but it means being on guard. We’re not racing, so why not go with an easier rig at little cost to speed.

I should have reset the spinnaker this morning but have been lazy, and there have been other entertainments.

The solo Skua returned shortly after noon.

This is a sad, empty stretch of sea for a Skua, a marauder by profession. Imagine a highway robber who stakes out an unused road or a grifter who unwittingly moves to the country. Just so, there is no way for a Skua to go about his business without the society of other birds, and that society is distinctly absent. One storm petrel. Two terns. That’s today’s count, beyond the Skua.

In the south, he was a terror to the Prions and the White Chinned Petrels. We’d encounter one every week or so, a big, thick, thug of a bird, recognizable from afar because he flaps hard and flies heavy. Absolutely no grace. Not the least interest in gliding. And he’s always chasing, for whatever others take from the sea is his to take in turn.

The Prions were more agile and their prey too small to be of enduring attraction to the Skua, but the White Chinned Petrels had a difficult time of it. As fast as they were, they could not outrun the Skua, and if the Skua made contact, he could do damage. The only defense: drop down to the water and stop hunting until the Skua chooses another victim.

Yesterday’s Samaritan cracker was of no interest. Neither was an almond lobbed in charity and kindness today. But when I began tossing raviolis from cans too rusty for my own consumption, I struck pay dirt. There’s something in the size and the softness of a Chef Boyardee beef ravioli that seems like seafood.

By mid afternoon, my solo Skua had a friend. Two Skuas trailed Mo for hours and between them ate four cans of raviolis.

We’ll see how much they thank me in the morning.

Two lures drug from Mo’s quarters today. They spent most of their time being retrieved, cleared of weed and re-deployed, but at about 3pm, there were a few splashes in the vicinity, and then the port lure line snapped taut. A small Dorado had hooked on. The water is of such clarity here that I could see the hooked animal and his mates swimming alongside before I began hauling in. In the blue water, the Dorado is eggshell blue, electric blue, yellow and silver and has about him a kind of shimmering sleekness.

I got him alongside and was lifting him aboard when he somehow flipped the hook. What a disappointment–a perfect dinner fish. But I gave him opportunity when I futzed too long with the camera and the gaff.

To my mind, the Dorado is one of the most beautiful of fishes; he’s what Monet would paint if Monet could get his mind off waterlilies.

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May 8, 2019

Day 215

Noon Position: 18 54N  51 17W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): W 4

Wind(t/tws): E 5

Sea(t/ft): E  2

Sky: Light squalls, then clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 5 then 0

Bar(mb): 1020+

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 79

Relative Humidity(%): 59

Sail: Spinnaker and main; running dead downwind.

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

Miles since departure: 29,093

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 6,165

Leg North Days: 49

Avg. Miles/Day: 126

Wind light overnight. None of the squalls I mentioned in the previous post. Some dark skies, but no rain.

Wind went lighter still with the sun, and I’ve been flying the spinnaker since 10am.

It was the right move to haul west. But I should have done so a degree of latitude sooner.

Big Fish. (No Photos. You’ll just have to believe me.)

This morning. Mo is making four knots to the west.

I am standing over the stern deck just above Monte. I’m there to check out the windward horizon for squalls when I notice a shadow in the usually pale blue water immediately aft of the boat. As I watch, the shadow moves in closer, and it is with a shock that I realize we are being tailed by a large Sword Fish.

I can make out the thick, muscular body, the long bill, the sharp, sicle-like fins. He’s a real bull–at least a third Mo’s length. Think Santiago’s big fish for comparison.

Slowly he rides the under side of a wave in toward Mo. He swims in close, all the way up to the stern and there he gives Monte’s water paddle a mighty thwack with his bill. Then he eases back.

I dash below for the camera, and by the time I return he is patrolling from two waves away.

He stays near as long as I watch, sometimes surfing in closer, sometimes off to the side. Then after a particular wave, he is gone.

Little Fish. (Bad Photo.)

This afternoon. Mo is making six and seven knots.

I’m at the bow checking on the draw of the spinnaker when I notice two dark bullets in the water off to port. Two tuna about four feet long. They are running fast in Mo’s shadow, but when they move into sunlight, their backs shimmer the colors of the rainbow.

I run for my lure. I dangle it in front of them. I even thrown it at them. They do me the courtesy of looking at it, but their interest seems to say, “Very nice. Attractive bauble. Doesn’t look much like food. We’re here for food.” And then they continue surfing Mo’s bow wave.

They are hunting in just the way the Dorados were of a week back. From the darkness below Mo’s hull, they cruise in wait of the flush of flying fish. And then they give chase.

Today a rarity: I see a catch. First the flush of fliers, they scatter, maybe ten of them, like pearls being thrown upward by the blue waves.

But one is hobbling. He can’t quite get air born. I suspect a tuna has nipped the under part of his tail fin, which he uses like an outboard motor while flying. His outboard is spluttering. And then there is a splash from below and he is gone.

All of this is observed by both myself and a lone Skua that shows up around this time. Repeatedly, he lands near the bow as if to invite himself to the party. That’s a Skua for you. Always ready to help himself to someone else’s fun. I throw him a cracker, but he only pecks at it. He returns a look of disgust by way of thanks.

