The last 24 hours have been eventful! Friday afternoon was spent in idyllic reaching conditions in a southwest breeze, 14 to 18 knots. True wind on the quarter, carrying main and mizzen code zero reaching sails. We were averaging 13.5 knots-sailing just on top of our bow wave (planing) for the first half of the day. BEOWULF’s “diet” seems to have paid off.
With the approach of evening the clouds started to build, something we have not yet seen. The indication was that some sort of a frontal boundary was approaching. By early evening we had squalls dotting the radar, and were trying to position ourselves downwind of them to get a boost (the strongest winds are found ahead and on the equator side of tropical squalls). This system was working well, until the squalls decided to turn the tables and chase us. These were bigger and better organized on the radar, and had a lot more temperature drop associated with their gust fronts. So, being conservative, we rolled up the two reachers, and were rewarded with the occasional 30 knots of wind-and then torrential downpours. BEOWULF is now officially clean! She is also a couple of hours behind where she should be as her crew did not want to get wet (and cold) by the constant trimming required to point her in the right direction in the oscillating squall winds.
The evening roll call found the crew of the 51-foot cat we’re racing checking in. And guess what! After 36 hours they are…110 nautical miles behind. On the other hand, maybe they’re playing possum and trying to make us feel over-confident.
Between the clouds, squall line, and weather fax it is pretty obvious that the frontal boundary we’ve been watching has found its way to our part of the ocean. Behind the front we’re finding light northeast winds, and after a few hours flirting with constant sail trim, trying to coax six knots out of the boat in six knots of breeze, we’ve given in to our baser instincts and set the iron genoa. We’ve now been motorsailing, with working sails. This gives us 11.5 knots of speed for about 3.5 gallons of diesel per hour-about twice our boat speed under sail, and enough to break even on the handicap penalty (one hour of corrected time is added to our total for each hour under motor). However, we have to stay on top of sail trim as the apparent wind varies quickly in response to the true wind speed-which is oscillating between two and six knots.
The SetSail-MaxSea routing software is telling us to push hard for the next 24 hours (under engine), as there’s a good chance we can get past this lobe of high pressure, and light winds, working its way off the coast. If we are successful, we’ll be rewarded with more reaching winds for the last portion of the voyage-while those behind may have a lovely flat spot of ocean to observe for a while.