23/05/2017 – Days 4, 5 & 6

The past three days have been dominated by the weather, our day’s runs have reflected decisions we have made concerning where to head to avoid the worst of it. Saturday to Sunday we only made 119 miles towards the Azores though we sailed a lot further. The advice from the weather forecasters was to stay or get below 35 degrees which, for us, meant heading SE rather than just north of east. At the 2300 watch changeover we gybed the mainsail and rolled away the genoa to head due east. As the genoa had been poled out we couldn’t use it without lowering the pole and rerouting the sheet, something we do not do at night! All day Sunday the wind was fairly low, the calm before the storm? ..... ..... At noon Sunday the wind had teased us enough to drop two reefs in the main and roll up half the genoa. It didn’t in fact strengthen until just before midnight. By 0500 it was blowing 20-22 knots with gusts to 28 it continued to build to a steady 25 knots with gusts to 30. The day’s run was 127 mainly held back by the lower winds during Sunday afternoon. The wind settled back to low 20s with gusts to 28 during the day and the seas finally started to die down during the evening, so we both slept well during our 2 three hour off watch periods. The day’s run, Monday to Tuesday was a far more respectable 146. ..... ..... Writing this, I can imagine many Solent racers scratching their heads, saying ‘What’s she complaining about? We sail in far stronger winds in the Hamble Winter Series!’ The difference is the sea state. Here the fetch, the distance the wind travels over the sea whipping it up, is hundreds of miles. The swells during Monday built to 5 metres at a conservative estimate. There are also waves pounding in, not necessarily from the same direction as the swell. Every now and then a wave would slap the boat heavily and we would get showered with sea. One wave even had the audacity to dump a load of water in the cockpit and all over me! By Tuesday morning the seas were down to 2-3 metres the boat isn’t getting hurled about so frequently and we started to make good progress in gentler winds. Several of the boats, only 20-30 nM north of us had far worse winds and damage caused by the sea state. ..... ..... So what was it all about? A deep Low (988 mb) developed off Newfoundland about 700 nM north of us and started heading east. The severe gales associated with the low tracked alongside it. As we were south of the Low the winds were roughly WNW until the Low passed when they veered to NW, N and finally NE. Lows also spawn fronts. Sunday morning there was a weak cold front crossing us resulting in the odd squall and overcast skies. Clearer skies and better weather followed several hours later. Monday evening another weak cold front passed us again with little rain but cloudy skies and some wind squalls. Weather seems to be a case of feast or famine. Tomorrow a weak ridge of high pressure is expected to cross our path with winds in the 5-10 knot range and reducing over the following 24 hours. ..... ..... There have been highlights. Sunday evening we had a visit from some very athletic dolphins. They love the rougher seas, using the swells as a launch pad to leap clear out of the water. Sadly it was too rough to venture on deck to take photos. Today at noon, Tuesday, we reached the 1,000 miles to go milestone. Tomorrow, with luck we should reach the halfway point and earn a steak dinner! ..... ..... Did I mention it is cold? Overnight we have needed long trousers and jumpers under our foul weather gear, socks, boots, woolly hats and gloves. ..... ..... Breakfasts have often been porridge and lunch has started with soup, more normal for winter in England than our sailing during the past 4 years. Saturday’s dinner was a sausage casserole I’d frozen earlier, Sunday was braised herb coated lamb chops on a bed of vegetables cooked in the pressure cooker and Monday we had a can of beef stuffed cannelloni in a tomato sauce cooked in the oven. The French do some very good tinned meals, I wish I’d bought more of them. ..... ..... Tomorrow I’ll try to write something that isn’t about the weather! ..... ..... Joyce

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