Conversations with the Otto-Pilot

It’s been about five days now since we exited the storm zone and in that time the weather’s been quite pleasant, which has given me a chance to catch up on sleeping, eating and general boat chores. Although I’m grateful for the nicer weather, I also wouldn’t mind if it were a bit windier.

Finally a real horizon … 41.2911478S, 113.4013266E

I’ve been working to keep a 7-knot average speed through the day, but I’d love to see it move up some. There’s heaps of different wind pockets around, which means there are parts of the day when I have only lower-speed winds to work with and then other times, they’re back kicking up to 14-16 knots. Somewhere in the course of this back and forth, I’ve taken up playing games with the winds, coaxing them … or trying to trick them somehow. How do you trick the wind, Dave? Glad you asked. It’s a routine I developed when we were in the thick of it. You see, as I got increasingly tired, various parts of the boat began to play in my periphery and to gradually take on personalities, which enabled me to carry on conversations with them.

Otto (the auto-pilot) is my primary chat partner. Otto probably knows more about me in sleep-deprived mode than anyone. Together, we often discuss the weather, the course or how the boat is doing. So sometimes, when Otto and I want more wind, I’ll put on my gear and act as if I’m going to change sails. At this point, usually, the wind decides it wants to kick up and so thwart me from changing sails. Then what happens is that the winds will build for a while, long enough for me to go off and do something else … and then once they die off again, I’ll look like I’m heading back out to change sails … at which point, they kick up again!

Dave in Foulie
Dave in full wind distracting apparel … 42.5314166S, 120.1535844E 

I don’t know whether or not I’m acquiring any special wind whispering powers, but sometimes it seems that I can accomplish the same response just by pushing a button or two on the auto-helm control panel. For whatever reasons, when I am about to push buttons to change course, the wind suddenly picks up, causing me to pull back on the buttons. Believe it or not, this kind of nonsense goes on day and night, and while I know it sounds odd, I actually think focusing in on the details of the process has made me better at anticipating just what the capricious overlords of the wind want me to do.

hydro-generator2_300All that aside, the past few days have had us sailing along at a beautiful angle to the wind, which Bo just loves. We call this kind of action “reaching,” where the wind is just behind us and a bit sideways to the boat. When Bo sails in these conditions, it’s like she’s sailing on silk. There’s little if any noise from the wake and she just seems to advance effortlessly. The only noise is from the hydro-generator (pic to the right) which makes a gentle whine that increases in pitch along with the boat speed. I’ve gotten fairly proficient at knowing how fast Bo is moving by the tune the hydro-generator is singing. It’s something that happens when you’re on your boat for a long time; you get to know every little sound and what each of them means. It’s actually quite comforting when I am resting to have that whine informing me that the boat is in tune with the elements.

Since the storm, I’ve gotten the chance to make a few additional hot meals during the day. When the storms are tossing you around, it’s hard enough to boil water for one hot meal during the cold of night, and so you spend the day grazing on candy, chocolate, crackers, cheese and snacks like that. So as the weather eases up, I’m able to blow the lunch whistle and whip up a freeze-dried meal right in the middle of the day, if I want! Today, I figured out how to make a pretty edible version of macaroni and cheese. I never much cared for mac and cheese, but I brought along a dozen pouches as emergency rations, for when everything else runs out. Not that I’m into emergency food mode yet, but I did an inventory and we could be close.

When I first tasted it, the mac and cheese was just as I suspected … well, macaroni and cheese … and once again not much to my liking. So, I starting adding a few things to make it tastier, at the same time I took away a few things. The first thing I did was to dump out about half the mac and cheese. Nobody needs to put that much fake cheese into his or her body! I got this really great pepper grinder in Cape Town, but it’s pretty zippy, so I went light on that. Next I added a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. While digging around, I found a can of Cajun spice left over from last year. So, yep, I added a bunch of that to the mix, making it ready for the final special ingredient – a can of tuna fish. Now we’re talking! Add all that and you get a mac and cheese that’s not half bad. After that it was writing time on a laptop that actually stayed on my lap!

Dave Computer
Dave in Scribe Mode … 41.4244916S 115.5533564E 

Moving to the more noteworthy subject of milestones, the day before yesterday, we crossed directly south of the western edge of Australia and are now officially down under the Down Under, approximately 1250 miles from Tasmania! It’s not like I can see Australia, but I know it’s there. As I’ll likely be going under Tasmania as well, I guess I’ll have to wait for another trip to see Australia. The hope for now is that by staying below 42 degrees South, that we can find the winds to keep us going for the next several days. If I stay up north at 41 degree South, it could turn into painfully light sailing.

43.1687S, 122.3372E 43.1687S, 122.3372E 

Well, there you have it … a bit of a recap of some of the more day-to-day things that are going on with us on Bodacious Dream. Though the news isn’t very exciting, it’s also nice not to be in constant alert mode, And on another good note, one of these days, I’m expecting my KVH satellite dome to start picking up an Internet signal, which means I’ll be able to send off some photos and videos of those recent storms!

Until then, thanks for following along. And I encourage you to check out our six new Explorer Guides. They’re really unique, informative and fun too. Share them with students or family members. I learned a lot reviewing them!

- Dave, Bodacious Dream, (finally dried-out) Franklin and Otto (of few words)

And the mailing list sign up, as always, is here!

After the Deluge

Well, it’s been quite a week here on Bodacious Dream! If you recall, last Sunday, I said we passed the 3000 miles from Cape Town waypoint. Well, this Sunday, we passed the 4000-mile mark, which leaves us with something like 3200 miles before we reach Wellington, New Zealand and the completion of Leg 2 of the Circumnavigation!


