Wednesday afternoon, headed for the equator

Good afternoon – Beetle today is beam reaching in 18 knots of wind headed due south towards the equator, some 468 miles out in front of us. I hope the yellow line is there so we will know when we’ve arrived.

Current conditions are 100% cloud cover, low scudding clouds with intermittent rain underneath, a smoothed out sea state – partly because the swell is coming in from the beam now rather than behind.

Last night was entirely consumed in fighting with squalls, they want to squash you, you want to run away. Last night they mostly won, though we did get away from a couple. Also had lightning to the water, that was first time I’ve seen that! That was in a single big squall with the classic two extending arms, advancing in our direction but not directly at us (we scamper off at about 30 degree angle to the squall’s advance), and then a brief glow from one arm, about 40 minutes a big flash and bolt from the main cloud shot down – yeow! I checked on the radar, that was about 10 miles aft of us.

I unplugged the computer and Iridium device, we turned off most of the instruments, and carried on.

Come morning we’d had a pretty ragged night, including the 45 minute gybe in 30 knots of wind and rain – that got us out stage left away from the worst of the squalls, and we scooted away to the south. Of course we then sailed into another set of big clouds and had 3 hours of rain. The plan had been to look for lighter air to take down the twin headsails and hoist the no. 2 genoa, only the wind was too windy. As an alternate plan we elected to put the motor in gear and slowly head south (the engine was running already, charging batteries, I just went back and engaged the transmission). Three hours later we were clear of those big greynesses with tons of wind in them (max wind 40 knots inside the squall, enough to flatten the water and reduce visibility rather a lot).

Jack has been busy organizing the boat, everything is neat and tidy and stowed – pretty amazing. I’ve been chasing autopilot ram testing with Chris at Alpha Marine – this afternoon was extract the ram and get ohm meter readings, which I did and now know the ram has ‘lost center’ as regards knowing when it is on center. Next up is to open up the aluminum housing that holds the PC boards and very carefully remove two of them, check connecting pins, and reassemble the first board (leaving out the top one, the one that connects to Stan’s software). I will look that later on tonight.

So I’m back to sleep for a while, radio net is in 75 minutes, we’ve got good rain outside, Jack is sitting in the companionway staying dry and managing the sailplan and course.

Current position 6 deg 47’N x 130 deb 36’W, speed 7.0 knots on course 180T.

Stay dry!

– rob

Squall busting tonight

It’s evening out here on the Big Blue and the sneaky squalls have found us – tonight appears to be when all the squalls that we haven’t had for the past week are making an appearance all at once! As I write this, we just sailed straight *through* a squall and popped out the other side, only to find more squalls lined up to weather. Dang!

The squalls are convective heat pumps, during the day water absorbs heat and evaporates, collecting in clouds (why water collects in clouds I don’t know, but it does seem to). All that water up there in the air represents an enormous amount of energy (energy of enthalpy?), and that energy buzzes around and moves places and makes interesting shapes and provide shade. That’s good energy.

At night the sky cools down as the sun drops below the horizon, and now those clouds are in cooler air and don’t have an energy source to keep the water in gaseous state, so the water starts to condense, turning back into liquid, and releasing all the heat it took to vaporize the water in the first place. And that’s where the squall comes in – lots and lots of rain falling vertically down from the center of the cloud in a huge dark column, as it falls it cools the air around it and that air falls, the air in the center top of the cloud gets hotter as water condenses and that air rises … so you have a heat pump running that dumps cold air down to where we are sailing around on the water.

The falling air picks up speed, when it hits the water it fans out in a semi-directed way as the cloud has a velocity as well; max wind we’ve seen is 30 knots, and that includes a significant wind shift so you have to be ready to pounce on the jib sheets and boat direction to keep the wind aft and manage how much headsail is out. Tonight we are the mouse and cats is chasing us!

Most of my day was spent chasing autopilot details, and so far I’ve been unable to resuscitate the Alpha Spectra. Drat! I’ve cleaned up the interior of the boat after getting out all sorts of tools and spare bits and wire and soldering irons. Jack lost a lure to a [presumably] larger fish than we would have wanted to deal with – we’d like our fish ‘just so’, please.

