A little over halfway across the Pacific, there was a change in the wind. It seems like a good moment to reflect on the experience so far.
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Ok, so Day 11. The wind has shifted… slightly! The ESE fresh breeze that was cupping Aldebaran on the beam during the first 10 days, giving us a delightful if slightly bumpy ride; has now turned to the ENE, which is enough to smooth out our ride to a delicious downwind run! Who thought we’d get this much comfort during our passage to the lesser-traveled southern latitudes!
This smoothness has brought something to attention, which sheds light on this experience. Although we are only moving at the speed of a bicycle (8-12 mph), the actual feeling is that the boat is moving at great speed. After deep discussion, we’ve concluded that sailing downwind in the trade winds is remarkably similar to something very very distant: sledding down a snowy mountain!
We hope you have all felt the unabashed joy of sledding down a snowy hill and hysterically laughing your way to the bottom. In sledding, you’re not necessarily going that fast (compared to a car let’s say); but when the sled is accelerating across the snow, you are feeling every little bump underneath, the wind is blowing your hair, you sense a side-slip here and an edge-grab there; and you can’t help but feel child-like joy as you plummet into a snowy bank. It’s just so dang fun.
Sailing – in nice conditions – is quite similar. Although the ‘G’ forces are quite small (!), there is a constant sensation from the waves lifting and pushing the boat, the wind gusting and heeling her over, the sound of the ocean gurgling in response to each changing moment. It is a non-stop stream that the body is absorbing and the brain is computing.
Motoring across water is quite different. Propulsion by diesel (the engine) is not necessarily in synch with the elements outside – unless you’re an excellent driver! Propulsion by wind (the sails) must be in line with the elements, so it’s essential to be present with their every nuance and change in the sea. This unending sense of “presence” is actually quite blissful.
Like a good jog or workout, an afternoon sail for 2 hours can reset the funk of the workday. The mental anxieties haunting us must take a backseat, so that we can move our body gracefully in the activity; in this case, through the wind, waves, and horizon.
Now extend that 2 hour sail into the nearly 2 weeks we have been underway. Besides some brief confusion in the ITCZ, we haven’t experienced a moment of sailing upwind or rough seas – which can be truly miserable. Instead, we are just going with the endless downwind flow of the ocean. We eat breakfast with it, we take showers in it, we read in it, we are immersed and saturated by its moment-by-moment expression. In this way, the constancy of the trade winds makes this passage downwind across the Pacific a true phenomenon.
During our 11th day at sea, everything got mellower. Not only was it marked with the wind shift in direction (to ENE winds) but also in wind speed, as it dropped to 6-8 knots. After an exhilarating ride for so many days, we now plodded along at a relaxed 3-4 knots under very smooth seas. The ocean’s pleasant lull heightened our bliss, and we’re quite unconcerned that our daily mileage dropped from 140nm to 105nm.
This was a wonderful opportunity to sit on the foredeck. It was also a productive day for chores, like compacting the trash (cheers Michael!), cleaning the head (cheers Spence!) and reviewing all the fresh food (cheers Sabby!). A crew meeting was held and projects were assigned for the remaining half of the voyage… ever giving back love to our vessel and home, Aldebaran, who has been taking so much good care of us.
ALDEBARAN DAILY POSITION
0900hrs – April 20, 2017.
S 16 09 W 109 21
1000nm to Ducie Atoll
Last 24hrs: 105nm covered Av Sp: 3.9 knots
Wind 6-8 knots NE. Sailing with blue reacher headsail only — in order to maintain downwind course.