As I was going back through the trip logs on the computer, I noticed that Bodacious Dream and I have logged nearly 30,000 miles together since she was launched in late 2011 in Wellington, NZ, and right where we are headed next. Amazing how the time and the miles fly by!

I’ve been onboard for every one of those miles … some in New Zealand, then after she was shipped to Charleston, SC, racing up the Atlantic Seaboard, then into the St. Lawrence Seaway and to Québec City, followed by a trip across the North Atlantic, in and around France, England and the English Channel – then down to Portugal, back across the Atlantic to Antigua in the Caribbean and back up the Atlantic Coast for the Atlantic Cup this past spring before prepping and launching the Circumnavigation which has taken us to Bermuda, Cape Town and now 4000 miles through the wild and desolate Southern Ocean. Such is the life of a vagabond sailor! At this point, both the sails and I are beginning to show some signs of wear and tear – but onward we go, into the wind – and daily grateful for the chance to do so!

In the last update, (the one before Tegan’s Science Notes) I said that we were looking for one of these now famous Southern Ocean cold fronts to pass us mid-week, and that we were setting up for a showdown with a cyclone by Friday. Our strategy at the time, was to sail with the winds of the cold front, as quickly east as possible in order to get us to a position about 95E Longitude which would put us just in front of the cyclone come Friday night.

38.57215S, 100.361912E
A lonely bird in grey seas … 38.57215S, 100.361912E

We sailed well and tapped some of the power of that cold front Tuesday, but fell into light winds on Wednesdays. Stressed at the possibility of NOT getting ahead of the cyclone, which would deliver us headwind punches (right on the nose) instead of the MUCH preferred tailwinds (from behind), I worked extra hard all day Wednesday trimming the sails, until the winds filled back in late Wednesday night.

By Thursday, the path of the cyclone had become clearer … and we could see it wasn’t going to play fair. We had expected it to move south and diminish in strength, and then hitch itself onto another passing cold front to form an even more powerful cold front, passing through our neighborhood at about 85E Longitude. As we tracked its progress though, we could see it had decided to zero in on a little sailboat called Bodacious Dream and to change its course to the southeast with the aim of crossing our path at around 99.5E Longitude. Fortunately, Bo is a quick boat and we were able to beat the cyclone to 99.5E and get ourselves to about 100E before the cyclone caught up to us and gave us the tailwinds we wanted! I know that all may sound a little abstract, like blips on a radar screen – but let me tell you, when you’re dancing all around the deck, doing everything in your power to extract a couple extra knots of speed … it’s all very real … but very fun too.

38.57215S, 100.361912E Grey and white … 38.572169S, 100.361104E

The flip side of the story is that though we got the tailwinds we wanted, we were close enough to the cyclone for those winds to be rather substantial! For the next 18 hours, Bo and I sailed through tempest winds from 35 to 50 knots and seas the size of small countries. Bo handled it with class and dignity, while I cowered down below decks waiting for something to go wrong! LOL!

There was one rather funny moment I’ll share. The winds had gotten into the 40-knot range, which was pushing Bo just too fast for safety into the waves in front of her, and so the only option I had was to go forward onto the bow and take down the small orange sail that was flying. Normally, this is an everyday job on a sailboat and done without much concern, but when the winds are gusting over 40, and the boat is flying along at 12 knots and crashing into and bouncing off of waves, it’s really quite a thrilling (and at the same time, discombobulating) experience. With all my gear on and my integrated harness and inflatable life vest, I clipped on my tether and ventured forward – bouncing and stepping across the deck like an uncoordinated booby bird doing the Charleston. Once to the bow, I tackled the flogging and soaking wet sail and pulled it down like I was wrestling a small animal. Once down, I began to tie it to the deck so it wouldn’t blow away. Just then I heard this rushing sound pushing my ears. I looked up and was eye-to-eye with a huge elephant-sized wave, which smacked me solid, drenching me in a torrent of water. I couldn’t help but let about a laugh – the totally disproportionate size advantage that ocean has over humans is inherently comical whenever ocean decides to exercise it.

Anyway, I went back to tying down the sail with I heard this “pop,” followed quickly by my automatic life vest inflating, leaving me on the foredeck with this huge tire around my neck … making it doubly difficult (and triply comical) for me to finish my task! But finish it I did, and got back below decks, deflated the life-vest, replaced it with another, all the time wishing I’d have had some video of all that! I guess it’s good to know the life vests work, though they’re only supposed to inflate when fully submerged. I guess that wave was even bigger than it looked!

38.57215S, 100.361912ELost horizons … 38.572138S, 100.361666E

Well, the storm was everything it was forecasted to be and lasted a full 24 hours. I’ve had very little sleep since it began, but fortunately, the forecast for the next three to four days is for some far more relaxed sailing, so I hope to use the time to catch up on my rest and get some warm food in me. It’s now about 18 hours since the storm passed, but I guess nobody told the waves that, because they are still burly and strong causing us to shudder and shake with each big roll. Oh well, what to do, but look to the horizon (if you can see it for the waves) and to whatever tomorrow might bring.

And, with about 500 miles to go before we are officially ‘underneath the down under’ (Australia,) I’m getting excited at the thought of hot showers, fresh food, cold beer and seeing old friends in Wellington. I’m figuring maybe 18 days. As you probably know by now, my mind can’t help but take miles, time and speed and turn them into a series of math problems.  So, let’s see … if there are 3200 miles left to Wellington, New Zealand and I am making 7.2 knots average a day, how long will it take me to get there?? Have some fun of your own folks!

