Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Pacific Crossing, mid passage

Our bright red spinnaker is flying, drawing us smoothly and swiftly towards Polynesia. Two fishing lines stream off the stern of the boat, each with a lure occasionally flirting on the surface before diving under the waves, its colourful skirt aping the tentacles of a squid, tempting a big pacific Dorado to bite. The wind has eased and the swell is lazier, the motion drowsy, and I sit alone in the cockpit after lunch, writing to keep myself awake as Juno rocks us gently. 

I am not at all superstitious, but Friday 13thgave us our fair share of problems on board. However, these pale to nothing compared with the news from land. A tropical cyclone has struck the small province of Vanuatu in the western pacific, causing significant damage, with winds of 170 miles per hour and torrential rain, leaving devastation in its wake.  The island of Tanna is one of the stop-overs for our rally in July and it has been badly hit, but it’s too soon to say if this will affect our visit.  Maybe we will be able to help in the reconstruction in some way as we understand that all the houses have been destroyed. The typhoon season in the Pacific runs from October to April, although this late in the season, hurricanes only develop in the western pacific, over 4,000 miles away and of no direct threat to us other than weakening the trade winds ahead for the next few days.

On the subject of weather systems, I watch a large squall developing to the east and I estimate that it will hit us in around fifteen minutes, bringing a fresh water rinse to our decks. However it will also bring stronger winds, and alone in the cockpit, I cannot easily furl the spinnaker so I take the helm and prepare for whatever the squall brings. The knack of flying a spinnaker is like balancing a billiard cue in the palm of your hand. As the cue start to fall you move your hand, first one way then another, keeping the pole upright. In the same way, the trick with a spinnaker is to keep the boat under the spinnaker, allowing the sail to float ahead. As the squall approaches I feel the wind start to increase. First I bear up into the wind, broad reaching fast across the path of the squall, hoping that it will pass behind. I manage to evade the leading edge where the wind is most powerful, but it’s a big rainstorm and eventually it engulfs us.  The wind starts to gust over 20 knots, then 25. Its slightly daunting but exhilarating, helming a 60 foot yacht in 25 knots of breeze offshore in a big sea, spinnaker flying, surfing down waves at 11 knots, knowing that one small mistake could result in a broach. As it is, Juno behaves impeccably, the squall passes us by and we settle back to the rhythm of the trades.

Today we unfurled our spinnaker at dawn and we have flown it all day, only furling it at dusk for fear of being caught by a squall during the night. In its place we have set up our bullet-proof downwind rig. The main is sheeted out as far as the spreaders, the traveller is down to leeward and the hydraulic vang is pumped on hard. A jibe preventer is rigged from the end of the boom to a block on the foredeck and back to the cockpit. The genoa is poled out to windward on the spinnaker pole that is triangulated with a fore guy, aft guy and topping lift to keep it rock solid.   For the first time we are using a new innovation that I copied from our friends Brett and Dee on the Oyster 72, Phantom.  This is a polished aluminium ring that I have spliced onto a dyneema loop and covered in leather, which is fed thorough the jaws at the end of the spinnaker pole. The genoa sheet then reeves smoothly through this ring rather than the jaws of the pole, avoiding the chafe on the genoa sheet that we have suffered from in the past.   Lastly, our jib is sheeted to leeward behind the mainsail, filling the slot and giving us that valuable extra half a knot of boat speed. With 250 square metres of sail up, we make good speed downwind and tonight we are steaming along in the dark at 9 knots in 18 knots of wind from astern, and Juno feels steady and purposeful.

The middle section of a long offshore voyage is always the best.  For the first few days we are usually tired from making our preparations, night watches are difficult, and the days seem to go slowly with the prospect of a three-week passage seeming interminable. However after a few days, in fact after three days to be precise, everything changes as we settle into the rhythm of the watch system, the motion of the boat and the daily routines of life at sea. There is time read books, sleep during the day and empty one’s mind of all the clutter and noise that we normally concern ourselves with. There is time to think, not about problems and mundane practicalities but about deeper issues that only seem to surface when given time and space. Conversations tend to become more philosophical, more risky too, and we stray into topics that would normally not receive the airtime on land because there is simply too much to do – and say.  Night watches become a joy; well rested from day time naps, we are able to enjoy the peace of being alone in the cockpit under a blazing starlit sky, with only the sound of water rushing past the hull and the occasional squeak from the autopilot. Then, as we near the end of a passage, the spell is broken and the practicalities of making landfall consume us. We can’t help but count down the days and hours to our arrival, trying to predict when we will finish and where we will go once ashore. Reality takes hold and the mid-ocean meditation is past -until the next offshore passage, which is never far away.

We have now covered two thousand four hundred miles since we left Galapagos, with around 600 miles to run until we reach the Marquesas.  At our current rate of progress we should arrive by the weekend.

1 comment:

  1. Happy St Paddy's Day from the Emerald Isle! Your descriptive writing, is as always, a joy to read. Cyclone Pam seems to have left devastation in her trail, hopefully some aid effort will reach them soon. Looking forward to the next update from Team Juno! The Ossies xx