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Wind is back

The days of the forecasted calms have passed. The subtropical High is being pushed in the area where we find ourselves by a low pressure coming from the west. Isobars look squeezed in the meteorological prediction software, so there is wind to come. The trade winds blow in the north, the calm center of the Pacific Gyre is in a westerly direction from us. 

Studying the computer screen in the wheelhouse displaying the weather models, and having in mind the well-known general circulation patterns of the South Pacific, make for plotting our route according to the predicted changes. An estimated path that can be adapted with every new forecast received. Like this we keep track of the distance covered so far, the distance left to sail, and how to manage it. But these ways of navigation are relatively recent, and the father and precursor of these interpretations Lieutenant Matthew Fontaine Maury in the mid-18-hundreds. He is considered the founder of scientific ocean routing, spending his life determined to find "the paths of the seas”. His published research and observations showed sailors to better use the currents and winds, after charting the routes of hundreds of ships making the same trips along the year. He used and compiled their data on winds, currents, temperatures, and magnetic influences on the compasses along their way. 

Nevertheless, despite having this information and the routing drastically improved since then, the ships still had and have to cross rough seas and areas with no wind. Most probably both if taking a long voyage, plus the whims of local weather. At about the same time as the development of extensive routing charts, Robert Fitz Roy developed the ideas and a system for weather forecasting. The same Fitz Roy that about thirty years earlier captained the HMS Beagle on a surveying voyage around the world. The naturalist on board, Charles Darwin.  

Up until the mid-nineteenth century, sailors could find out the best way of avoiding regions of calm, or at least the worst of them, only by talking to other sailors. There was a body of traditional lore built up over the previous few hundred years. But this was unsystematic and anecdotal, and sporadic as well. 


Relatively few vessels crossed oceans, so there wasn’t a large body of knowledge to draw on. And it was difficult to perceive patterns because of the variableness of weather in different places and seasons, and from year to year. 

… There was no pattern or paradigm of the good and bad times, or of the bad and worse times, to make a passage.  

Derek Lundy. “The Way of a Ship” 

For us, once more the wind blows and the ship actually sails at some good speed towards Easter Island. But it is not until the afternoon that it actually happens. A quite close match with the forecast we have.  

Light winds blew now and then during last night, but by sunrise, they had died down again to a North-easterly 5 or 6kn. The sun rises in the calm seas and light airs over partially cloudy skies but today no squalls are in sight… yet. 

By mid-morning things start to change, a bit stronger north-easterly blows. Time for some sail rearranging. Braced now sharper to Beam Reach, the Studding sails on Port side come down and are packed. Later on, we set some of the Staysails and the canvas in the Mizzen Mast. 

The afternoon offers enough wind and ship’s speed to try once more a complete circle of three Manta trawls lasting half an hour each. Yesterday just one of the three trawls was successful, then the ship was sitting almost still without any power to drag the net. 

After the sun sets, the wind shifts a bit between a Northerly and North-easterly 10, 12, 15, 18kn gradually increasing. Europa picks up a bit of speed from 5 to 7kn, even more when by dinner time she runs in front of a squall. 

Studding sails on Starboard are still up there but during those conditions, they are pulled down and packed. Their booms brought in and lashed on the yards, their running rigging also tidied up. With the weather and wind prediction for the upcoming days, with strong northerlies soon to sweep over us, we will not need them anymore.  

And like this, during the night the wind gradually keeps on rising, making for good and faster sailing. A good feeling after the last couple of days of light airs and slow speed.

Written by:
Jordi Plana Morales | Expedition Leader

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