Until later,

- Dave, Bodacious Dream and (the math challenged) Franklin

Be sure to check out our new Explorer Guides!
The mailing list sign up, as always, is here! down under down under … 41.81022S, 110.78864E

In the Belly of the Whale

Hello again from the wild and windy Southern Indian Ocean! I’m just about through another frontal passage here, where it’s been blowing in the 35-knot range now for about 24 hours. Our weather gurus tells us the winds are supposed to diminish here at some point through the night, so we shall see what tomorrow will bring.

I’m getting a little risky here even pulling out the laptop, as everything both above and below deck is pretty wet. You would think that below decks, things would stay dry, and for the most part they do, but the water here is cold, so water on the outside of the hull condenses against the warmer moist air on the inside, made warmer by my body and breath and any boiling water I occasionally make. Also, there are the inevitable little leaks that show up around hardware that’s been bolted through the deck.

companionwayNow, onboard I have two companionway doors that lead below decks. One is closed all the time (unless the weather is nice) – but the other I keep open so that I can monitor what’s going on up top. That’s usually not a problem, but for the last couple of days, the angle of the wind has been mostly from behind me, which pushes thick spray right through the companionway door and into the boat! Each time a rain squall rolls in, I have to sit with the door just slightly cracked open to keep the spray out, but with still enough room to allow me to see what’s going on outside, all fully dressed as I am in my foul weather gear and safety harness, at-the-ready to jump out there to tend to any problems that might arise.

From down below in the belly of the boat, I have instruments that monitor course, wind, and speed. I also monitor how Otto (the auto-pilot) is doing, and can override him as is necessary. Otto makes all the corrections necessary via the computers and electro-magnetic compasses … sometimes sailing to a wind angle and at other times to a compass course. Presently, he is set to sail to a compass course which means that I must keep a constant watch to make sure the wind isn’t shifting to the wrong corner and forcing us into a gybe … which at these wind speeds is a huge mess … and dangerous. I adjust the course as necessary via button commands, but sometimes, a huge wave will push us far enough off course that Otto’s auto-correction goes too far the other way, which leaves me to to straighten out the mess.

Auto-Command Center
The Command Center

Sounds like pretty gnarly and complicated conditions, huh? Well, they are! The winds are strong enough, that they pulsate with the pressure. You can sense when the pressure is building, when the storm passes and when it begins to abate just by the rhythm of the wind gusts. When the lull between gusts lengthens in duration, the wind is likely losing pressure and may also be changing directions, which means, climbing outside to check the trim of the sails and make adjustments. Now up to about 30-35 knots, I can use the smallest portion of the mainsail that I call the “storm stub.” Above that though, depending on the direction of the boat and waves, I use it or take it all down.

38.3553S, 94.4701E38.3553S, 94.4701E About 650 miles away from being under the down under.

Now things can get pretty interesting when you first jump back on deck. The waves are generally pretty huge … so you have to stay alert and do what you need to do and get back below before some “ginormous” wave lands. Yesterday, one caught me by surprise and totally doused me. It was like I’d won the Super Bowl and the team took a bathtub-sized Gatorade cooler and poured it over me. I had to laugh at the sea’s sense of humor … as if to say… ”Hey … you hiding down below all the time … welcome up on deck!” Trust me, I don’t dare try to get back at the sea; escalating joking at that level could quickly get out of hand, and not to my advantage.

So, back to the present, we’re just about through this latest frontal passage, which has been a tough one, though not as extended as last week’s was. It sounds like tomorrow I’ll see a bit of daylight, but I’ve got to keep the pace up because at the same time, we’re trying to outrun a combination low/cold front that is developing just behind me. I passed under it today, but the center is moving south and then will head towards me. If I’m able to keep my pace up around 8 knots through tomorrow, I should remain east of it, which should hopefully shrink the time I spend hunkered down to around 6 hours. It should also give me a pretty good push for a day or so. Since the big winds, when they do arrive, are likely to be in the 40-50 knot range, I’d REALLY like to minimize the time I have spend in the ring with thugs like that! So, push on I do … looking for that patch of blue!

A Patch of BlueSometimes even a little blue is enough to make you happy.

Once we get through this next storm, we should be into better weather conditions, hopefully for the rest of the passage to New Zealand. We’ll be crossing the 90 E Longitude barrier and crossing under Australia heading for Tasmania and then New Zealand. As far as milestones go, this morning, it appears that I crossed the 4000 miles remaining marker, so I’m hoping to be in New Zealand by the end of the first week of February. Since all supplies are starting to run low, sooner would be better. Not to worry though, I have plenty of fresh water and freeze-dried food. It’s just I’m running low on chocolate, candy, fruit juice, crackers, cheese, fresh fruit and of course, cookies. So, I’ve got plenty of things to keep me from going hungry. It’s more about having fun things to look forward to, when the sun goes away and you’re always soggy and cold.

So for now…. there you have it! Be back in a couple of days after the next front goes by!

- Dave, Bodacious Dream and (I’m NOT going out there) Franklin

P.S. Sign up for this email list is  … right here!

Stormy Beauty

The past week has been an interesting one out here on the Southern Ocean. Six days ago we crossed the 2000 miles from Cape Town line and just yesterday we made that 3000 miles from Cape Town. Turning around and looking the other way, it’s about 4000 miles yet to New Zealand. So on we go!

