Friday, April 20, 2018

Part 3: Back to US territories! Do landmasses breath?

Sunday, April 1: April Fools Day.

Although the military in Puerta Plata had told us everyone goes on vacation for the long weekend and we could not leave any harbor until Monday (or was it Tuesday?), Ocean World has clout and the military signed us out on Sunday, after various paperwork and a quick inspection of the boat, probably for drugs. Larry had cleaned the bilges and removed a rag caught on the shaft, so oil and salt was no longer coating the engine: no more fumes! And Bill had downloaded his charts and I had full weather forecasts and routing advice from PredictWind. Not only that, but we had rinsed and dried things in the boat, as well as enjoying showers on land and some big tasty dinners, and were back to feeling human and ready to go.

The wind had switched and now we felt a nice warm wind, coming nearly straight from our destination. We started by taking the advice of PredictWind...and sailed away from land for about ten hours. Once I went to bed, the guys turned on the engine to gain a little advantage and be able to head higher, but I'm not convinced it helped with such a headwind (I did the numbers and found it to be either a wash or a waste, but the guys felt it was helpful. Also, I am religious about only using engines in light winds and this trip has increased my convictions) and the engine noise makes me miserable. However, I had suggested that whoever is on watch gets to decide on use of engines, sails, etc, so fair is fair.... and we no longer had fumes from the engine now that Larry had fixed things.

The wind weakened as the hours passed and, after a day, we were ready to motor most of a day with a unanimous vote rather than barely moving along at 3kts or less, sails flapping, accidentally steering in circles, autopilot unable to cope: low wind sucks without an engine. By the time my night watch came around (usually about 10 or midnight) the wind started picking up again as forecast, so I shut off the engine and unfurled the jib and sailed along under dark skies, the only noises being the waves splashing gently away, the occasional creak of the rigging, and the muttering (many times I thought I heard voices) of the blocks above Larry's cabin as the lines made micro-movements as the boat shifted. By sunrise the wind had died again and we motored the last mile into Puerto Real, a little fishing village on the west coast of Puerto Rico. Bill and I had phone signal again for the first time since Key West! Sweet!

As we entered the harbor, a flock of swallows noisily investigated our dinghy/davits/solar panel, perhaps scouting possible nesting spots, then left after ten minutes.
We tied up to the fuel dock, filled the tank, asked the fellow there about where to go for immigration and customs. Turns out Larry needed to take our info over to customs, but we only needed to call immigration on the phone: how nice and friendly! AND they weren't asking for, sorry, "tips": so nice to be back in the USA. I volunteered to let the guys go ashore while I cared for Gigi, so they took the cart and went shopping while I anchored Gigi and had a nice chat with a Russian expat (was doctor, now construction worker in Canada) who was sailing north.

As evening approached the fellows, bitten by midges and mosquitoes, returned and we set off for the south shore of PR and the Virgin Islands. With no wind, we motored across the glassy waters in the sunset, keeping well away from land and shoals.

PredictWind told us the wind would pick up by midnight and it did, so we sailed toward South Africa (just a direction, not a destination!) as it told us to do until 10:00 the next morning... although we got impatient and tacked at about 8am. Beautiful day of sailing... and it felt so odd to be able to see land!

And this brings us to a really interesting fact: land masses breath, inhaling and exhaling on a 24-hr cycle as the land warms and cools under sunshine or darkness. When the land warms, the warm air above them rises and winds sweep in from the sea to replace it: your stereotypical salty sea breeze at the beach. And while we sleep the land cools, the air becomes heavy and flows out into the warmer ocean air: the nightly land breeze. So, this pattern distorts the smoothly flowing trade winds around Puerto Rico,
distorting them inward during the day
and outward during the night.
And, while a randomly timed effort to tack up the coast might make forty
miles in a day, taking advantage of these flows can add twenty miles to that.... and PredictWind told us when to tack to take best advantage! Very cool!

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