We’ve been studying the weather and at 130W we’re going to gybe and head due south. That should be a 60 gybe angle which will put us on a similar point of sail on port pole, and we’ve become accustomed to our rolly poly ways and can continue them only off south-wards rather than southwest-wards.

I’m going to shut the engine off soon, we’re done charging for the evening, and hopefully we have a pleasant night despite lack of stars and squally bits around.

current position 08 deg 17’N x 129 deg 30’W, making 6.0 on course 250T

– rob

Tuesday afaternoon

Well, last night was kind of a bummer – the Alpha Spectra autopilot started to act out of whack and was unable to drive the boat, so Jack and I swapped over to the ComNav 1500 backup pilot. The backup has been steering the boat through the night and doing an OK job of it, at least we’re moving along!

The Alpha had been steering well for the past 36 hours, then, just as I was getting to sleep the noise of the ram’s motor changed; normally there’s a quick, short whirr as the ram is cycled in or out quickly. That changed to a long continuous even whirring, a pause, and then repeat as the unit retracted entirely, pause, repeat and the ram extended entirely. Not so good!

It took about 30 minutes to get the ComNav up and running, as power on requires an instrument reset to clear something that isn’t right (and ComNav doesn’t know why this might be, though there are lots of possibilities as I was informed by their service department). After enough resets the ComNav will started up, and we’ve been very careful not to shut it down.

To the south of us we can see that the Fu Yuan Yu 995 43 meter fishing boat is back – they are running a semi-parallel course about 13 miles to the south, driving along going somewhere I imagine. We can see the loom of their lights over the horizon.

We had good stars through the night, and then our first couple of squalls of the trip played through. Fortunately these were mellow ones, with a bit of misty rain, some additional wind pressure but not much, and they went on their merry way.

This morning I received a return email from Alpha Marine with some things to check, and I’ve spent the entire day chasing down and re-doing wiring that supplies the ram position feedback loop to the CPU; that did not solve the problem, I then went and swapped out the control head to my backup one and that didn’t have any effect. Upshot is that Beetle has lot the Alpha pilot for the time being. Fortunately there is an installed backup pilot that is driving the boat, and we’re able to keep the show on the road.

Coming up is this evening’s radio net, and at 130W (about 70 miles down the road) we’ll be gybing over to port pole and headed south through what is forecast to be an ITCZ that is way south at the moment. If we’re lucky then we’ll get a good jump on getting through to the equator without too much significant convection activity. Right now we have 18 knots of breeze from the northeast, and by the time we gybe and drop south another 100-150 miles that wind should have dropped to 10-13 and we should be able to continue sailing reasonably well.

So that’s the up to the minute shock news on board Beetle! Trundling along with something that sounds like a giant snoring bear tucked away in the transom (the ComNav autopilot hydraulic pump), 90 degrees in the cabin this afternoon, big puffy clouds around, and more autopilot troubleshooting to do.

May your autopilot work well!

current position 08 deg 31’N x 128 deg 55’W, making 7 knots on course 239T

– rob

Monday night and breeze on

It’s Monday out here, even further out in the middle of nowhere than the smal sailboat 1000 miles from nowhere the other night! Currently we’re within 600 miles of the equator, the fat part closest to the sun most of the time. I’ve not been this close to the equator before; it gets warm, it stays warm, most of the time. Cabin temperatures were 88 degrees this afternoon, it’s now sunset and cabin temperature is a more pleasant 84, and the water temperature is 80. Good thing we have chilled water in the fridge, that’s 37 and most pleasurable to drink.

The game here is to continue making our westing for another 3 degrees of longitude, then turn south. We might get lucky; the ITCZ is in two parts at the moment (north part and south part), and the north part goes missing as of tonight, and the south part is forecast to drop way south as in below the equator come tomorrow or next day. This change, if it happens, is opening a big wide road south to the equator that should have least amount of vertical convection going on, and all that should be happening just about the time we have made sufficient westing. Upshot is that Jack and I are looking at making our gybe south tomorrow evening or thereabouts, to take advantage of the opening gap in the ITCZ.