Early in the week, a series of cold fronts and low-pressure systems brought prolonged heavy winds and big seas for days at a stretch. Each day was pretty much the same as the one before it … more big winds and more big seas! Bodacious Dream and I handled it well, but we sure could have used a bit of a break. Like them or not, these are the prevailing conditions at the moment, and until I get about 500 miles further east, they will likely continue.

aquamarine_south_55039.5612499S, 70.330989E 

In the meantime, getting to experience storms up close, you begin to appreciate them not only for their great strength, but also for their great beauty; the size and shape of the waves, the rhythmic intensity of the winds, the swirling curtains of rain and the constantly shifting watercolor shades of grey. I try to capture some of these elements in my photographs, but they rarely show the bracing brilliance that you feel moving through the storm-charged air. As I’ve never before been in such extreme conditions for such an extended period of time, I am finding it all just mesmerizing. (I’ve shot quite a bit of video though, and once I’m back in Internet range, I’ll begin to upload some of it for you to see.)

So, what do you do when it’s storming out? Basically, you hunker down! You keep yourself wrapped in your foul weather gear, and at the ready to kick into action to address any situation that arises. In between times, I often sit below in the companionway and watch the storm (and time) go by. Occasionally, I read a bit from one of my books, but it’s a challenge to let your mind relax and drift away when all that’s going on around you is of such pressing importance and so incessant in its demands on your attention.

Not having a new video to send you, here is a video shot in the days before arriving in Cape Town taken in the gray morning after a long night of wet and windy weather.

Dave doing some hunkering down from the end of Leg 1

One of my little tricks to stay focused is to draw up a time schedule for extended storms. On it I mark for each hour the things I need to do; charging batteries, checking for water, navigating, making notes in the log, circling the deck and double-checking my gear. When each hour has passed, I cross it off. I do this on the sidewall of the cabin down below, and I find it helps to pass the time … but more importantly, it’s my way of making sure I don’t forget something very important in the process.

In harsh weather, the simple act of preparing and eating food takes on a new level of difficulty. Boiling water in rough weather is not so easy and can even be dangerous. Fortunately, the freeze-dried packaged foods CAN be eaten with cold water … but they’re certainly a heck of a lot better with hot water! So it is that cookies, crackers, cheese, beef jerky, chocolate and candies become your go-to snacks, though I sometimes have to scold myself to not eat so much of the candy!

When the wind is building up, one of the more difficult tasks is getting the mainsail under control. This is the large sail on the mast. It has a number of what are called “reef” points that allow you to reduce the size of the sail so that there’s less of it there to catch the more bullying winds. When the winds get to 30 knots or more, I pull the mainsail down to the storm “stub,” which is just a small bit of sail material above the boom. Sometimes, I take it down all the way. This can be rather difficult because when you get to that point in the storm, the winds are pushing the sail against the mast and rigging, making for a lot of friction which requires a lot more effort to take control of the sail. I occasionally find myself hanging my entire 210 pounds from the sail and it not moving at all!

BoDream Mainsail
My old pal, the mainsail …

When that happens, I have another system I use. I go up to the mast, climb up on the boom, hook a line over a part of the sail as high up as I can reach, and then bring the line back down to a winch, and then winch down the sail. Then I do the same thing again, and again a third time until I have it all down to the boom! It’s quite the physical feat, especially when you throw in wind, rain and waves, but it’s a necessity too … so you try to do it sooner than later. That’s not always a choice though, as sometimes the wind will just show up unannounced, in which case, it becomes a super handful of a job. But the good thing is that once the sail is down and tied to the boom, the boat becomes a lot easier to control because the small sail on the bow “pulls” the boat along, like it was a trailer behind a car as opposed to what happens when the mainsail is doing the work, where it’s more like a car “pushing” the trailer.

You know, now that I think about it, there are a lot of conversations going on between me and various parts of the boat … and the one I have going with the mainsail is among the most … well, comical I suppose, because it’s a bigger beast to tame.

By the way, in the Explorer Guides that we launched this past week in our previous BDX post, there is one called “Sailboat Glossary” that shows a picture of a single-masted sailboat like BoDream and shows you the names of all the main parts. Check it out, if you like.

Sailboat Glossary
From one of our new Explorer Guides

Well, it’s getting close to dark here, and predictably, the winds are supposed to build up again tonight and then even more tomorrow, so I want to get all my gear and schedules in order so I can keep control of this here boat. I guess sleep will have to wait until another day. I do get some sleep though over the course of the day, but it’s not easy when the winds are up and storms are shaking the house.

I’ve heard a lot of you have had it rough too with the recent and fiercely cold winter storms. I sure hope it’s breaking where you are and that the temperatures are starting to climb up again.

Be back as soon as I can …

- Dave, Bodacious Dream (and the soggy) Franklin

P.S. And you can always sign up for our email list … right here!

38.4578S, 86.5598E 38.4578S, 86.5598E 

Surfing Along Latitude 40

I trust you all had a good New Year, and are cast off now on the open seas of January. Bodacious Dream, Franklin and I had a good one, and have also been experiencing some very good sailing here the last few days.

As some of you know, I have a proclivity for mapping out waypoints. Typically, these are specific points on a nautical chart, but they can be more abstract goals as well, such as personal markers you set for yourself. Anyway, I use waypoints, so I have some gauge as to how things are progressing. When the distances you’re sailing are in the thousands of miles, you often can’t get your current position and your intended destination on the same chart, so by setting waypoints, you can give yourself a sense of accomplishment as you go along.

