A Day in the Life of the Doldrums

28 Apr

April 27, 2019/Day 204

Noon Position: 01 19N 30 57W

Miles since departure: 27,485

Avg. Miles/Day: 135


By “day in the life,” I mean today…

2am. From my bunk, I hear the familiar thwap thwap. The sails are telling me we’re becalmed. I rise and silence them. Rain.

6am. Rain has cleared but the sky is heavy. No wind. No choice. Batteries are down by half. I begin motoring after the first cup of coffee.

10:30am. Engine off. A light breeze from the southwest has filled in. I raise the main and spinnaker, and we take off at five knots.

The spinnaker is a thing of beauty. Not like flying a kite; rather, like flying a kite the size of a house and the shape of an amoeba that, when filled, takes on perfect proportionality without being symmetrical. It’s not possible, you say to yourself, that such a shape can hold wind. And yet the proof that it can is right in front of you.

The sky clears. The wind freshens.

Then suddenly, the wind is brisk. The rail is in the water, the foot of the spinnaker too. We’re rounding up hard. I spill some main, grab the tiller and pull for all I’m worth. My best effort maintains wind abeam; I can’t get the head to fall off. The spinnaker dumps and then fills with a crack. I look to windward; more coming.

I abandon the tiller, let fly the spinnaker sheet, and dash forward to lower the sock. This system, the sock that comes down over the spinnaker, robbing it of its wind, is the genius that makes this winged amoeba manageable.

Except not today.

The sock won’t lower. Is it jammed? I examine the head of the sail. No, all well, except now the spinnaker is flying out to windward like a bed sheet for goliath caught in a gale. It goes out so far I can’t see the end of it, and the pressure on this mass of gossamer is making the sock a bear to lower. I can lower it, I find, but I have to lock myself to the rail with my legs and heave with everything I’ve got.

Great. The sock is down. I start to lower the halyard. A few feet of line slip through my hands, and now the foot of the sail is in the water. It begins to fill. Quickly half the sail is pulled overboard. I’m sitting on the deck hauling in heaps of white, sopping wet material. It spills from my lap and covers the deck around me; with my free hand, I’m stuffing it down the forward hatch as fast as I can, all while other heaps of material are flowing over the rail. It’s a losing battle I somehow win. Slam down the forward hatch; the beast is caged at last.

Noon. I unfurl the genoa and we take off at seven knots, wind abeam, heading north northwest. Wait, a double take. Yes, a steady seven knots!

2pm. We’ve gone from cloud to clear and into cloud again, a solid wall of cement gray and then the rain starts. Torrential. An hour later, it’s still torrential. I’m collecting in buckets and letting it flow into the tanks. Soon I’ll have so much water aboard, I’ll be able to sell it to the city when I get to Newfoundland.

3pm. Wind has eased, but through the downpour we still make five knots.

The rain clears away as the sun sets. The sky lifts. The wind dies.

6pm. Thwap, thwap, thwap. Becalmed. I lower sails.

This article was syndicated from The Figure 8 Voyage


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