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May 7, 2019

Day 214

Noon Position: 18 21N  48 95W

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

Wind(t/tws): NE 11

Sea(t/ft): NE 4

Sky: Clear

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1021

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 78

Relative Humidity(%): 55

Sail: Working jib poled to port, main to starboard, broad reach

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 158

Miles since departure: 28,985

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 6,030

Leg North Days: 48

Avg. Miles/Day: 126

Not quite another 160 mile day; not quite.

Streak ended but still a solid run. In the last eight days, Mo and I have made good over 1,300 miles for an average of 163 every 24 hours. That may rival any week in the south.

We are nearing the end of the strong trades, however.

I’ve just come below from lowering the main for the first time since the doldrums. Now we are before the wind and making way under the poled out twins; our course, almost due west at seven knots. A large band of high pressure is building due north; I’m trying to stay below that.

Nights have been strange.

The pattern is this: days are clear or populated with dry, cottony cloud until late afternoon. Then squalls fill in. Typically, these evaporate by mid evening, leaving a starry sky overnight and until early morning, when we are again overtaken by squalls. These are large and powerful, but they, in turn, clear away after sunrise.

That last bit is the strange part–squalls developing from no apparent heat source overnight and burning off with daylight.

And each night is more intense.

For example, this morning I was on deck at 4am tucking in sail for a large, overtaking squall. I had two reefs in the jib and one in the main by dawn, and all the while we were under the same cloud cell. We rode this squall until 10am, when it finally ran out of steam and gave way to blue sky.

In no other ocean has Mo been fast enough, or the squall slow enough, that we could ride it so long.

Moreover, it’s a mystery to me how squalls can form overnight without heat from above. If they melt away after sundown (that I get) how do they form again, and more powerfully, before the sun returns?

Michael Scipione, thank you for the May 5th reply to my currents question. I had assumed the weed I was seeing was coming DOWN from the Sargasso Sea–spinning out of that high and riding the trades all the way west.

We still get streamers of weed on some days as we–to your point–move through this eddy and that. The weed is the only sign of current change, that and the re-appearance of the large zip-lock-sandwich-bag jelly.

Today it’s bad enough I can’t run the Watt and Sea. This may be a different species of plant: it does not float as high, nor is it bunched together so tightly.

I’m looking forward to making the “jump into hyperspace” in the Gulf Stream.

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May 6, 2019

Day 213

Noon Position: 16 58N  46 38W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NW 6.5

Wind(t/tws): NExE 10

Sea(t/ft): NE 4

Sky: Altocumulus and Squalls

10ths Cloud Cover: 2

Bar(mb): 1021

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 78

Relative Humidity(%): 63

Sail: Working jib and main, reaching, starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 161

Miles since departure: 28,828

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 5,872

Leg North Days: 47

Avg. Miles/Day: 125

“Montaaaaay!” I say, climbing into the cockpit. “Welcome back!”

“Senior, but I am only right here,” says Monte. “Why must you yell?”

“I think you were napping and missed all the fun. We had to do a bit of work on your…”

“Senior, please to pardon, but Portolanos, we do not nap. Maybe very occasionally we will close our eyes, this mostly to ensure the proper moistness of the eyeballs–it helps with the seeing–but even then, we close but one eye at a time.”

“Aha, well then, I guess the rapturous sound I heard recently was not your snoring.”

“Indeed not. Possibly it was a dorado complaining that he had eaten too many flying fish. I am led to believe they do not like them raw. Bad for the digestion.”

Good news.

Just after noon today, I noticed Mo heading north at five knots. Just previously we’d been heading 310 true at seven knots. On deck I found Monte had broken a safety tube. The water paddle trailed behind the boat like a drowned fish.

Why is this good news?

This is the first safety tube we’ve broken since the Pacific, since before Cape Horn rounding number one. Mo is a Monitor safety tube breaker. I broke four or five during the first leg of the Figure 8 Voyage 1.0. And Tony Gooch was emphatic, “bring at least ten tubes.”

But I think through trial and error we’ve figured out that the safety tube failures were not due to Mo’s heavy tiller but rather to a safety line dragging astern that was fouling the paddle.

Having shortened that, the breakages have gone to nearly zero. Well, two, to be exact.

In fact, it has been so long since I replaced a safety tube, I had to think it through. Easy job though. We were back under Monte’s guidance within half an hour.

Poor portolano, he was enjoying a tiny, two-eye siesta, his first in many moons.

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May 5, 2019

Day 212

Noon Position: 15 13N  44 31W

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

Wind(t/tws): NExE 12

Sea(t/ft): NE 5

Sky: Cumulus

10ths Cloud Cover: 3

Bar(mb): 1019+

Cabin Temp(f): 84

Water Temp(f): 78

Relative Humidity(%): 61

Sail: Working jib full; main one reef, reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 162

Miles since departure: 28,667

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 5,711

Leg North Days: 46

Avg. Miles/Day: 124

Six days over 160, and we’re still cranking.

I’ve been at astronav consistently since rounding up into the Atlantic forty six days ago, and yesterday marks a turning point.

Yesterday, I switched off the chart plotter.

The sextant I use is the Celestaire Astra IIIB. I bought it in 2005 from my local chandlery because it was the only sextant they sold. Not the only brand; there were no others in the store. I was about to make my first ocean crossing and wanted to learn celestial enroute but lacked the basic tools. This sextant looked like serious business and came in a lovely mahogany box and wasn’t too expensive. So I bought it without further ado and have been using it on passages ever since with great success.