In the Middle of the Deep Blue Sea … 41.4829S, 59.4750E 

Today we marked off a couple of milestones. First, we passed 2000 miles sailed since leaving Cape Town on December 21st. So, now I’ve punched in my next waypoint at a point on the map that is 3000 miles from Cape Town! And also, when I zoom out on the electronic chart navigation system, I can see both where we are now AND Western Australia on one screen … which is kind of cool … not having the boat being the only thing on the screen!

So, Western Australia is about 2300 miles east of here and with any luck, in about two weeks, I should be cruising below that longitude and heading towards Tasmania … and then onto New Zealand. Now, Tasmania is about 3800 miles from here and New Zealand, currently about 5000 miles. So, there’s still a long way to go!

(Now, I’m not able to upload the new VIDEOS I’ve been shooting out here until we get closer to land … BUT I do have an earlier video that you haven’t seen and that I’m adding here because curiously enough, it was shot at an earlier milestone, when I was 2000 miles from Cape Town (as I am now) but on the Leg #1 side … as well as 5000 miles from our Jamestown, RI starting point, which is exactly as far as I am right now from our Wellington, NZ endpoint. (Lots of wind noise in this video – sorry about that, but you’re not missing much in this case.) 

2000 from Cape Town, but in the opposite direction … 

The past couple of days we’ve had some really sweet and steady winds, so I was able to keep up the speed and knock off some miles. Last night, I was able to surf off waves and so raised the speed up to 12 and 15 knots a couple of times. You can make some good miles this way, if you can keep it going. Unfortunately, by mid-morning today, the high-pressure system that follows the cold fronts pulled in … so now, I’m back to moseying along at 4 and 5 knots. But, the good thing is, I’m tracking straight east along Latitude 40 with yesterday’s total distance at over 200 miles!

It looks though like we’ve got some complicated weather coming in this week. There are a couple of low-pressure systems headed our way, and then there’s also a tropical cyclone that is presently up near Madagascar that just might spin off some energy into one of these southerly moving lows and intensify it. So, we’re hoping to make some good progress in the meantime, so we can stay in front of that storm and take advantage of its pushing winds, rather than fall behind it and have heavy wind in our face. So, I’m spending extra time trimming the sails and making sure the boat is open and moving the best she can. If all goes well, by Sunday of next weekend, we can say we’ve passed the 3000 miles from Cape Town mark, which is about half the distance to New Zealand!

sliver_moon_550This is a moment …

In the midst of all this sailing, there is always some startling beauty out here in the watery world. This photo I took of the sliver of a moon in the gold of the setting sun and one of my entourage of birds all came together just right. The beauty and balance of sea and sky, light and dark, movement and stillness all combine sometimes to give me this great feeling of peace and pleasure.

But for now, it’s back to the routine of sailing the boat, looking out for phantom ships, hoping to see whales and dolphins, making dinner, doing maintenance and eating chocolate … though I’m getting a bit worried I’ll run out of Hershey’s Dark Chocolate Kisses before the end of this leg. (Are you listening Jenny? Jenny’s my friend AND my Hershey’s contact!)

Again, thanks for following along. There will of course be more to come soon. And watch for our new Explorer Guides launching the middle of this week! The plan is to launch two of these every week for the next three weeks. This new set will be bigger and cover many more subjects than the earlier sets. They will have plenty of fun facts and provocative questions that will hopefully be of interest to learners of any age. I even learned from working on them!

So, until later …

- Dave, Bodacious Dream and Franklin (who recently realized that the earth is shaped the same as he is)

Schooling in Wild Wind and Weather

Albatross_200Saturday marked one week since leaving Cape Town, South Africa on a course through the Southern Ocean towards Wellington, New Zealand. The Southern Ocean is known for its cold northward flowing waters, its extreme weather but also for its large population of Albatross birds, who have the uncanny ability of seeming to fly forever without ever flapping their wings! This first week, I didn’t make the 1200 miles I was hoping for, as so much time was spent trying to escape the clutches of those high-pressure weather systems that keep the southern tip of South Africa insulated from the steady march of cold fronts that move southwest to northeast off the Southern Ocean.

This mix of cold fronts which are low-pressure systems, rotate clockwise here in the southern hemisphere while the high-pressure systems rotate counter-clockwise – and which generate a mostly steady stream of westerly winds, which is what I need to ride to get me to New Zealand. The dynamic combination of these two systems is what generates productive sailing winds. However, this past week, the highs have dominated the region and I have only had two cold fronts pass, one rather weak and the other last night rather robust.

Coming as I do from the far milder climes of the Midwestern Great Lakes, I am having to quickly learn these new weather systems and waters and to synchronize my experience and intuitions with this new ocean. Overall, this has made the past week pretty challenging. However, as the blustery front moved on today and the 30-knot winds diminished, a more steady westerly wind developed that allowed me to sail quite quickly through last night with wind speeds in the 17 knot range. That pace is more manageable on a boat like Bodacious Dream than the far pushier 30-knot winds.

Bodacious Dream, being a racing boat and so light in weight, can really move! While other world-crossing sailors often have larger, heavier boats and can make use of all the wind 30 knots can provide, I only need 15 to 20 knots for a really quick ride. So, when the winds get much higher, it becomes a lot of work for me to single-handedly keep this racehorse under control and not have her gallop off too fast.

splash2_550Earlier in the week … 35.394364S, 13.294403E

I know all this high-pressure, low-pressure extreme weather talk is dominating my narrative since leaving Cape Town, but that’s what’s happening, my friends! So, to recap, here’s the pattern as best as I can explain it.

