Charm - South Africa 2

The Indian Ocean is showing its true colors today. Actually, I guess the water color really hasn’t changed much – still that gorgeous, swimming-pool blue with a dash of cerulean. But the conditions have changed.

I just finished hand steering for the past 2.5 hours. Winds are 20-25, gusting to 28 and the seas are bigger but not ridiculously so. We’ve got two reefs in the main and have changed out little Spinny for the jib. Also noteable is a 3-5 knot current, pushing us to the left when we’re trying to work our way up and to the right.

The reason we’re hand steering is that our auto-pilot has been making horrible noises and, in the past five hours, went on partial strike. Joe got the system bled in Reunion because the noise had started outside of Mauritius. Unfortunately, it is still acting up. On our first day out from Reunion, Joe discovered that the starboard rudder was bound up and he thought that freeing it would make the auto-pilot quit complaining but it didn’t work.

This evening, with the more challenging conditions, the auto-pilot just quit doing its job. It pretended to hold the course but actually let Charm do whatever she wanted. So, for example, Jeff (the name the kids gave the auto-pilot) was supposed to keep Charm at 280 degrees which put the wind at 90 degrees on our starboard side. I noticed the wind angle creeping up to about 70 so I hit “Standby” and saw that we were actually steering 315 degrees. Jeff just couldn’t hold the course. This happened on Carl’s shift so he started hand-steering and then I did the same during my shift. Now Joe is out there, holding a much better course than I did.

Hand steering is challenging in the best of conditions (which is why they invented auto-pilots) and darkness with a full-ish moon is not the best of conditions. Normally, we pick something on the horizon to follow – it’s normally a cloud or, at night, a star. Tonight, the bright moon washed out all the light from the stars which made it difficult to hold a course. That, together with the waves shoving us around and the gusting winds meant that I was constantly adjusting the steering. Then, my pale wan star that I could barely see, decided to pick tonight to fall. So, my wish on the falling star was that a new, brighter star would replace it. No luck. I just kind of made it up, glancing back and forth at the instruments to try to hold the course. Later, some helpful clouds came out and the moon lit them well enough for me to more or less hold a course. My steering episode wasn’t pretty but it gave Joe a few minutes rest before he and Carl had to split the rest of the night.

We’re heading into some exciting sailing. We’re pushing hard to hold our course against the current so we can make our waypoint on the south side of Madagascar, which Cobin is calling the Mario Speed Zone. I’m not totally clear on what happens there (although I’m fairly certain it isn’t a video game bonus of any kind) but I do know we don’t want to miss our waypoint or we’ll hit a critical current that will delay us.

There’s also a wind shift forecast which will put the wind opposite to the current we are now experiencing. That wasn’t supposed to be a concern until after Madagascar, when we hit the Agulhas Current, but I imagine it’s not a great thing anywhere you are. So there’s that to look forward to. Then there’s a potential storm or heavy weather system moving towards our future location that might bring 40 – 50 knot winds. We are trying to beat that system to Richards Bay but if we don’t beat it, we will avoid it, which means we will spend up to three additional days at sea, moving out of the way of the weather but close enough to zip in when it has passed. This sounds like a very unpleasant way to spend three days.

So, lots of unknowns and excitement are in our future. We are all doing well on board. Joe is singing to himself while he steers, the kids and Carl are asleep and we were able to make enough water for all three kids and me to have showers! Our Friday pizza and a movie (Les Miserables) tradition happened tonight and the boat is warm and dry inside. While we’re hand steering now, poor Christine (another World ARC boat) lost their autopilot the first day out and their four crew members will hand steer the entire trip. Ugh.