With one exception. Stars.

Star sights are typically taken during morning and evening twilight, when the higher magnitude bodies begin to appear but the horizon is still visible. And I have tried often at sea to shoot stars during this time. I’ve done well when I can find the damned target, but that’s the tough part. Stars can be very dim.

The Astra IIIB came with what’s called a Whole Horizon Mirror (sitting next to the sextant in the photo). This is a coated lense that allows the user to see the whole ocean horizon with the image of the body (sun, moon, or star) superimposed onto his field of vision in its entirety. This lense is excellent for bright objects and makes “racking down the sun” a breeze.

But I found that the coatings on the lense applied just enough shading that seeing stars was difficult. To be fair, there are other factors, one of which is that I wear bifocals; another is that Mo is rarely a stable platform from which to find a pinprick of light in the heavens.

When I broached this issue with Celestaire, Ken Gebhart immediately recommended I try the Traditional, split mirror (attached to the sextant in the photo). This is the technology that every sextant employed before coated lenses were invented. And one benefit of the Astra IIIB is that it is designed to facilitate easy mirror swaps.

The split mirror is just as you’d imagine. Half the lense is mirrored and half the lense is clear. Thus, half of the image one is seeing is unadulterated horizon and half is of the sky in which resides the body being racked down. This playing halvsies with the image can take some getting used to and is a bit more difficult on a bounding boat, but there is no shading on this mirror.

And this has made all the difference for me. Now the stars I pursue are as bright in my scope as they are with the naked eye. For a couple weeks I’ve been shooting both sun and stars with the split mirror and feel I’ve made the transition.

Having, now, better access to stars, planets, and the moon means that I can get two or three widely separated (morning, noon, and evening) fixes on a day with good visibility, and this has been encouragement to take the next step.

It has dawned on me only slowly that the sextant work is the easy part. What’s hard is keeping track of one’s position in the interim; that is to say, dead reckoning. This moment-to-moment knowing is something that the chart plotter does with such ease, that unless it’s decommissioned, one has no incentive to get to know the compass or the log. Why learn to like oatmeal if someone delivers strawberry waffles to your bedside each morning?

So, it’s off. And I’m not lost. I don’t think…

To be honest, it’s not entirely off. The chart plotter is my AIS interface, and I still want the noon-to-noon mileage numbers, so the screen is off while the unit runs in the background. And I am relearning the mysteries of variation and deviation.

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May 4, 2019

Day 211

Noon Position: 13 25N  42 29W

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

Wind(t/tws): NExE 12

Sea(t/ft): NE 3

Sky: Altocumulus and beginning to look squally

10ths Cloud Cover: 7

Bar(mb): 1018+

Cabin Temp(f): 84

Water Temp(f): 78

Relative Humidity(%): 66

Sail: Working jib and main, reaching, starboard.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 165

Miles since departure: 28,505

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 5,555

Leg North Days: 45

Avg. Miles/Day: 123

Another solid mileage day. All I do is tweak sails in a bit, out a bit; adjust Monte’s tiller line in a bit, out a bit. And for that, Mo … scoots briskly up and to the left.

Can’t tell what the weather wants. Clear for a bit, then a heavy sky, even squally, this though it’s cooling, not warming. The barometer is up and down between 1014 and 1018, is never still. The wind, however, is blessedly constant.

Cool enough now to wear a shirt, to even sleep in a shirt. Ah, the luxuries.

Mo was visited by a pair of White-Tailed Tropicbirds today. They circled a few times, chattering all the while about something, “kraik! kraik!” And then they flew off.

The resulting photos have, I think, a painterly quality to them; thus so many.

I’ve taken a vacation from the work list since Cape Horn. But, predictably, the work list has not done the same. Rather it keeps churning out items, which I dutifully write into the little orange book for when I return.

Today, I dived back into boat chores, starting with the primary manual bilge pump that leaked all over the cabin floor last I used it. Disassembly showed no flaws, and bilge pumping today produced no leaks.

So it goes.

That said, in the process of removing the companionway ladder so I could get at the pump, I broke one of the fasteners used to hold the ladder in place. Repairing that took more time than work on the pump.

So it goes.

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May 3, 2019

Day 210

Noon Position: 11 35N  40 20W

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

Wind(t/tws): NExN 9

Sea(t/ft): NE 4

Sky: Altocumulus

10ths Cloud Cover:

Bar(mb): 8

Cabin Temp(f): 84

Water Temp(f): 79

Relative Humidity(%): 65

Sail: Working jib and main, reaching, starboard.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 164

Miles since departure: 28,340

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 5,390

Leg North Days: 44

Avg. Miles/Day: 123

I’m not sure if we’ve ever had a run so consistent as this. Our totals these last four days, 161, 168, 166, 164 miles, respectively. Our average since noon today, 7 knots; so, this could be another. Our course made good on the chart: straight as an arrow at 311 true. It’s why the sailor loves a good trade wind.

Wind is not quite so consistent as the dailies suggest; it varies from about 8 knots to 15 from the NE. But that’s plenty to get us going.

I wish I could create a photo collage of the following, but for now you’ll have to settle for words…

We’ve moved through another transition zone. Changes have been subtle and not so subtle, but the result is that, having crossed some line invisible to the untrained eye, we are now in a different world.

