Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pasage to New Caledonia - Day 5

In the early afternoon we began to feel a large irregular swell setting in from the southeast. This proved to be the forerunner of some truly nasty weather. The wind filled in mid-afternoon, rising quickly to 25 to 30 knots - much higher than the automated forecast model predicted. We reefed down the main and then dropped it entirely. Soon even the full jib was too much and we were being thrown on our sides in sharp breaking 3 meter swells. In the stronger gusts Ladybug would come off the waves with a crash, so we reefed down to about a third of the small jib - an area about the size of a dinghy sail. Even then our 10 ton boat was making about 6 knots.

Because of the timing of tides in the Havannah channel, we cannot slows things down too much if we are to make landfall on Thursday, so I have been adjusting the jib and windvane steering to keep us on track and moving along around 6 knots. Comfort on board has suffered and it is very difficult to get any sleep due to the violent motion - a typical roll of 30 or more degrees in one direction and then back maybe 20 degrees in the other.

It is on days like this that we think of how lucky we are to have the technology on board to navigate and steer from the safety of the cabin. We passed four or five miles off Durand Reef in the early morning hours, where the water shoals up from more than a kilometer to a few meters. Because of our GPS and electronic charts, we were confident that we would avoid this danger. Had we been relying on sextant and deduced reckoning, this would have been a tense few hours with continuous position plotting making allowance for drift, current, and the somewhat erratic course we were steering through the squalls. The Monitor windvane has steered us without complaint, despite having to fight against the huge breaking waves and frequent gusty squalls. Without this 'third crew member' we would have to take turns in the cockpit, steering by hand - an exhausting prospect! Finally, we have a weather forecast, which while a bit inaccurate at least tells us roughly what to expect and when it will occur. On my passage to Hawaii and Canada from Mexico a few years ago I had no effective long range radio and the absence of weather forecasts was very stressful.

Our position at 6 am is 22 10 S 167 54 E. We sailed about 108 miles in 24 hours (prior to the arrival of the high winds). We both have a few bruises, but the Ibuprofen is working and this will be over by dinner time, knock on wood...

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