The Catamaran Adventures of Noel and Ceu
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Day 2 of our 4 Day Crossing

So, here we are, 50 miles from the nearest land, and I just saw a whale! Cool. Though unfortunately it didn’t make a reappearance, so Ceu missed it. I hope there will be others!

Yesterday at 7am we departed St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands bound for the Turks and Caicos Islands some 470 nautical miles north east. The forecast was for pretty steady 8-14 kt breezes on the starboard quarter, gradually backing to a bit forward of a beam reach.

We motored out of Charlotte Amelie and, as soon as we cleared the islands wind shadow, we hoisted the spinnaker and sailed off in pretty smooth seas. The wind was light, our speed was rarely above 5 knots, and overnight the wind pretty much disappeared completely.

That meant dousing the spinnaker and motoring for a few hours, as our speed had dropped down to under 2 knots. By the morning the wind was back up to 5-6 knots again, so up went the spinny again. That sail is amazing. With it alone, we can do 4 knots of speed on a dead run in 6 knots of wind. Barely a breath. But once the wind drops below 4 knots, then we really die.

YouTube Link: Just Cruising

But right now it has picked up and veered. Spinnaker is down, full main and genoa are up, and we are trooping along at 7+ knots in 14kts wind on a starboard fetch. Sea is a bit more lumpy, but still comfortable. And this will certainly help us get to our destination!

Calculating when to depart is tricky. The goal is to arrive with lots of daylight left so that we can easily navigate into a safe anchorage. We have about 450+ miles to go. So what do we take as an average speed? In that light stuff, we were averaging just over 5 knots. In this fresher breeze we do 7+ knots.

So, if we assume a 5knot speed, that would take us 90 hours, or 3days and 18 hours. Which would get us there early on Sunday morning. So we would have to slow down a bit so as to arrive in daylight.

On the other hand, if we do a 6 knot average, that makes the trip just 75 hours, just over 3 days. Which would have us arriving late morning on the Saturday.

Based on the forecast, we figured we should be able to beat 5.5 kt average, so that is why we left at 7am. We shall see how it works out! Our first 24 hours gave us only 126 miles, but now the speed has picked up, so who knows?

We are also testing out our new radar and AIS (automatic identification of ships). The later transmits our position, course and speed to boats around us, and receives similar signals from other boats. All commercial vessels now carry this.

Early this morning I sighted a big Maersk container ship heading straight for us on the port bow. The AIS was off. So I turned it on. It takes a couple of minutes for it to find our position by GPS and then transmit that information. It then displays the boat on the chart plotter and if you hover over it, you will find out its name, speed, course, and radio call sign. It also tells you their closest point of approach which, in this case, was about 0.2miles in 2.5 minutes! I was about to radio him, when I saw him alter course to pass astern of us. I am pretty sure that his course change was prompted by his AIS sounding an alarm to his officer on watch.

Like trucks and airplanes, these big ships carry black boxes that record everything. Which means that if anything happens they can look up the details and see if they ignored an AIS alert. So, it seems to work, and gives one some degree of comfort out here in the big blue.

The radar takes a little getting used to also, but it does show up very clearly both ships, and rain – and also has an alarm to warn you if something comes within a specified distance. But unlike the AIS that isn’t predictive. The AIS, for example, can pick up a vessel from 20 miles away and calculate that it will come within half a mile of us, and so sets off an alarm, even from that distance. Useful!

What is interesting is when these gadgets pick up vessels at 15 miles that one cannot even see on the horizon!

Wow! Wind just picked up to 24 kts! Had to go up front to put in a reef. Now we are zooming along! Doing a steady 9 kts – so how does that work with my calculations? With 278 miles to go at 2:30pm Thursday, that gives us just 30 hours to go, getting us in at 10pm on Friday night! Of course, it might all drop down to 5 kts again. So hard to figure it out. I guess we just keep trucking until it is clear that we need to slow down to wait for dawn.



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