It’s been coming on for a couple days, noticed by a slight thinning of the heavy streamers of weed and a few different birds. But yesterday the change crescendoed with our passaged through strange, turbulent, confused water on three occasions, each lasting about half an hour. Imagine a tide race in a bay near you.

What’s different?

The water temperature has dropped below 80 degrees. Today’s reading was 79 for the second day.

The Boobies are gone. Actually they made themselves scarce as soon as strong trades kicked in. For a week there was nothing, and then yesterday, two Tropicbirds and a Long-Tailed Skua in company. A few Arctic Terns. Then today, Gadfly Petrels and a couple Storm Petrels; these are Atlantic firsts for Mo and me. In the Pacific, Gadflies are the everyday bird in middle latitudes, so seeing them creates a sense of homeyness.

Previously, we’ve seen on the water top a large jellyfish with an air bladder extending above the surface. The air bladder has the general appearance and volume of a ziplock sandwich bag; it’s clear and is rimmed in pink and purple. After the transition current, those jellies are gone and have been replace with By-the-Wind Sailors (Velella velella), scores of them. These are small, blue jellies with small disks the size of half dollar coins that stick up into the breeze. They act as sails. Thus the name.

Flying fish numbers have been increasing. Now I see fish of all sizes and not infrequently we flush a “flock” of twenty to thirty. A couple are caught by Mo’s gunnels every night. They were almost absent in the Doldrums and were scarce for a time thereafter.

And the weed is gone. Overnight, just gone.

This is a major relief as it means we can charge batteries with the hydrogenerator again. There will be more weed in our future, I am sure; but for now, it’s nice to have clean water.

Perhaps Michael Scipione, who has written about ocean currents in the comments section of the Figure 8 site, can weigh in on this recent phenomenon.=

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May 2, 2019

Day 209

Noon Position: 09 40N  38 22W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NW 6.5

Wind(t/tws): NExN 12

Sea(t/ft): NE 5

Sky: Clear then solid altocumulus; then clear again.

10ths Cloud Cover: 6

Bar(mb): 1017

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 79

Relative Humidity(%): 67

Sail: Working jib and main, reaching, starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 166

Miles since departure: 28,176

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 5,226

Leg North Days: 43

Avg. Miles/Day: 122

Mo is cranking out the miles as if she’s a space ship on a long, straight shot for deep space. Next stop, the rings of Saturn.

This morning at 6am, the cabin temperature was 79 degrees. That’s the first time the cabin has been below 80 in the morning since April 12th. At noon, water temperature was 79 degrees–first time below 80 since April 10th.

Even without the numbers, I can tell it’s beginning to cool; I’ve pulled a sheet over me at some time in the night for two nights running. Previously it’s been too hot for any cover at all.

Tropicbirds have visited twice in the last two days. In the Pacific, they’ll be seen routinely, if infrequently, anywhere between 30N and 30S, but this is our first sighting in the Atlantic.

Small, stocky, white birds that come in close to inspect Mo and her inhabitants, they give the impression of a dog looking for scraps.

There are three varieties of Tropicbirds: Red-Tailed, White-Tailed and Red-Billed. This ocean hosts the latter two. The most distinctive feature: as the name suggests, a long, quill of a tail feather.

Today’s inquisitor, White-Tailed. Immature. No long quill of a tail feather.

They also, both in this ocean and the Pacific, try to land at the masthead. They never succeed here or there. After many circlings, they give a “khraik” and fly off in disgust.

No food; no place to sit down; what use is it?

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May 1, 2019

Day 208

Noon Position: 07 48N  36 18W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NW 7+

Wind(t/tws): NE 10 – 12

Sea(t/ft): NE 5

Sky: Puffy cumulus and haze

10ths Cloud Cover: 3

Bar(mb): 1017

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 80

Relative Humidity(%): 72

Sail: Working jib and main, main one reef, reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 168

Miles since departure: 28,010

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 5,060

Leg North Days: 42

Avg. Miles/Day: 120

Another fast day. We are on Mo’s favorite tack, wind abeam. And we must be benefiting from the Guiana Current, which runs NW along the Brazilian coast at one to two knots, so says the paper chart.

Weed continues to be a problem. I see a thick line of it every 30 seconds or so and am clearing the Watt and Sea hydrogenerator prop every half hour. Probably should clear more often. Actually, today I didn’t run the Watt and Sea at all and am resigned to charging by engine every few days starting tomorrow and until we are well north.

Yes, Mo has two 100-watt solar panels on the aft rails, and sun we have in juicy abundance. But Mo requires about 75 amps of power a day for standard operations, and the most the panels typically produce during daylight is about 30 amps. One issue is that the sun angles are often wrong, and on our present tack the sun goes behind the mast in the early afternoon and never quite returns.

Pasta.

Do you know why I crave pasta?

Ashore I like pasta just fine but don’t go out of my way to find it. At sea, and especially of late, I can’t get enough.

Because of the heat now, I rarely cook, opting instead to eat dinner’s stew or chili or corn or beans cold and right out of the can.

But for pasta I will upset this pattern, even though it requires two simmering pots to steam up the cabin: one for noodles and one for sauce.

My favorite sauce includes a) a can of eggplant in tomato sauce and garlic; b) a can of stewed tomatoes; c) a can of cubed beef; d) more garlic, onions and herbs in the form of dried; e) a dollop of curry paste. Let that simmer for twenty minutes. Delicious.

