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Big Decision

July 1, 2012

June 30, 2012

Day 10

Local Noon Position (12:52pm Hawaii Standard Time):
By GPS: 41.13.477 by 161.43.495W
By Sextant: 41.42.7N Way out. Fog has obscured the horizon so that no morning or afternoon shot was worth attempting. Had good sun at noon, but no clear horizon line, so I guessed; thus the result.

Course: 10 degrees true
Speed: 5.5 knots
Wind: 8 WSW first half, 12 WSW second half
Sea: 2 to 4 feet
Sky: Pea soup fog all day until an hour ago; now crystal clear Bar: 1033, falling slowly
Air Temp (in the cabin): 64 degrees (60 when I woke)
Water Temp: 59.5 degrees
Sails: All plain sail. Wind on beam most of afternoon. Nice gentle run.

Since last noon: 109
Total for passage: 1189
Daily average: 119

Debris: Nothing major today, and many thanks. Well OK, another log of about 15 feet, but not in our path, a large piece of styrofoam with a shearwater roosting on top, a plastic tray, a lotion bottle, a water bottle, bits of styrofoam.

Ships and other piloted vessels: One ship at 1pm passing west, seven miles ahead.

Birds: Two Layson’s, one Blackfooted Albatross. But the real story is the Skua that came by–thick dark body, white patches on primaries, squared off tail. ID? No idea. And the Newall’s Shearwater. We are really starting to see northern birds. Also Cook’s Petrels in groups at water top and mixed in with white rumped Storm Petrels.


Woke to thick pea soup fog that has hung around much of the day, reducing visibility at some points to a hundred yards and less. I left the radar on if I wasn’t standing watch, and when it was off I did nothing but stand watch. Sometimes the fog would lift to reveal a world of gray with fog on the horizon. Then fog would blow back in covering all in a thin vale if you looked up and a thick blanked if you looked dead ahead.

Its being such a new phenomenon (the tropics don’t know from fog), I marveled over it as I had morning coffee. That is, after I got dressed. Thick socks, boots; fleece pants, cotton pants, foulie pants; undershirt, fleece shirt, fleece sweater, foulie jacket; fleece hat. Getting dressed takes so much time! What happened to the days of shorts, flip flops and a shirt if you were feeling formal?

The solar panels, struggling to keep up on the best of days this passage, could put out no more than 2.5 amps in this goop–about what we were using with the GPS, Radio and Radar running–but not nearly enough to replenish what we had used overnight, or the day before, or the night before that. I ran the engine for two hours to charge up the batteries and worried. My math says I could use the engine as a generator for an hour every day for the next two weeks and still make landfall with half my fuel aboard. But I’m not very good at math, and two weeks is optimistic.

At one o’clock, our first ship sighting, not my sighting for there was too much fog, but announced by alarms blaring from both the radar and AIS. Seven miles out, headed west at 13 knots, name, destination unknown. We are now in the shipping lanes. Routes used by cargo ships passing from Asia to North America pass more north than you might suppose–and for the same reason that a flight from New York to the UK passes over Iceland.

Then a Skua flapped heavily above Murre’s masts the way the Tropic Birds did where it was warmer–a dark, lumbering, mean bird reminiscent of a flying bear with a knack for cruelty. Not playful and inquisitive like the Tropic Birds, but hungry, willing to take you down for a bit of scrap. I will not ever name a boat SKUA.

The cold, the fog, the westerly wind, the ship sighting, the northern-water birds all point to our having passed our voyage’s first threshold. We are now over the HIGH and are beginning to experience life in the North Pacific.

Which leads to a big decision: when to make a right turn for North America.

Murre has been pressing north because at first she had no choice and now because she’s looking for the best position. When to turn is complicated and I don’t really understand it, but what’s involved is needing to be enough north so that when we approach the coast near Sitka we don’t have to beat up in the N and NE winds that can come down the coast there. But too far north (especially too soon) puts us in the way of north Pacific LOW pressure systems. The HIGH is too big for them to mess with; they approach and give way, sliding up toward Alaska. We can’t avoid them now that we’ve gone beyond the HIGH’s protection, BUT we want to do our best to pass below them as they swing up. Winds below will be favorable, if often stronger than we’d like; winds above will be contrary and trouble. Sailing a low on the wrong side is like petting a cat backwards.

Today and tomorrow we maintain course, coasting this moderate westerly, and we think over the next move. I rig the inner forestay for the storm jib, set out the heavy line for the drogue, and check lines and lashing. Murre contemplates how to dodge when kicked in the seat of the pants by the bigger waves.

But three days hence the first LOW approaches, which may make for us the decision about when to turn.


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