26 March 2012 9:55:00 AM AEDT

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Following a day of what seemed to be windless drifting, during which we actually made 30 miles in sunlight, the winds finally picked up after dark, and we added another 37 miles by sunup. The winds have held constant,
and I am hoping that we are really in the south east trades now. If the ITCZ has moved north, this means the SE trades own this part of the ocean, and with luck, we should have winds all the way to Oz. I sure is nice
to feel the wind and watch the bubbles swirl past the stern as we clip along at 4 or 5 knots. The winds are not exactly strong, only something like 7 or 8 knots with gusts to 10, but it gets us going. The daily gribs for this patch of the Pacific
forecast 10 knots from the SE and E for the next three days. Maybe we can make up some of the time we have lost getting though this messy area.
As I sit looking astern, enjoying a cup of morning coffee, looking at my three mile circle of the world, it is interesting what passes through the mind. Solitude affects different people different ways. There are stories and stories of
how being alone in the ocean plays with a person's mind. Many people claim to begin hearing classical music, recalling exact pieces of music that they are amazed to be able to recall. Some people say that after a certain period of time, they begin to have
conversations with people they have not thought of for years. In one book, by an American author, who was the first modern American to do a solo circumnavigation,
he talks about having conversations with Cook's navigator as he crossed the Pacific, having debates about which would be the best route. When he reached Australia and began sailing north inside the Great Barrier Reef, he met the man again. This time
the navigator related details of Cook's voyage inside the reef, and warning the Yank about the perils of navigating alone.
One young guy who sailed alone, had brought a boogie board with him. Bored, he tied a line to it, let it out astern, and slipped overbaoard to ride the board like a surfer or waterskier. It was only after doing this for a half dozen times that he had a lucid thought of what he
was doing. If he had lost his grip, he could not have swum fast enough to catch the board, and would have been left bobbing in the sea, watching his boat sail away over the horizon.
I have learned to live with solitude, so I don't have any worries about going bonkers. I probably already am.
Watching the ripples behind us, one of the thoughts I had, was that when I get to Oz, someone is going to ask me what I think about at times like these.
Strangely, I was thinking of people flying from LA to Sydney, 8000 miles. It probably costs them about 640 dollars, about eight cents a mile.
Realizing that I have been sitting here for an hour, the thought hit me that I have just saved forty cents, having travelled five miles in the last hour. Big deal huh? No matter that I had to lay out quite a few bucks to provision for the trip, including
a hundred and fifty bucks for diesel. But if I flew back to Sydney, I would then be up for the cost of a place to stay for two or three months, plus pay for my food. So it all balances out. I have no expenses and I am happy.
My course is 245 degrees, nearly straight at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas. As I am not heading straight south to cross the equator, it is taking a bit longer to do so. By the time I report my position tonight, we should be approaching one and a half degrees, a hundred miles or so
from the line, but at least another day before crossing somewhere west of here.