The routine repeats itself every couple of days. First off, the winds begin to build up from the north and the northwest as a cold front approaches, pulling the winds from the high-pressure system in toward it. I set my course to the east and sail with those winds and watch for the telltale signs of the approaching cold front, typically about 24 hours away. Once I see squally conditions forming, I know that the front is approaching and that at some point, without warning, the winds will start to diminish, indicating the coming of an abrupt wind shift over to the southwest as the actual line of the front passes. At this time, I gybe the sails, but keep the boat on the same course, which means, I move the sails to the OTHER side of the boat and keep on sailing. Often, for an hour or two, the only difference is a change in temperature downward until a few hours AFTER the front has passed, at which point the clouds start to part and the sun begins to shine. Then, maybe 6 to 8 hours after that, the skies have cleared up and we continue sailing eastward on the southerly breezes … UNTIL they shift around to the north again and the pattern starts all over again.

I’m not even going to TRY to explain this map! 

This basic pattern is the one that is expected to continue for about 5 weeks, until we hit New Zealand where more local weather conditions will dictate different strategies for our arrival. This is probably why the Southern Ocean is so often referred to as a “desolate” sea. How many people would want to put up with these kind of knockabout conditions, unless it served some larger purpose, as it does in my case!

So, my daily routine has readjusted itself to match up with these weather patterns. This means that unlike at home when you get up and start your day, out here, I never quite know when the day begins as I am almost always somewhat awake and working to manage the boat or take care of something … sleeping only for brief intervals of 15 to 20 minutes. Such short intervals bring a little extra peace of mind as well as allowing me to keep an eye on the boat and to look out for other ships.

A not untypically beautiful Southern Ocean sunset … 40.54816S, 34.195064E 

In the midst of all this, I try to hold to some semblance of a personal routine as well. I’ll share that with you, if you care to read a little further.

Around sunrise, I take a couple of quick naps and then toast the day with my personal favorite beverage … an orange juice box! I’ll then set up the computer and send out a position report, as the Spot Adventures tracker, which did that automatically on Leg #1, isn’t active in this “desolate” part of the world. Once that is done, I’ll check instrument readings and write in my ship’s log the goings on for the past hour or so. After that, I might settle down and read for a bit or watch the waves and the sky.

I don’t generally take a lunch, but rather snack on foods through the day. Beef Jerky, crackers, cheeses, fruits and chocolate make up my most important food groups. At least a couple of times during the day, I’ll take over driving and allow Otto, the auto pilot a chance to relax. Once sunset happens, I leave it to Otto drive through the night. All through the day, depending on the wind direction and speeds, I make adjustments to the sails, plot navigation and make notes in the ship’s log. As I said, higher winds mean more sail adjustments … from reefing the mainsail to reefing the jib to taking the jib down and resetting it again.

I like to have my dinner late at night, after the sun has set and the winds have stabilized for the night. I’ll search through my “pantry” of freeze-dried foods and pick out something that sounds good … not that the choices aren’t already well known to me! Somewhere between 22:00 and 24:00, I’ll boil my water, mix up my food and then sit out on deck and dine al fresco under the stars! Something about the setting makes the food seem worthy of a five-star Michelin award – though last night the outside deck was closed due to inclement weather!

Franklin, Food and Fine Reading

I’ll then spend the rest of the night reading and napping on and off waiting for dawn to arrive at which point the routine begins all over again.

I wish there were more exciting events to report, but for the past few days, life has been a bit mundane … with the exception of the occasional big waves that crash over the cabin top and deck, the 30-knot winds and the incessant squally rain of last night. But aside from that, there’s nothing too exciting going on around here! Believe me, last night, even though all my Midwest friends tell me how cold it is there right now, I still found myself wishing I was there … that is until the clouds broke and the sun started to shine again!

That’s it for now … Wow, the new year is almost upon us! All good wishes to all of you for a great one!

- Dave, Bodacious Dream and Franklin (my bouncing buddy)

Currently @ … 39.803250S, 35.970750E 

Christmas in the Southern Ocean

It’s Christmas Eve here in the Southern Ocean. Bodacious Dream, Franklin (the ball boy) and I are enjoying the day even though today’s winds have been less than generous. Last night the winds kicked up, but against a strong current, which made for very confusing seas and sailing that was less than comfortable. This morning, as the sun rose, the winds flat out disappeared, and the seas settled down, such that we are just barely moving along at the moment. This gives me some time to relax, to nap and even to sing a few Christmas carols to myself! (Franklin just winces!)

Now, I know some of you may not have gotten over to Facebook to get the word that we departed Cape Town Saturday morning. Before we left I had spent a few days up at the top of Bodacious Dream’s mast making some repairs. Here again is the link to the small FB photo album I included in the last post, but here’s a never before seen short video I made of the splendid views from the top of that mast.

A Grand View of Cape Town 

Truth be told, I’ve been a bit melancholy since leaving, missing my friends and thinking of my family and the holidays. This year, as I did last year, I am spending the holidays away at sea. Next year, I’m planning on staying home and enjoying them properly amidst fine company.

The next five or six weeks will likely consist of our encountering an ongoing series of frontal weather passages. Every couple of days, a cold front should arrive, moving winds from north to south, followed by a day or two of erratic winds before another cold front arrives. I’m told this will prove a regular routine that I’ll soon grow used to. So we’ll see if things play out that way. In any case, I’m already looking forward to getting to New Zealand and seeing old friends there! In the meantime, I’ll distract myself tonight by keeping an eye out for miraculous happenings in the Christmas Eve sky!