But however good the sauce, it is secondary to the noodle–the thing that drives the craving. And not the healthy, whole wheat noodle, of which I have scads. Oh no, rather, I always reach for the standard, all-white spaghetti or penne.

Typically I boil up enough for two dinners, but find I must be careful or I’ll eat all of it in one sitting. I get on a roll. There’s something in the toothsomeness and the slight sweetness that makes one forkful follow another.

My record thus far–not that I’ve been attempting to set a record–is the consumption of a full pound of dried pasta in two days.

This stuff I could eat by itself or with a touch of butter and a light sprinkling of cheese. The sauce is a pain in the neck; I make myself make it so that dinner has some nutrient besides carbohydrates.

In fact, I think this is what drives the craving, the carbs, which are one quick step away from eating sugar.

But why this is happening now is a mystery.

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April 30, 2019

Day 207

Noon Position: 05 52N  34 16W

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

Wind(t/tws): NExE 12

Sea(t/ft): NE 4

Sky: Same, puffy cumulus and that odd haze

10ths Cloud Cover: 4

Bar(mb): 1015+

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 83

Relative Humidity(%): 70

Sail: Working jib and main, reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 161

Miles since departure: 27,842

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 4,892

Leg North Days: 41

Avg. Miles/Day: 119

We haven’t logged a 160 mile day since March 27th, a week after Cape Horn. But today we were fast again. It feels good to see Mo glide out the miles.

These recent slow, hot weeks have put me in mind of the idea of *regression to the mean.* It’s a phrase my baseball friend and I mutter to each other when our home team follows a glorious winning streak with a losing streak of equal profundity.

The trouble with baseball, of course, is that the season is monstrously long, and it’s this season length that makes the game a competition not just between teams but also between those teams and the law of averages.

If you’re a football fan, you have some justification in believing that your team may eventually have its perfect, loss-less season. But then, the football season is a mere 18 games compared to the 160 baseball teams must slog through. We baseball fans think our team has had a winning season if it finishes above 500.

Just so Mo and Randall. As we approach the 30,000 mile mark, the law of averages has begun to take its pound of flesh out of our dailies. At our height, and prior to New Zealand, we were up to 146 miles a day. I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself and Mo. We were flying. But then, surprisingly, the Pacific leg to Cape Horn slowed us down, and this leg north has been a crawl.

Still, we may win some miles back over the next two weeks.

A strange incident this afternoon. An intermittent target on the AIS monitor. When the alarm first sounded, the target was already close, only six miles off and headed right for us. But it kept blipping on and off the screen. This I have never seen.

Over the course of several blips, I saw the vessel was the HUANG G MING, a Chinese fishing boat. Thinking that their AIS may be malfunctioning, I altered course, slowing Mo and moving to pass under her stern.

HUANG G MING then altered course directly for us and did not alter course further until we had solid visual contact.

As she passed close under Mo’s stern, I could see the crew lining the weather rail, watching as Mo moved by. They must not see many sailboats.

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April 29, 2019

Day 206

Noon Position: 04 00N  32 21W

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

Wind(t/tws): NExN 11

Sea(t/ft): NE 4

Sky: Puffy cumulus and haze

10ths Cloud Cover: 3

Bar(mb): 1014

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 83

Relative Humidity(%): 73

Sail: Working jib and main, close reaching on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 132

Miles since departure: 27,681

Avg. Miles/Day: 134

Leg North Miles: 4,731

Leg North Days: 40

Avg. Miles/Day: 118

If there was doubt yesterday, today there is none. We have at last departed the Doldrums. Proof: a steady and building wind from the northeast and a sky with nary a squall. What cloud we have is dry, cottonball cumulus. (There is also an odd, milky haze in the air.)

I changed down from the big genoa to the working jib at dawn. By 10am, I was putting a reef in the main and a tuck in the jib. Both are out now as wind is easing with sunset, but our speed is still averaging 6.5 knots.

Our next waypoint, Bermuda, to which I have drawn a rhumb line course of 310 degrees true for 2,500 miles. That distance will take the better part of 20 days, so we’ll see what has developed by then, but Bermuda announces the next transition zone. Here the Trades give way to the Horse Latitudes, a belt of high pressure and calms (compared the the doldrums, which are a belt of low pressure and calms).

How the calms look when we arrive will decide on which side we take Bermuda. The shorter route is to the east of it, but that gives the greater risk of light airs.

Decisions for later.

Battery charging is still a problem, an unanticipated problem.

In the wind here we do not see the big blankets of Sargasso weed of days ago, but it is still a constant companion in the form of long, thin ribbons running parallel to the wind. And it’s wrapping the Watt and Sea hydrogenerator propellor, which I clear at least once an hour.

We got half the juice from the generator today that I would expect in non-weed conditions.

I hear this weed is much worse in the Caribbean, and of course, just east of there is the eponymous Sargasso Sea.

So, we may be in for a difficult few weeks of battery maintenance.

I pulled some of the weed on deck for a closer examination. What I had previously called berries are, I read, the air sacks that keep the plant afloat. And nestled in this particular batch were small crabs and minute shrimps with long, clear feelers that looked like spun glass. These are two of many species that make the Sargasso a rich, complex animal environment.