25 March 2012 10:46:00 AM AEDT

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The ITCZ is a crap shoot. What some other sailor tells you about the ITCZ is just what happened to him on a particular crossing. Some boats get across with hardly a care. Others have to burn fule and search for winds, and they all tell a different story.
The ITCZ is the intertropical convergence zone, the area around the equator where the south east trade winds from the southern hemisphere meet the north east trade winds from the northern hemisphere, and the weather gets all mixed up. Where they meet, there is
typically no wind, and that is why they are called the doldrums. The conventional advice is that the ITCZ is wider on it's eastern side, and that the farther west you go, the narrower the ITCZ gets. The experts will tell you to head to about 125 degrees west, where the ITCZ
has the best chance of being fairly narrow from north to south, and sometimes even vanishes for a time. The expert advisesm to go to about 5 degrees above the equator and 125 degrees west, watch to see what is happening with the ITCZ, and when it either moves south, or you spot a narrow point, then head directly south and go like hell to get
across. That's fine. But the ITCZ has ben moving as far north as 10 degrees lately. Something about the sun being eight over the equator., and then creating more rain squalls. The latest newsletter out of New Zealand advises that this is not the time to do the puddle jump, from the Galapagos to the Marquesas, where one expects
the south east trades to be steady and strong.
If you follow that advice, you could hit the ITCZ at 10, degrees north, so you start up the engine and burn fuel heading south. If your crap shoot was unlucky, you could motor all the way to 10 degrees south, with the wretched ITCZ matching your speed all the way. That's 1500
miles of motoring without any wind. A boat a day behind could make the same speed, with the wind, and just follow a bit behind the receding ITCZ all the way. One boat burns fuel for 15 days, and the other gets a free ride. That's the luck of the draw. If you were a good kid, ate your vegetables, and cleaned up your room when you were told,
you were on the second boat. If you have bad karma, then you're tagged to be the other boat.
I have been reading the charts like the experts advise, and spotted the ITCZ moving north to nearly 10 degrees by
Sunday, tomorrow, saw a gap between 4 and 5 degrees that had no wind as it came north, and thought, 'good on yah. I'll just motor to get below 4 degrees, catch the wind,
and laugh while the ITCZ goes farther north while I sail farther south. It will never catch me.'
Fat chance. After motoring for 22 hours, without a breath of wind in sight, getting well below the 4 degree line, in fact, now at 3 degrees 10 minutes north at 10:30 on Saturday morning, and I have been sitting since 7 a.m. waiting for the forecast 10 knot winds from the south east, just on the cusp of the trades,
and feeling a teasing wisp of a breeze every once in a while, sometimes making two knots, but not really going anywhere. And I am just ornery enough not to waste
any more fuel trying to better my chances. I'll take the luck of the draw. The ITCZ may be north of me, but there just ain't any winds in this area at all.
At this rate, instead of 70 days to get to OZ, it will take me 1150 days. But who cares. It's just going to be colder when I do get there.
It's like the situation when I got to Mazatlen. I got within 5 miles, sailing, having lost my prop somewhere between California and Baja, and was trying to get close enough to the Marina entrance to drift for the night
then call for a tow in the morning. But the winds died, the currents took over, and in the morning, I was twenty miles to the souith, with not a breath of wind, and the sea as flat as a Northern Alberta
hockey rink in January. When I finally decided that I did not want to drift to Acapulco, I radioed for assistance, and the Mexican Navy kindle towed me in.. The Mazatlan newspapers and TV interviewed me, and wrote the
story as the Navy 'rescued' a 75 year old sailor. Comments on the on line news criticized me..'sail boats have sails. They are supposed to sail. Why didn't he do like sailors did before they had engines?'
Fine, except there was no wind, and I would have ended up somewhere far away where there might not be any help.
It's like being here. If there ain't no winds, how are you going to sail?
The lesson is just to be philosophical about it. The way it is, is the way it is. This is the hand I have been dealt, so I might as well relax and not stress about it. Eventually the trades will start to blow, and maybe then I
will get weeks of steady winds where I don't have to touch the sails.
This is about the emptiest place I have ever been, including some of the desert parts of Africa I went through. Not a thing to be seen. Only once in a while
a flurry of fleeing flying fish flitting above the waves for a few hundred yards to tell me there is life in the sea.
My time diversions have been in thinking up and cooking casseroles of endless variety to store in the fridge. I have about a month's worth of meals in
zip-lock bags that I just have to heat in hot water for a dinner. Two days ago, I decided to make fried rice. My vegetables were getting ready to spoil, so I took
all that were left, cooked up a pot of rice and began. I had a can of chicken meat, so I scrambled 6 eggs, heated up the chicken, put them in a pot to the side, and cooked the vegetables.
While these were simmering, I went on deck to have a look around, and sure enough, a big sea made us roll, there was a crash, and when I got below, scrambled eggs and chicken covered the floor.
Too many pots and pans, and not enough room to fit them on the gimbled stove, and I trusted the work table with non slip covering to hold the pan, which didn't work
when we took a heavy roll. So now I have seven meals of vegetarian fried rice. My next concotion is salmon loaf, with mashed potatoes. But the last spud has spoiled, so I am reduced to using packaged mashed.
Maybe I had better wait. The fridge is nearly full of meals. Time to go on deck and whistle for the winds.

24 March 2012 10:21:00 AM AEDT

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At noon yesterday, we really hit the ITCZ, the doldrums. It was like sitting on a lake. The grib wind files I had downloaded in the morning for the two degrees to the south of me and two to the west, showed winds above 5 degrees, and winds below 4 degrees, and nothing in betwee. The 48 hour wind/wave charts that Clinton sends me daily, showed the ITCZ sitting in about that area. The 72 hour chart showed the ITCZ positioned around 8 to 10 degrees north, in the area that we are in, about 122 degrees west.
It was moving north, and at noon, the winds just died. For four hours I sat there waiting to get the latest charts from Clinton, so that I could make up my mind whether to wait for it to pass over me, and then hope some winds would carry me south, or should I just cut and run, motor south to speed up the process? I have always had a hope that I was going to get an easy ride through the ITCZ. But when I saw the charts at 4 pm, I caved in, started the engine, and headed south and west. My intention was to stop at 8 pm, before the seafarer's net checkin, and see if there were any winds, and I was in luck, there were. By 9 pm, the winds had us moving sw at 5 knots, and I went to bed happy.
The winds were from the east. Earlier ITCZ charts had showed two areas of ITCZ, one about 5 degrees north and the other about 5 degrees south. All night the wind kept us rocking as we tried to go sw instead of west. I really want to get below 4 degrees from the equator. Down below it is reasonably smooth, but in the cockpit, the side panels have all blown free and are flapping across the wheel, so I don't bother going up. I play with the course, but with the sail set as it is, every time I come up to wind, we die, so I have to keep heading more westerly.
After 7 am the wind moderates to 5 knots from the SE. At 9 I motor on course 220., just wanting to get away from this mixed up zone. Winds on the gribs today show East, NE, S, N, SE, and then back to NE. I sure hope the SE trades ar consistent and steady. I expect to cross the Equator on Sunday. I plan to stop at 4 pm and see if there is any hope for wind, as we dhould nearly be below the 4 degree line.