Today has been spent sailing west along the southern edge of the northeast tradewinds. There! – a sentence that covers all the compass points! About 150 miles to our south is not much wind, and up here we’re seeing 20 knots from the northeast, along with a fairly large lumpy two-part swell that is kicking Beetle around a fair bit. We’re speeding nicely along but it’s another day of bow-down butt-up wiggle-side-to-side heave roll-to-port swizzle-to-starboard bow-up butt-down boat motion, repeated about every 9 seconds. This should continue thru tonight, tomorrow as we move SW the forecast is for the trades to move south with us, and by tomorrow night the trades should recede to the north, leaving us with a more relaxing ride.

The breeze is up in the 20 gusting 25 knot range, still running with triple reefed mainsail and we wind in/out the twin headsails to keep boat motion manageable as the windspeed shifts around. Things are pretty simple at 22 knots, when they climb to 26 there’s enough change in power (thru the sails) thaat Beetle starts to take off again and we wind in three more wraps on the twins on the furler.

Lots and lots of flying fishies today, Beetle has been pretty good at collecting them. I’ve been fairly good at removing them, but not as good as the boat at collecting; found an especially stinky stiff hard extremely deceased BIG flying fish wedged in behind the cockpit cooler – that fish now sleeps with the fishes back in the water.

One focus today has been sorting out how best to get an autopilot ram from Washington state to Nuku Hiva, a fair bit of information flow as regards cargo flights, Air France baggage costs, things labeled ‘Yacht in transit’, and sorting out the most efficient mechanism for obtaining the ram and getting it to the boat. At least it’s possible! – if I were looking at Fanning Island then there’s no way to do it that I know of. Kevin at Nuku Hiva Yacht Services has been helpful at letting me know how things work over there, Kristen has been looking into how Tahiti Air Cargo works, Alpha Marine Systems has been supplying box weight and dimensions. I expect we can make this work.

And that brings us up to speed. Beetle is scooting along towards 8N x 130W, Jack and I had dinner, he’s asleep, I’ve got the watch until 11PM LBT, boat is fairly well closed up to keep the water out (I even put in the companionway washboard), and as long as the persnickity sneaker swell from starboard stays away all is good!

current position 09 deg 28’N x 127 deg 04’W, speed 7.0 at 240T

And for Kristen, the 24 hour (0200->0200) straight line run was 164 miles.

Enjoy the evening! We’re going to have excellent stars tonight, most likely no moon, and there’s already stars out. A lot of clouds up there, but good gaps between clouds and it’s reasonably clear off to the north.

– rob

Monday morning – almost half way there

Good morning –

Last night was an interesting encounter (first visually due to the bright lights, and later on AIS to get the data) with the 43 meter fishing vessel Fuyanyu 92. Somewhat unusual to see bright lights on the horizon here mid-ocean, started to look like a boat of some kind – a cruise ship?

Turned out it was a 43 meter fishing vessel Fu Yuan Yu, and they went by about 6 miles off on their way north while we passed by headed soutwest. I tried hailing them on the VHF, and they did not respond. The only possible issue would have been if they were long lining, but at 7 knots of boat speed it was unlikely they were laying out a longline across Beetle’s bow.

Most of the evening was spent on deck in the cockpit, that’s the prime time to read as it’s nicely cool and you’re not cooking in the sun, tons of stars were out (at least for the first half of the night, later on the sky clouded over a bit), shooting stars shot across the sky, and it’s really nice. I’m reading a Jet Propulsion Laboratory history of the Voyager 1 & 2 interplanetary probes, and lots of talk about the amazing imagery that came back from those two spacecraft.

The morning brought in stronger trades, up to 20 knots steady now, and the sea state is building with it. It’s always hobbledy bobbledy when the wind direction changes and the sea state becomes a jumbled mess and Beetle hops up and down and side to side as we bounce off the different wave trains. Makes life on board interesting, as the boat lurches in different directions and you learn to not try and stand anywhere without bracing yourself into something solid. Walking forward to the head becomes more of a jungle gym exercise as you work forward from the vertical ladder bar to the vertical grab bars port and starboard at the nav station and galley, then it’s another step forward to reach the overhead teak grab rails, then you can reach the mast and lean against it, then step through the main bulkhead, lean against the work bench, turn to right and wait for the boat to go momentarily level so you can step through the small bulkhead and into the head. At least the toilet is facing fore & aft, so when seated you’re wedged in at the shoulder and can’t fall off when the boat rolls. Boats with the toilet set facing inboard (a common enough tactic to squeeze more things into less space) really aren’t set up for offshore use. When the boat rolls heavily and the toilet rises up behind you, it can be tough to not get flung forward towards centerline.

