The day before arrival

by Glen

Passage Panama to French Polynesia, day 24, Wednesday 12-April:
At just 300nm from the finishing point, today saw the end of the good trade winds. For a steady week it has been forecast that from today until our arrival tomorrow the winds would gradually decrease from the solid 12-20kts of SE trade wind that we’ve enjoyed for the last several days, to nothing.

Yesterday we felt we’d got very used to flying the spinnaker in ever stronger winds. Well, today we learned how to keep it powered in an ever-decreasing wind.
Last night we flew it in wonderful 14-17kts, very fast comfortable sailing. And for the first time I could actually sleep while the spinnaker was up. In-between naps I had my eye on the last two boats ahead of us, as viewed on PredictWind Local Knowledge. Yes, in my mind, if there is another yacht near us, we are always in a race! The furthest boat ahead seemed to continuously be doing 1-2kts faster than us. But as it was beyond AIS range, I couldn’t make out what type of boat it was. When I found out it was 70ft (yes 70ft!!) performance catamaran, I mentally said “race over” and focused on the next in line, Wadura. For several days now he’s stayed a constant 30-35nm ahead of us. But with these last 2 days of fast spinnaker, we have caught up and now neck and neck (albeit he is 30nm to the north of us). So I thought I’d got him!

But as the wind decreased today and our speed dropped back to our normal range of 7-8kts, he suddenly started zig-zagging back and forth across us, doing 9kts! So I concluded he must be a catamaran, downwind tacking with a big gennaker sail, or such like. At first, he pulled ahead of us again but when the wind dropped further, each time he crossed us he remained about 5nm ahead. It felt like the tortoise and hare story. Only, sadly, this time the tortoise (us) lost this race, as he finally disappeared south, heading for Hiva Oa island, to take the checkered flag. We never actually saw Wadura the cat, but we did see its dimensions on AIS @15m x7m. It is a sizable catamaran. I think Cloudy can still hold her head high, right?

By early afternoon the wind veered steadily from E to NE and we gybed the spinnaker over onto starboard tack (port side). We were by now down to 5kts in 6kts of wind at AWA120. Which is admirable, but because Cloudy was rocking in the swell, the spinnaker was shaking all over the place, spending more time recovering back to shape than actually pulling. So reluctantly we took it down and at 2pm and started the engine, hoping beyond real hope that we wouldn’t have to motor the remaining 180nm to our destination. It would, would it not, be ironic that we stopped for 24 hours in Galapagos to top-up on fuel that we didn’t really need, then have to motor this last 24hrs , which we could have sailed but for the fuel stop! C’est La vie, eh?

While motoring, we at least managed to completely fill the tanks with RO water and just as we also got the batteries up to 100% the wind came back again at 6-7kts, around sundown.
Although we were convinced we couldn’t sail, I doggedly decided to turn the engine off and go to the trouble of raising the spinnaker, yet again. But by now the sea had gone very calm and amazingly the spinnaker filled and stayed very steady at AWA110. Both pinning us down (stopping the boat rolling) and powering us along at 7kts in 7kts of wind. Incredible, and also unbelievable, because on deck I could barely feel the breeze on me, yet there it was, up there, the Parasailor full and silent and Cloudy almost magically gliding through the water at a good jogging pace. How? I’m really falling in love with this sail now 🥰. Thanks again to Oana for finding it second hand.

So we were at midnight, still 5-7kts of wind and still gliding along, perfectly on our desired course. “Please come back, Wadura. We are ready to continue the race”!

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