Saturday, March 14, 2009

Superstitous sailors?

We'd studied the weather, debated our route and had decided unanimously to brave the conditions and leave our windy anchorage in Hanish Islands the following day. However, our resolve crumbled when we awoke to the same sound of the wind howling through the rigging, without a hint of the drop we'd been anticipating. Fortunately Ian came to the rescue with an excuse to allow us to temporarily postpone the decision - he was having trouble charging his batteries and wanted to investigate the problem. His alternator regulator proved to be the culprit and after some work we managed to rig a temporary solution with two switches and 12W and 24W light bulbs allowing him to set the charge rate to either 6A, 25A or 80A - almost as good as the real thing. The delayed gave us a chance to listen to weather reports from others further north. The omens looked good - 80 miles ahead of us the wind and sea had decreased. However then we downloaded a weather forecast showing the winds increasing. What to do? Gunner announced that he wouldn't be setting off as he'd noticed it was Friday 13th. Ian decided to give himself more time to get the boat in shape. Antares and Risho Maru, seemed happy to wait - but I'd built myself up to leave so decided to head off. My decision was based on the boat ahead reporting more favourable conditions and my concern that the strong southerly winds would die out in a few days leaving potentially light head-winds. I'd much rather put up with 12 hours or so of nasty seas, than motor an extra 300 miles. However I doubted the sanity of my decision as once I'd left the "shelter" of the anchorage the full force of the wind swept across the boat. I also hit a problem with the furling gear on the genoa - I could only unfurl a metre of sail. It gave me an excuse to turn back - but then I knew I would likely be stuck for another day so decided to press on and hoisted the hanked-on jib instead. Five miles out the worst of the gusts moderated, but then another 5 miles I was in a short occasionally breaking 3-4m seas. Kika coped fantastically and soon we were making a good 7 knots with only a small headsail set. I estimate the wind was 25-30 knots gusting to 40+.

In preparation I'd cleaned the hull, cooked and baked some passage food and managed to rig an alarm, loud enough to wake the dead (or sleepy), to the radar. Typically soon after dusk, I found myself in the midst of shipping transiting the Red Sea, but fortunately the radar alarm worked fantastically letting me know every 10 minutes if there were any ships within a 8 mile radius - which there were for most of the night.

Today as predicted the winds and seas moderated and I gradually increased the sail area, going from this morning's small working jib to full main and spinnaker by mid-afternoon. I seem to have become the temporary weather taster for the group, providing advanced weather information, though they're still calibrating my pronouncements of "little lumpy" and "quite a strong blow" with what it would mean for them in practice.

I'm planning a pit-stop at Hamil Island (Eritrea) tomorrow morning, to fix the furling gear, then if the wind holds I'll push on into Sudanese waters - just to continue the tradition of visiting countries at turbulent times. To date I've been in Thailand during the airport protests, Tonga with riots after the King's death and Gulf of Aden, during the escalation in piracy. Though I narrowly missed Fiji during the military coup and Martinique for the current round of protests.

Position @ 20.30 (GMT+3) 14/3/2009: N16deg08' E040deg52'

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