One of the longer ones … 

There has been a rather regular flow of ships passing me the last couple of days; most of them coming from or going towards the Pacific Ocean. Some are very large, some not so large at all. Yesterday, I had a fishing boat pass by very close to me and we talked on the radio for a bit. He asked where I was sailing to, as he could tell I was heading east, and he was excited when he heard I was headed to New Zealand – and even more excited to learn that I was sailing alone. He wished me the best of sailing and a safe passage. That’s a pretty kind gesture coming from a fisherman, as these gentlemen make their life on the sea and have a rather protective relationship with it. I feel in a way as though he crossed my path just to welcome me into his waters and to wish me a safe passage.

Any other visitors I’ve had, have flown in to see me … lots of birds and flying fish, but I still have yet to see a whale. I was certain that by now, that I’d have spotted one, as some of the sailors in Cape Town had indicated there were a few pods roaming in these waters. I did see a few seals near Cape Town. It seemed as though I had surprised them, as they stopped what they were doing and watched me for a while before plunging back underwater. You can be sure, I’ll continue to keep an eye out for interesting wildlife.

So, as night has arrived, my attention turns to food. For dinner tonight, I’m planning Chicken Fajitas (from which I’ve painstakingly removed the beans) and fresh tortillas. I’ll toss in an extra ration of chicken (from my special supply) and then a dash of Worcestershire sauce. I’ll finish with some fresh cookies. That sounds a little bit Christmassy, doesn’t it?

In any case, the simplicity of the fare will stand in humble contrast to the magnificence of the sea around me. The meal may soon fade from memory, but where I was on Christmas Eve 2013 will not. My Grandmother once told me, make sure you have memorable experiences in life … someday, you may have very little, but you will always have your memories. Thanks for that advice Granny! I’m doing what I can.

35.23570S, 19.14.7133E

In closing then, a little card wishing you and your friends and your families, a most memorable holiday. I’ll be thinking of you all, as I take my short Christmas Eve walk tonight around the decks!

- Dave, Bodacious Dream & Franklin (who just keeps rolling with it)

Cape Town Views #2

Tuesday here in Cape Town was crazy windy. Actually, it’s been crazy windy for a couple of days. Sunday was nice enough, but Monday and today had the wind blasting us with both barrels. Yesterday, Tim Eades and I were working on Bodacious Dream at the same time we were experiencing gusts over 40 knots … with sustained winds in the 30’s all around the harbor.

Today, I had to climb to the top of the mast to make some repairs to the wind wands and so Tim, Steve (an instrument guy) and I tried to avoid the worst of the winds by starting early. So there I was at 7:30 am at the top of the mast where for a couple of hours I worked on the mast sensors while rocking back and forth in 45-knot winds! We heard that other boats clocked winds as high as 62 knots! Wild! It was quite a game of patience and nerves handling tools and small parts and screws. Unfortunately, when I got done with the work we had planned, we came upon another problem, which means I will have to go back up the mast tomorrow. I cringe to even look at the weather forecast!

Dave really up at the “top” of the mast … 

Cape Town is renowned for its winds this time of year as the weather systems compress the winds that push around Cape Point and move on up the Western Coast of South Africa.

I’ve added some photos taken along the coast as I made a trip to see the actual Cape of Good Hope. Along the way, we happened upon a pair of wild ostriches and their young down by the sea.

Cape of Good Hope OstrichesWild Ostriches

We also came across some wild baboons. As I learned, baboons are quite smart, and have caused quite a few problems in the neighborhoods around the area. At the same time, the animal control and various management services have to work hard to keep the animals safe and independent.

Cape of Good Hope BaboonsBaboons

And, of course, there were penguins as well. But I’ll have more to say on them later.

Cape of Good Hope
Right there at the Point … 

In the meantime, for the past week or so, work has been progressing on the boat as I make the necessary modifications and repairs so that this next leg proceeds even more efficiently and enjoyably than the last. Some of the repairs we’ve made have been to the mast instruments, hydro generator mount, spray shields and engine. Boats are always in use and so require regular maintenance to keep them working properly.

Salt, the main difference in the water of the ocean compared to the fresh water of the Great Lakes where I grew up sailing, causes all sorts of corrosion and it’s a constant battle to stay ahead of those effects. It really takes some careful thinking to try and anticipate where it’s going to cause the next problem. Zippers are a particularly persistent problem. You wouldn’t think so, but the metal part of a zipper condensates and attracts the salt, and since zippers sometimes don’t get much use, the salt cakes up in the mechanism and freezes the zipper in place – so coat pockets, bags and such are always giving me problems!

Table Top MountainCable Car up on Table Mountain with the “Table Cloth” Spilling Over …

So, as of today, we’re in pretty good shape with Bodacious Dream. The action list is down to a few minor items, and some shopping for fresh foods. Tim has been a tremendous help, not only with man-hours, but with his many suggestions and reminders as well. He’s heading home tomorrow as I begin looking for a weather window that will allow me a clean getaway from Cape Town. As of today, we’re hoping for some time Friday, Saturday or else, Monday morning for that chance. I’ll be keeping you posted … but soon enough we’ll be off, and commencing the 7000-mile voyage to Wellington, NZ.

So, it looks like I’ll be spending Christmas at sea again this year, as I did last year when I approaching the end of my Trans-Atlantic crossing from Portugal. Once again, I’ll be looking up into the night sky hoping for a glimpse of Santa as I take my traditional midnight walk … even if once gain, it’s just a couple loops around the boat!

So, stay tuned, the next leg is soon to start!