23 March @9:38AM AEDT

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Another reason to check mysterious noises. Last night I detected an unusual intermittent thump up above. At 3 in the morning, I went all over the deck trying to find the item making the noise. I detected a faint smell of diesel, and assumed that one of the spare jerry can containers on deck was the cause, so I tightened all the tops. Finally I found the cause. It was one of the yellow containers that I had bought in Half Moon Bay, that was sliding a few inches back and forth as the boat rolled. Thinking it was an easy fix, I got a torch and looked at the ropes tying the jug down to see where it had gone slack. Then I noticed that the fiddly spout on the unit had broken off, and the container was sloshing diesel onto the deck. This made it slippery, and the unit slid back and forth. How to fix? Tough problem. Eventually I came up with cutting a plastic top to one of my sprouting containers to fit the inside of the cap. It ended up a bit oversize, but when I screwede the cap on, it forced the plastic to make a good seal, and I really tightened it on. Then I gobbed an inch or more of silicon all over the top to seal it, and finally went back to bed at 3:30.
Yesterday we passed through an area of rain squalls. During the night it would rain, and at dawn, a big one caught up with us, and gave us a real kick in the pants, the winds were quite strong, but since Rafiki was poled out wing on wing, I just put the wind on our tail, and we sped along. Today the wind has changed three times, from the NE to NW, then to east. I took down the pole, and just used the main to sail with the wind, each time hitting over 6 knots with just the sideways main sail. When the wind veered to the east, I cut and ran south, with a normal tack, but this only lasted half a day. Now I am drifting just above 5 degrees north at 122 west. About three my time I get the wind and wave charts for the pacific from Clinton, my son in Sydney, and depending on whether the ITCZ is going to move or not, will influence me on whether I will have to use the engine to get through. Yesterday's 48 hour wind and wave showed two ITCZ areas, one at 5 North and a second at 5 south. Just great. But they move, and I am awaiting the charts when radio reception is good, about 3 pm. Each chart is from 25 to 35 k, and if I don't have good propagation chances on any frequency, thay can take a long time to download. More tomorrow, after I see the charts. I really don't want to motor. It would be at least 150-200 miles, and that means up to 40 hours running the engine.

21 March @ 8:38AEDT

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Since leaving Mazatlan I have seen very little traffic. A day or two out, I saw two freighters on the AIS, at 50 and 38 miles. A couple of days later I saw a freighter going north, and a week after that, another white freighter northbound. It seems to be a big empty ocean twelve hundred miles out.
But last night, after reporting in to the net, I spotted a white light just over the horizon. From the amount of glare I assumed it must be a fishing boat. While I was half out of the cockpit, trying to get a fix on the light I could see, my eye was caught by a flashing red light, dead ahead of us. Because it flashed, it could not have been a navigation light from another boat, and I was pretty surprised to encounter a flashing beacon.
I immediately thought of a hazard buoy, and rushed to look at the charts for this part of the ocean. Where would there be a rock, a thousand miles from nowhere? The charts showed nothing. Back on deck, I watched as the light grew brighter. We were heading directly at it. With a big torch, I tried to put a light on it, and finally rushed to punch in a ten degree course change to avoid whatever it was. Peering out in the darkness, I watched it close. Soon we passed, no more than a hundred feet away. It was about 6 feet high, a metal buoy, with a small white light on something that appeared to be moored to it. Fearing that it was part of a long line fishing net, I had a pang of doubt that it might foul my towed propeller from the generator.
But nothing happened. It just seemed amazing that in a hundred thousand square miles of ocean, we could have run right over the damn buoy.
The white light on the horizon turned to green, indicating that the vessel was paralleling us. After an hour and a half, using the radar, which showed it to be about three miles away, I was finally convinced that we were making better spped than it was, and I went to bed. By six a.m., time for my position report, we had made 133 miles, some during the night that made me feel that I was flying, but with the sails spread wing on wing, Rafiki doesn't roll much, just powers on with the wind directly behind, and the seas following as well. Today, exactly 14 days after leaving, we did 135 miles in 24 hours, 5.5 knots plus average, and we are nearing thirteen hundred miles from departure straight line. Another day, and we will have made 20 percent of the total distance.

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