ComNav are looking into the 1500 autopilot parameter loss, apparently all sorts of things can happen – essentially anything that would place voltage across various parts of the unit can cause the non-volatile memory to become volatile and drop whatever was saved. Good thing I had those numbers written down! I’ve also examined the backup hydraulic pump, and turns out there is a small amount of stroke displacement adjustment built into how the small black cube hydraulic pump attaches to the actual motor. As my spare is setup at maximum displacement, I bet the installed pump is set up the same way. Something to try out is to back off the two set-screws and rotate the pumpset over to the least displacement setting and see if that makes the motor run more smoothly. Hmm… things to experiment with when conditions calm down!

Tonight Beetle will be Net Control for the Pacific Puddle Jump net, I’ve got a pretty good radio but I’m not in the middle of the fleet and I don’t hear a lot of the boats very well. There are a couple of good radio installations out here, Coastal Drifter has one, and I fear Phil on Coastal Drifter is going to be doing a lot of relays for me tonight! So much for Phil trying to share the radio net wealth.

Jack is asleep at the moment, I have the watch, we’re scooting along in nice trades, super bright blue sky, lots of white caps out to the horizon, a couple of 8-10′ swell trains coming through, and the sea state is beginning to stabilize as the old wind waves die out and the new wind waves continue.

Should be a super day!

current position 09 deg 58’N x 126 deg 08’W, making 6.8 knots at 237T.

Kristen has asked if I could add distances run, distance to go, etc. I’ll have to work on that as my written information is based on the 0200 UTC net, not on the log postings. Right now we’re 1363 miles from La Cruz, 276 miles from the current approximate turning point of 08N x 130W, and the entire trip is roughly 3,000 miles. So closing in on the half-way point!

– rob

Sunday evening out on the pond

Greetings from Beetle –

we’re going to have in-flight entertainment shortly; the tanker Stolt Efficiency just popped up on AIS, they are bound for JPUKB (Japan?), and show as being 19 miles out now with a CPA of 1.6 miles in a bit under two hours from now. Jack and I are cleaning the boat so it looks good from a distance.

And then the skipper on Stolt called Tiger Beetle up on the radio: “Tiger Beetle, small sailboat, what are you doing out here one thousand miles from land?!? Is everything OK?” He was amazed that a small sailboat would be this far out at sea, essentially in the middle of nowhere and not heading obviously towards anything (note that we are not on course directly to the Marquesas, as we’re lining up for the ITCZ crossing first). We talked for quite a bit on the radio, he wanted the boat’s internet page so he could go look us up and see what we were all about. He asked how many were on board, I said two. I asked the same in return, he said 30. “And we had a barbecue on deck yesterday, is very nice!” Fun folks on the Stolt, they departed the Panama Canal and will spend three weeks crossing to Kobe, Japan with their load of oil. He said that normally at sea things are very busy for those on board, but the Pacific Crossing was very nice as it was a chance for them to relaxe some and enjoy the ocean.

And Jack has been rescuing more flying fish – they seem to have an affinity for him.

Based on current GRIB data and WFax, we’re going to be at the southern extreme of the tradewind belt for another two days, and that may see us ready to drop south around 130W. The ITCZ is forecast to press up against the trades shortly, climbing as far as 8 degrees N (we’re at 11). I don’t know if that changes the pressure gradient, doesn’t appear to, so I have no idea if that will re-enforce the trades or simply leave the trades alone.

And to wrap up the refrigeration story… last we heard Mike had received funds into his Bancomer bank account, instantly he gets a text message saying this, he shoots off to DHL and puts the package into their hands. At which point DHL sends it off to Mexico City, which is a bit like flying from San Franciso to Arizona by way of Detroit – why would anyone do that? But they do, and DHL does. So off the package went, I have a very nice tracking number that actually returns information in English so I can understand what they are telling me, then package gets to Puerto Vallarta and stops. Why did it stop? I can’t figure it out; I need the contents, can’t have it go back to Mazatlan, that would not be useful. Mike emails to ask if I have the package, I do not, he calls DHL as he has Spanish, DHL tells him it will show up the next day, and it finally does. I have parts! I swap in the parts, everything runs for a couple of days, and Scott lets me know he needs his gauge set back; Scott comes over and checks out the unit, he decides it could use a touch of R134A top up – and suddenly we’re good to go! It was a lot of work, and it was worth it.

