Now that are Pacific crossing has started in earnest, the question of tactics come up. It is actually quite simple at this point. Every three days or so, lows develop off the southern part of Japan and then head north-eastward towards the Aleutian Islands. Our strategy is to ride those series of lows as much possible on the southern edge across the North Pacific to roughly the international dateline that separates the Eastern from Western Hemisphere. What this means is that if we time it right, we can have strong winds blowing east to west (low pressure systems rotate counter-clockwise), which means at our backs, making for an exhilarating high speed run across the Pacific. The downside of riding the lows is that there will be a lot of rain and wet weather, with high winds at times and big seas.
On day 9 we have had a taste of the winds with strong 25-30 knot winds. There were several periods where we had consistent winds in the 45-50 knot range. But, with the wind from behind or nearly behind, the ride was much easier and faster than if we had to head into them. Riding the large Pacific swells with strong winds and occasional sun is an experience I really enjoyed today.
I’m still not quite used to the watch system though. Going to bed at 12 am, getting up at 2:30 am, going to bed at 6 am and back on deck at 9 am, day after day does take its toll. Constant fatigue can lead to small mistakes, so I have to be on my toes to think through actions. It does take longer.
We also ended up changing sails eight times in the past 18 hours. These are sails that probably weigh each between 200-400 pounds. I’m tired, so off to for a quick sleep now.
The mighty Pacific lived up to her name on Day 10. During our 3 am to 6 am watch, the winds again began picking up and we struggled to put the 3rd reef in the main (make the main sail as small as possible). We managed that though and were eventually greeted by the sun rising and even larger swells. By 11 am, there was no longer any doubt that we were in the midst of the Pacific. Under partly sunny skies, the winds eventually reached gusts of 58-60 knots and the waves were something I had never seen before. Truly huge! Riding on top of one and looking down in the trough between the waves looked a long way down! Similarly, when it builds behind the boat, you tend to look up in awe. Although you know you are riding the edge to maintain boat speed and our second place position, safety of the crew and boat stays in the forefront of our minds.
On day 11, the rough weather of the past two days was evident as we spent the morning repairing reef lines (ropes that make the sails smaller) that had worn through from the tough conditions. Add on a couple more sail changes to match the wind, and our watch ended up being up for nearly12 hours.
There are times it is so beautiful out here, but being constantly in racing mode leaves little time to enjoy at the moment. Unfortunately, we lost our second place position due to the repairs we needed to make, but with roughly 4,000 miles to go we are confident that we can regain it.
Later, when I have some downtime, I will describe a bit what life on a racing yacht is like. But here’s a hint, it is far from glamorous.