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April 28, 2019

Day 205

Noon Position: 02 23N  30 51W

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

Wind(t/tws): NExN 6 – 8

Sea(t/ft): NE 3

Sky: Clear then squalls

10ths Cloud Cover: 5

Bar(mb): 1015

Cabin Temp(f): 86

Water Temp(f): 84

Relative Humidity(%): 74

Sail: Big genoa and main, close reach on starboard

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 64

Miles since departure: 27,549

Avg. Miles/Day: 134

Leg North Miles: 4,599

Leg North Days: 39

Avg. Miles/Day: 118

I dropped sails after dinner, and we drifted for several hours. A heavy sea. Mo rolled terribly. I had to wedge myself into my bunk to keep from being tossed around.

By midnight, a light breeze with drizzle; I put us on port tack and heading northeast. At least there is some north in the course, I thought.

But by 4am, our course was due east. Wind had begun to swing north, and was pushing us back into the belt of calms. Even so, I chose to do nothing for a couple hours. Would this wind settle in or die away as had the others?

If anything, when I came on deck at 6am, the northerly was fresher. And now it had some east in it.

I tacked around immediately, before coffee, even before making a log entry.

Yes, we’re now taking a northeasterly on starboard tack, headed northwest. This is our first taste of the NE Trades. At last.

Still, a pretty slow day. After lunch, we were becalmed for an hour as a squall passed overhead, and I can count five wind-robbing squalls as I scan Mo’s horizon. Missing them will be a matter of luck.

But it appears we may be easing out of the Doldrums.

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April 27, 2019

Day 204

Noon Position: 01 19N 30 57W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): NWxN  6.5

Wind(t/tws): SW 11

Sea(t/ft): Various to 3

Sky: Overcast

10ths Cloud Cover: 5

Bar(mb): 1015

Cabin Temp(f): 88

Water Temp(f): 85

Relative Humidity(%): 72

Sail: #1 genoa and main, reach, PORT.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 51

Miles since departure: 27,485

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 4,535

Leg North Days: 38

Avg. Miles/Day: 119

By “day in the life,” I mean today…

2am. From my bunk, I hear the familiar thwap thwap. The sails are telling me we’re becalmed. I rise and silence them. Rain.

6am. Rain has cleared but the sky is heavy. No wind. No choice. Batteries are down by half. I begin motoring after the first cup of coffee.

10:30am. Engine off. A light breeze from the southwest has filled in. I raise the main and spinnaker, and we take off at five knots.

The spinnaker is a thing of beauty. Not like flying a kite; rather, like flying a kite the size of a house and the shape of an amoeba that, when filled, takes on perfect proportionality without being symmetrical. It’s not possible, you say to yourself, that such a shape can hold wind. And yet the proof that it can is right in front of you.

The sky clears. The wind freshens.

Then suddenly, the wind is brisk. The rail is in the water, the foot of the spinnaker too. We’re rounding up hard. I spill some main, grab the tiller and pull for all I’m worth. My best effort maintains wind abeam; I can’t get the head to fall off. The spinnaker dumps and then fills with a crack. I look to windward; more coming.

I abandon the tiller, let fly the spinnaker sheet, and dash forward to lower the sock. This system, the sock that comes down over the spinnaker, robbing it of its wind, is the genius that makes this winged amoeba manageable.

Except not today.

The sock won’t lower. Is it jammed? I examine the head of the sail. No, all well, except now the spinnaker is flying out to windward like a bed sheet for goliath caught in a gale. It goes out so far I can’t see the end of it, and the pressure on this mass of gossamer is making the sock a bear to lower. I can lower it, I find, but I have to lock myself to the rail with my legs and heave with everything I’ve got.

Great. The sock is down. I start to lower the halyard. A few feet of line slip through my hands, and now the foot of the sail is in the water. It begins to fill. Quickly half the sail is pulled overboard. I’m sitting on the deck hauling in heaps of white, sopping wet material. It spills from my lap and covers the deck around me; with my free hand, I’m stuffing it down the forward hatch as fast as I can, all while other heaps of material are flowing over the rail. It’s a losing battle I somehow win. Slam down the forward hatch; the beast is caged at last.

Noon. I unfurl the genoa and we take off at seven knots, wind abeam, heading north northwest. Wait, a double take. Yes, a steady seven knots!

2pm. We’ve gone from cloud to clear and into cloud again, a solid wall of cement gray and then the rain starts. Torrential. An hour later, it’s still torrential. I’m collecting in buckets and letting it flow into the tanks. Soon I’ll have so much water aboard, I’ll be able to sell it to the city when I get to Newfoundland.

3pm. Wind has eased, but through the downpour we still make five knots.

The rain clears away as the sun sets. The sky lifts. The wind dies.

6pm. Thwap, thwap, thwap. Becalmed. I lower sails.

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April 26, 2019

Day 203

Noon Position: 0 29S  30 52W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): WNW 2

Wind(t/tws): S 4

Sea(t/ft): Various, to 4

Sky: Clear (now)

10ths Cloud Cover: 0

Bar(mb): 1016

Cabin Temp(f): 90

Water Temp(f): 86

Relative Humidity(%): 68

Sail: Spinnaker.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 33

Miles since departure: 27,434

Avg. Miles/Day: 135

Leg North Miles: 4,484

Leg North Days: 37

Avg. Miles/Day: 121

Becalmed overnight, again.

