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Thursday, April 25, 2019

A Ride-Along on the Atlantic

The time is 2020 (8:20 PM) and we are currently under sail at Lat N20 4.62’ and Long W70 0.37’. Or, Latitude  N 20 degrees 4 minutes and 62 seconds. (Now 63 seconds) and Longitude W 70 degrees 0 minutes and 37 seconds. (Now 38) You can see where the Lat and Long are going. 
Compass shows our heading,
as does chartplotter,
below right.

We are moving northwest (on a Heading of 320 degrees) toward the small island of South Caicos, to a place called Cockburn Harbor. It is one of the Customs and Immigration entry points into the Turks and Caicos. 
Top-time of day.
2nd-Apparent wind speed
3rd-GPS Heading
4th-GPS Speed
5th-Depth (blank here)
6th-GPS Position

We are sailing at a blistering speed of approximately 5.5 kts, or 6.3 mph. You might be able to run faster. We left at 0600 this morning and have calculated that the passage will take us about 36 hours. We hope to arrive before nightfall tomorrow.  Entering an unknown harbor in the dark is not a wise thing to do. Whenever possible, we attempt to err on the side of wise.
These islands are all the Turks & Caicos,
part of the UK

First off, to those who earlier praised my writing skills, I apologize. My recent post about lost and found words was dull and trite. Secondly, to those who suggested that I might consider teaching geography, I chuckle heartily and hope you will join me in doing so when you learn the following.
When seas are calm, I
can work outside on
cockpit table

I was in error when describing the Bahamas in an earlier post, which I now want to correct. I stated with certainty that the Turks and Caicos are part of the Bahamas. Not true. At one time they were all part of the Bahamas Colony of the UK, but in 1848 they gave up trying to unite all the islands. 
Explains Q Flag and Bahamas
and Turks & Caicos flags

The Turks and Caicos Islands remain a part of the United Kingdom while the remainder of the islands are Bahamian. Maybe this seems like an insignificant geopolitical point, but I’m sure that to the people of the Turks and Caicos it is not. So, when we arrive in Cockburn Harbor, we will be flying our Q flag (bright yellow quarantine flag) until cleared in and then the flag of the UK, not the Bahamas flag. 
A comfy spot in cockpit at night. The picture
looks red because we use red headlamps at
night to prevent interference with
our night vision.

Since the night stretches out before me with little wind and not much to do in the way of active sailing, I thought I would share something of what is going on in the cockpit of the sailboat. Inotherwords, if you were sitting here with me, what are the things you would/might be paying attention to as we sail along. 
This is what you would see facing forward
standing behind the wheel. Chartplotter
on right. Autopilot on left.  Wheel below.
You can see the sails through the window.

To other sailors, this post will also be somewhat dull and trite. However, I have a lot of friends and family that have never sailed (some that would rather die than step onto a sailboat) and I feel a certain responsibility to fill in some of the gaps about sailing and perhaps dispel some fears. Or, potentially create new ones.  We’ll see.
When you look down you would see the
wheel (helm) and compass. There's a
seat for you at the helm if you like.

The trade winds are mellow for the next 24 hours or more and they’re at our back. Mellow, but fairly consistent at around 12 knots. That’s just enough energy to keep us moving at that 5.5 knots that I mentioned. If the wind should die, we’ll turn on the engine to maintain a speed between 5 and 6 knots. We need to arrive in daylight after all. 

Many ways to look at
weather  forecasts. These
are only some of them.
Because the wind is behind us, this is a downwind sail. We are using only one sail, that being the genoa, the larger of the two headsails that attach to the top of our mast and extend to our bow. (Bow= pointy end of the boat.) We have it *sheeted loosely, so that it forms a big scoop to catch as much wind as possible to push us forward. 
This is a photo of mains'l, but it
is intended to show how you can
look at the sails in the dark.
Headlamp, or flashlight.

*On a sailboat, the sheets are the lines that are attached to the sail that we pull tight or loosen from the cockpit to control the sails’ shape. There are no ropes on a sailboat. None. All of the lines have other names which are important to know but for your ride-along this evening, you can let that slide. 

Several lines run through
chocks to lock them. The
sheets are wrapped around

Why do we have only one sail up? The mains’l remains tucked in its resting place atop the boom because if we were to raise it, it would block the wind from reaching the genoa and then our genoa would be flopping back and forth. So, we adjust the sheets from the cockpit to get the most that we can out of that one sail and leave it at that. Nothing fancy about this evening’s sail.
The video has two sails up, but I wanted to
show you what the ocean is like when it's
fairly calm.

How do we know where to go? We find our destination or a waypoint shy of the destination and set a course toward it by setting the auto-pilot to steer the boat in that direction. Given that we’re in deep water and there is nothing out here to run into, this is a simple matter. An auto-pilot can steer in heavy seas better than we could. It’s a unit that is connected to the rudder and tells it how to steer. Ingenious.
Alternate topographical display on the

The moon hasn’t risen yet and it’s black like velvet.  Of course, there is nothing to see except for the water around us. If we saw lights on the horizon, we would have to put some thought into figuring out how far away the vessel was and where it was heading so as to avoid a collision. We have tools to help us with that and it’s astonishingly easy to do. Chart plotters are amazing. 
Chartplotter display showing our boat, our
path behind us and direction we're headed.
Ocean depths are the tiny numbers.

I have checked the chart plotter out to a distance of about 40 miles. There are no boats anywhere around.  At least, none that are broadcasting their position by AIS ( Automatic Identification System) and this far out on the ocean, most boats are going to be broadcasting as well as receiving data from other boats that are transmitting their location, heading and speed. 
While not on watch, we can sleep. The dark
cloth is a lee cloth It's tied to prevent the
sleeper from rolling off the settee.

In spite of that relative margin of safety, we cannot just all go to sleep and let the boat do its’ thing. It is theoretically possible that a fast moving boat could intersect with us in 20 to 30 minutes so you and I are on watch for the next three hours. We have chosen 3 hour watches for our passages. It’s an arbitrary period of time.
GPS position also shown
upper left part of screen.

Back to the chart plotter.  It not only shows us the location, heading and speed of other boats but also shows our own *GPS location (our Lat and Long), our GPS heading, our GPS speed, and even the depth of the water beneath us. Tonight, the depth meter has shut itself off when the distance to the ocean floor dramatically increased. 
Other boat instru-
ments. Top, last
recorded depth.
Below-water temp
82.3 degrees

The last reported depth was 54 feet. It will turn on again when the ocean floor rises up to meet us. At that time it will be our job to avoid running into that ocean floor, which will have become an island or at the very least, a rock. But we’re a long way from any land and so we won’t worry about that tonight. 
Look behind you to see the dinghy
riding several feet above the water.  

If you’re interested, the chart plotter map face or a paper map can show you the reported depths of the ocean floor based upon readings taken at some time over the last three centuries and that now inform the makers of the maps, etc. The map says that the ocean depth here is 14,580 ft. About 2 1/2 miles deep. Cool.
We use paper maps, too.

So, things are going swimmingly here, don’t you think? Our 3 hour watch will soon be over and we can go to bed. Until then, some chamomile tea? It’s been a quite pleasant evening out here on the Atlantic, has it not?
We are heading to a location on the upper
right side of the Caicos Bank. (paper map)

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