- Dave and Bodacious Dream

Tegan’s Science Notes #2 – Wind and Weather

(This is the second in a series of “Science Notes” from from our ocean scientist colleague, Tegan Mortimer, who works with Earthwatch Institute. These postings follow from encounters with nature that I have on the water. Tegan’s first Science Notes was onBird Migrations” – and can be found at the link or on our Citizen-Science Resource Page. Tegan’s Science Notes support our “Learning and Discovery” agenda, which we will keep expanding on over the course of the circumnavigation. Such “custom-made” reports we feel are particularly appropriate for sharing with the younger learners in your world. Please Contact Us if you have questions or suggestions on how we might better serve the interests of young learners and their mentors. Thank you, and take it away, Tegan!)

Today we’re going to talk about a very important topic; wind and weather. Dave spends a lot of time paying attention to the wind and weather patterns that control his journey. There are two types of weather patterns that Dave is confronted with: global weather and local weather.

Let’s start with global weather. These are weather and wind patterns which occur over very large parts of the globe and don’t change very much if they change at all. These are things like the trade winds and the doldrums.

So how does it work? Let’s start with the most basic concept of weather: warm air rises and cold air sinks. Understanding this concept is the first key to understanding weather and wind. Imagine that the air around you isn’t all this one big cloud of, well, air; instead it’s lots of pockets or parcels of air like cushions all packed together. By the way, this same phenomenon happens under the ocean with seawater as well as inside the earth’s core with magma.

Now, going back to the atmosphere, these different pockets can have different properties; different temperatures, different moisture contents and they can move independently of each other. A pocket that’s close to the surface of the earth is going to receive more heat from the earth than a pocket of air higher up in the sky. This warm pocket of air will start to rise and as it rises, it cools down until it reaches a point where it starts sinking again. This process than will start all over again as parcels of air keep going up and down. This movement of air upwards is sometimes called an updraft.

Now what does this all have to do with winds? First we have to imagine that we have a parcel of warm air at the ground. Like a balloon this air is going to rise, but as it rises, its temperature goes down. Eventually this air cools enough that it will start sinking back down. So we end up with our air going up and down over and over.

Let’s imagine this process of air rising and then sinking stretched over a longer distance, so that once the air sinks, it flows across the surface picking up heat until it rises again. The surface of the earth is covered by a series of these rising and sinking cells.

Global Wind Patterns

If we look at the diagram above we see that there are three major cell types. I’m going to talk about the Northern Hemisphere here, but it is exactly the same in the Southern Hemisphere - just flipped the other way! Hadley Cells transport air from the tropics towards the equator where it rises and is carried northward aloft. The Ferrel Cells cover the mid-latitudes and carry air which sinks at the tropics north to the Polar Cells which transport cold air south from the poles. This system helps to distribute the excess heat in the equator and tropics out to the mid-latitudes and polar regions.

What you’ll also notice is that this system of circulation gives rise to the major winds, especially the trade winds which Dave has been experiencing, and which are so essential to trans-Atlantic crossings.

Now it’s time to introduce the second major concept: high and low pressure. When you have a steady stream of air rising, it’s not going to be able to sink back down because there is more air pushing up behind it; instead it flow outwards before sinking down again. Where the air rises and disperses is a low pressure and where the air converges and sinks is a high pressure. Air will always flow from an area of high pressure to an area of low pressure. This “pressure” concept is found throughout biology and chemistry as well.

If we look at the equator, between the two Hadley cells, we see that air is traveling towards the equator, rising, and then flowing outwards. This is a Low Pressure area. Conversely, when we look at the area between a Hadley cell and Ferrel cell we see that the air converges aloft, sinks and then flows outwards, this is a High Pressure. What this means is that there is a low pressure all the way around the equator, a high pressure around latitude 30° and another low around latitude 60°. Air naturally flows from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure. When this is combined with the revolution of the earth you get the major winds.

highs and lowsSource:

You’ve probably heard about high and low pressures in your local weather reports too. High and low pressure areas occur when the surface pressure is either higher or lower than the surrounding “sea level pressure” which can happen for a variety of reasons. These pressure systems are responsible for most of our local weather. The same process that I described early is occurring here as well, a low pressure is air moving up and away and a high pressure is air moving down to the earth.

The GENERAL RULE is that air flows into a low pressure and away from a high pressure. In the northern hemisphere winds flow clockwise around a high pressure and counter-clockwise around a low pressure, and it’s the opposite direction in the southern hemisphere. Low pressure systems are usually associated with cloudy, wet, and “unsettled” weather while high pressure systems bring dry and clear conditions.

So, let’s finish off with a problem. Below is a picture of winds (taken from a very cool site) which are forming a weather system. Based on this map we can say a lot about the local weather. Are we looking at a high pressure or a low pressure? What types of weather are associated with low pressures? What types of weather are associated with high pressures? What do you think the conditions are like in the area shown? 

Let’s break it down based on what we’ve learned. So we are in the northern hemisphere so we can figure out if this is a high or a low pressure based on the circulation of the winds. They are circulating counter-clockwise which means that this is a low pressure. Another clue is that the winds are circulating into a tight center rather than out of an area like we can see to the left. The bolder lines on this map show stronger winds so we can see that there are strong winds around the low pressure and lighter winds around the higher pressure to the west. We also know that low pressures being rain and cloudy weather. So looking at this map we can say that most of the northeastern United States is experiencing rainy or stormy weather with high winds. In fact this is a map showing wind conditions during Hurricane Sandy last year.

(Tegan Mortimer is a scientist with Earthwatch Institute. Contact Tegan directly at Tegan Mortimer <tmortimer (at) earthwatch (dot) org>)