With sundown, wind goes to zero, and the sea rolls Mo such that the sails are grinding themselves to bits.

I drop them at 6pm.

In the wee hours I climb on deck, and I can feel wind on my face. But the anemometer says that wind is three knots. I go back to bed.

At 5am, I wake to a downpour. I can hear it on the coach roof from my bunk. Wind on deck is brisk (relatively speaking). I open the big genoa, and we make four knots northwest.

I feel hope. Could this be the wind that takes us through?

By now we’ve had enough rain to rinse the boat, and so I open the tank caps and let the rain run into the tanks straight from the deck. Water is two inches thick in the scuppers. I also catch five gallons from the main cover for washing clothes.

The rain clears but not the sky. Wind moves aft and goes light. I raise the spinnaker. Within an hour, the spinnaker won’t fill.

The sky clears now. Wind moves forward but is still barely a whisper. I douse the spinnaker and go back to plain sail. We average one and a half knots, slowly making way through great carpets of golden weed.

Now it’s hot. I wear shirt and hat for protection. We inch toward a wall of cloud.

Late afternoon, we enter the wall. Wind to twelve knots from the northwest. Rain. We make five knots close hauled due north.

Hope. Could this be the wind that takes us through?

Over an hour, the wind slowly eases and backs into the north. We’re driven off northeast, but at one knot.

As I type. Drizzle. No wind.

The weather forecast continues to call for northeast trades in this sector. How it can miss the presence of horizon-to-horizon squall cells is baffling.

I’d motor in a heartbeat to get out of this, but my reserves are low. I used more fuel in the south for charging than I anticipated. I can’t motor endlessly, and I don’t know where the end of these cells is. I also can’t motor haphazardly as, given cloud and no speed, our charging has been low. I must use the engine to charge, so must wait until that is required.

Today is my lovely wife’s birthday.

This is a big one, and I was due to be home. The Figure 8 would be completed. I’d be in the study writing a fabulous adventure book and preparing for my interview in Oprah’s garden.

But then the Indian Ocean happened, and I had to start over.

I “had to,” which is to say “I wanted to.” I recall floating that idea to Jo in Hobart after the knockdown. And I remember her reaction. It was the same reaction she’s had for every wacko idea I’ve had since I first started talking about singlehanding. She was fully supportive.

I like big dreams, and I’ve had them since I was young, but I don’t think I can pull them off–and so I don’t start. It’s taken my wife, who says, “I think you should do that,” and later, “You’d better get on with it or stop talking about it” to get me to act.

Quite simply, without her to push me, I would not be out here now. My only regret is that I can’t be there today to support *her* and help celebrate her special day.

Instead of me at home, what she got was a birthday sentiment stuffed into a champagne bottle and tossed over the side.

Given our way of late, she may get that note before she sees me again!

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April 25, 2019

Day 202

Noon Position: 0 14S  30 22W

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

Wind(t/tws): N 3 – 4

Sea(t/ft): Rollers coming in from all around

Sky: Squalls, huge, with rain but not much wind

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar(mb): 1015

Cabin Temp(f): 84

Water Temp(f): 87 (odd inversion re above)

Relative Humidity(%): 73

Sail: Big genoa and main. Spinnaker up for a time before noon.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 39

Miles since departure: 27,401

Avg. Miles/Day: 136

Leg North Miles: 4,451

Leg North Days: 36

Avg. Miles/Day: 124

Becalmed overnight. And, as I type it’s two hours after dark and sails are down again. Wind showed promise during the day, but that was all it showed. We’ve made good fourteen miles in the last eight hours.

You are likely looking at the tracker and wondering–and yes, my forecast also shows a lovely wind from NNE at 10 – 15 in this sector. Sorry folks, that wind does not exist here. In fact, no wind of greater than 3 knots has existed here in memory.

I could go on…

But instead, a video from this morning with some images of what it is to be becalmed…

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April 24, 2019

Day 201

Noon Position: 0 19S  30 04W

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

Wind(t/tws): SW 5

Sea(t/ft): 1 – 2 various directions

Sky: Dark cloud entirely, heavy rain

10ths Cloud Cover: 10

Bar(mb): 1016

Cabin Temp(f): 88

Water Temp(f): 85

Relative Humidity(%): 67

Sail: Big genoa and main.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 62

Miles since departure: 27,362

Avg. Miles/Day: 136

Leg North Miles: 4,412

Leg North Days: 35

Avg. Miles/Day: 126

Wind remained light at north and east most of the night but died away altogether by early morning. I lowered the main, rolled up the jib, and we drifted for several hours under a starry sky.

The Big Dipper is hull up now and creates a lovely arc from Alioth and Alkaid in its handle through to Arcturus and on to Spica and Corvus. At Corvus the line veers sharply to the right and terminates in the Southern Cross. Except for perpetual cloud on the horizon, I think I might have seen Polaris, and so could have connected both hemispheres in one sweep.

With sunup, a light wind from the south preceded a dark wall of cloud. We were soon overtaken and spent most of the day in that “super-cell.” Heavy rain and brisk wind at times.

At 5:15PM today we crossed the equator and re-entered northern waters. It was October 25th of 2018 when we crossed into the south, and we have been there ever since.

With sundown, the cell has evaporated and so too has the wind. The water is glassy; the sunset, worth a million dollars. But I’d trade it for some wind.

