The Problem with Light and Variable


Sept 17
Hanalei Bay to San Francisco
Day 7

Noon HST position: 36.02.56N by 157.38.48W
Miles since last noon: 130
Total miles of passage: 892
Avg. Miles per Day: 127
Course: NNE and N
Sail: Headsails poled, running overnight; then main and light wind genoa on broad reach today
Speed: 4 and 5
Wind: SW5 – 10
Sky: Mostly clear
Waves: Mixed to 3 feet; still, large train from NW to 10; shorter period, steeper than yesterday
Bar: 1018
Air Temperature: 81 degrees
Sea Temperature: 76 degrees

The problem with light and variable winds is only that they are light and they are variable.

All night I ran with wind on the port quarter, both headsails poled out and canted to starboard, course NNE. The course was a secondary consideration because all day the main had slatted in the light southwesterlies, banging as we fell off a low, rolling swell and banging again as we rose to the next.

As you may recall, slatting sails makes it into Dante’s Inferno, ring four, subring six, category, “images of absolute hell for sailors.”

The bang fills the cabin with a sonic chaos and shakes Mo like an earthquake. And then there’s the worry over wear on the gear. Any moment a batten could crack or a seam, pop. Can the boat take 150 miles of this?

I pleaded with the main to keep quite, to hold onto the wind like it had promised–I yelled myself hoarse, and all it said was, “Bang, Bang Bang!”

With the main doused and the twin headsails out our speed decreased by a half a knot, but their dumping and filling at least was less wearing, on me and on them.

John and Phyllis at Attainable Adventure recently published a post discussing their five rules for successful passage making. Five! I could hardly believe it. Who can remember five of anything? I have three rules, which is on the order of two too many.

They are:

1. Keep the water out.
2. Stay on board.
3. Keep the boat moving.

My first rule is also John and Phyllis’ first and is, I believe, a tip-of-the hat to Eric Hiscock, who was once asked how to successfully navigate the southern ocean. His answer was simply, “Keep the water out.” Buoyancy first; all else follows.

The second of these is rather obvious in concept, and as I’ve demonstrated on previous passages, sometimes more difficult in practice.

It’s the third rule that I’m applying today because today and for the next several, I really don’t know where to point the boat.

I have been aiming for a broad band of southwesterly flow beginning roughly here and dead-ending in Vancouver Island, but upon my arrival, the broad band is disintegrating and being replaced by a large high pressure system under the Aleutians. In a day or so, 40N will be experiencing strong E and NE winds, the opposite of what was.

Between here and headwinds is a whole lot of nothin.

So, I think the near term plan is simply to keep climbing N and NE; to keep the ride comfortable for the boat, and to maintain a point of sail the vane can understand. That likely excludes taking anything aft of the beam while the wind is light (5 knots of breeze on the port quarter is a nonsense where the vane is concerned) until we get into real wind again.


Once weekly head wash day.


Opening a new box of cookies is a much anticipated pleasure.

2 Comments on “The Problem with Light and Variable

  1. Randall, every time I see your blog post in my inbox I get excited. You are a really good writer and I love your sense of humor. Besides the fact of course that sharing your sailing adventure feeds my soul. I’m still a working stiff and a 100 mile coastal journey is the most I have time for now. One day though I will follow you into the big blue. Thank you for keeping the dream alive….

    • Gerhard, I too have depended on the writings of others to keep my sailing dream alive. Slocum. Moitessier. Tilman, Smeeton, Pye. Roth.

      A little book fell off the shelf into my hands this morning. “15,000 Miles in a Ketch,” by R.R. Du Baty. France to Australia in 1908. Worth looking up.

      Thanks for following along.

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