Turns out the fridge has been super important to Jack, as he really likes the ice cubes the fridge can make, especially when those cubes are placed in his Nissan metal thermos to keep his chilled water chilled!

One thing of interest out here is a small red and white helicopter that has buzzed several boats in the fleet; general thinking is this is a spotting helicopter for a large tuna fishing boat located near the equator – at least one sailing boat has seen both the helicopter and the fishing boat. That would be oddly unexpected, to have a tiny helicopter appear out here in the middle of the pond – you *know* that helicopter did not fly all the way out here on its own power!

And now we’re headed on into the evening, breeze is stable, sky looks good with puffy white clouds, and I can shut down the engine as we’re done with the radio net and charging the batteries.

current position 10 deg 55’N x 124 deg 32’W, speed 6.3 at 236T, wind NE 16, sea state fairly even with a sharp rolling swell coming in from starboard that causes Beetle to roll hard to port on occasion – definitely hang on when moving through the boat as that wave is completely unpredictable.

Go fast and be safe tonight!

– rob

Sunday morning – in the trades

Good morning – last night and this morning we definitely found the stronger trade winds, a consistent 14-18 knots that blew all night and didn’t change direction on us much. Seas are up a bit, perhaps an 8′ primary swell rolling in from the north, plus two other swell trains that are moving through, one of which is from behind and helps to propel Beetle down the slopes towards 130W.

Last night was a good night for sleeping, I was very tired from being up most of the day chasing down the backup pilot, and Jack was tired as well – so we each got in good sleeps on the other’s watch. Feeling well rested this morning.

During my watch, about 3:00AM or so, in the dark overcast from the high clouds that blocked out most of the stars, I noticed a sparkly flash way way off in the distance to the south; might have been an airplane strobe? Then it happened twice more and it was lightning, way up in the sky, small flashes mostly lost in the clouds. I mentioned it to Jack and he said that was heat lightning, nothing to be concerned about as it was traveling up high between clouds and not striking down towards earth (or water, in our particular case). I’m not a big fan of lightning, so I’m glad that stuff was to leeward and far away. First time I’ve seen lightning when out on the Big Blue like this.

I also got to read my book, which is a fun thing to do after chasing boat parts. Right now I’m helping JPL build and launch their Voyager probe missions – a rather good writeup on the history of the missions. Nice to have time to read, for a change!

Beetle is running well this morning, engine is charging up a storm and that makes the batteries happy, Alpha has been steering for the evening and doing just fine, and we’re making nice tracks towards 130W. The weather forecasts continue to consolidate around the idea of using 130 or 131W as the turning pount South to cross the ITCZ, so we’re going to keep on trucking in that direction. We’re making roughly 2 degrees of longitude per day, so that would be another 4 days of running and we’ll be looking for a place to dive south.

As the sun came up we had lots more flying fishes, and one even hit Jack in the cockpit last night; it shot in and bonked him then started wriggling/flapping on the cockpit floor, so Jack picked him (or her) up and sent the fishie back to the sea. And then another one landed aft behind the wheel, and Jack rescued that one as well.

There are a couple of different birds flying around here now. I know what the boobies are, and then there’s a smaller lighter bird with sharp angled elbows in the wing, they fly with a dainty flit flit of the wings (no soaring) and are working very close to the water with their feet – these might be petrels? The other bird is a very strong soaring bird, about the size of the boobie, but this bird doesn’t flap the wings at all (boobies flap their wings a lot), it just shoots through very fast, skimming along just above the water. Looks somewhat like a dark sea gull in size and shape, so it might be a skua or similar. I’ve tried to get pictures of these birds and I doubt I have much success yet.

current position 11 deg 35’N x 123 deg 30’W, making 7.0 knots on course 245T. Winds are 14-17 from the NE (we’re running deep at 150 AWA), swell is up.

About 25 more minutes on the engine charge and I can shut the motor down, Jack is back on watch at 9:30 LBT (and we changed our boat clock yesterday, the goal being to set local boat time noon to be when the sun is overhead). It’s fun to have your own time zone.

Enjoy the day!

– rob