Sails are down again.

We drift.

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April 23, 2019

Day 200

Noon Position: 1 09S  29 20W

Course(t)/Speed(kts): WNW 4

Wind(t/tws): E 6

Sea(t/ft): E 3

Sky: Cumulus with some squalls

10ths Cloud Cover: 5

Bar(mb): 1015

Cabin Temp(f): 90

Water Temp(f): 87

Relative Humidity(%): 69

Sail: All three sails flying.The #2 poled to starboard. Broad reach.

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

Miles since departure: 27,300

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Miles: 4,350

Leg North Days: 34

Avg. Miles/Day: 128

By my estimation, we entered the doldrums this afternoon. The marker was pretty clear, our soft but steady easterly softened by half and turned northeast. Sundown. For several hours our average speed: 2.5 knots.

Squalls overnight. I was on deck almost every hour easing sheets or hauling in again. Rain. Giant lines of cloud backlit by a moon so bright it almost hurt the eyes.

Now the dominant bird is the Booby. I say dominant not like in the south, where it would indicate most of many; but rather here to mean the only bird sighted and one or two a day for days on end.

The book I use for identification draws no distinction between the Pacific and Atlantic *Sula* species. What I am seeing are the Red Footed (Sula sula) and the Blue Footed (Sula nebouxii), just as on the other side. But without the book to set me straight, I would say these two oceans host entirely different birds.

For one thing, the Atlantic birds are lithe in comparison to the chunky monkeys we have in the Pacific. And for another, they rarely dive.

In the Pacific, the Booby is entirely a diving bird. From thirty to fifty feet up, he’ll plunge head first into the sea in chase of fish several feet below the surface.

Not so here.

It’s happened so often now, I’ve recognized the pattern. Booby arrives on the scene and hovers just forward and downwind of Mo, patrolling back and forth and lying in wait for a flying fish. As a flyer is flushed by Mo’s “predatory” black hull and takes flight, it invariably turns into the wind, and so the Booby gives chase by dropping down from behind and accelerating quickly with deep, strong wing beats.

The chase can last through several waves, say four to seven seconds on average, and almost always ends with the bird shooting straight up into the air with nothing to show for his effort. This strikes me as odd in that the flying fish has eyes that point downward in order to better apprehend predators coming up from below; anything coming from above is in the fish’s blind spot. That I am wrong may explain why the Atlantic Booby is a slender being.

On only two occasions have I seen success. Instead of the chase ending in a splash as the fish escapes back into its mother element, the finale sees the fish being caught by the tail and flung into the air as the bird swoops up, catches the fish, this time by the head, and downs it in one go.

I clapped and gave a cheer the first time I saw that!

The bird went straight to the water top and sat there. Not surprised, I thought, as the fish it had just eaten was big, about a quarter its own size. But within five minutes, the Booby was on patrol again, swinging back and forth across Mo’s bow.

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April 22, 2019

Day 199

Noon Position: 3 12S  28 21W

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

Wind(t/tws): E 11

Sea(t/ft): E 4

Sky: Cumulus

10ths Cloud Cover: 2

Bar(mb): 1014+, steady

Cabin Temp(f): 91

Water Temp(f): 87

Relative Humidity(%): 66

Sail: All three main sails flying. The #2 is poled to starboard. Broad reach.

Noon-to-Noon Miles Made Good (nm): 149

Miles since departure: 27,164

Avg. Miles/Day: 137

Leg North Miles: 4,214

Leg North Days: 33

Avg. Miles/Day: 128

A fair wind overnight and today that’s made the fairer by flying a boat load of canvas. All three working sails are up and filling, and the breeze is starting to veer, if begrudgingly, south of east. Maybe tomorrow we can fly the spinnaker.

We are fortunate to be carrying this wind deep into the ITCZ. Monte and I do the Holy Cross and twig a backstay each time we pass but are otherwise silent. Mum’s the word.

Last night, lightening flashes down wind and well below the horizon. They sent shivers down my spine. There’s something deeply frightening about lightening. Only three bursts.

Today, as evening has come on, the sky has covered entirely. There are mares tails cirrus, a full and dark altocumulus level, and cumulus below that are wanting to grow into squalls. It could be an interesting night. No lightening yet.

Today’s story is weed. But first …

At 8:30am I was taking a sight when I noted a darkish hump floating on the water half a mile away. Its shape struck me at first as being that of a long derelict sailboat on its beam’s end and half submerged; it’s size, roughly that of Mo’s. Even in binoculars the shape didn’t resolve to anything more specific, except that the color was similar to that of a whale and the roundness too. We were quickly by.

On reflection, it’s hard to imagine how a keel boat could float on it beam’s end, and so I’ve reasoned it was a dead whale.

Right after this, Mo began plowing through thin rafts of weed strung out in long lines running parallel to the wind. It grew thicker midday but has now dissipated.

The weed is yellowish brown with small leaves and berries and is reminiscent of pickle weed. I’m new to these parts, but my guess is this has been our first encounter with Sargassum, which we should see en masse later as we pass near the Sargasso Sea. It fouled both my lure astern and the hydrogenerator propellor multiple times, so the less of it in future the better.

Granted, not a very intersting story. Tomorrow, how the boobies catch flying fish. That’s much more fun.

In the late afternoon, our first jet since… Well, this may be our first at all this passage. Africa to South America, its course.