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Back to the Maldives

Monday, 21 September 2009, at sea

NATO fleet in Mahe, Seychelles. Fighting piracy?
NATO fleet in Victoria, Seychelles. Fighting piracy?

Dear Friends and Family,

It's 6am and the sun has just leapt over the horizon and burst through the clouds, lighting them all up in golden splendor.  Since we've just past the dark of the moon, most of the night has been lit only by the stars, so sunrises are especially wonderful.

On Friday we sailed northeast from Mahe to Praslin Island, which has a delightful little bay on its west end.  Saturday, Sue decided that Jon's eye should not be subjected to the rigors of snorkeling, so she scrubbed all of Ocelot's bottom - by herself!  A huge job, but now Ocelot should slide through the water much more easily.  Then on Sunday we lashed everything down, pulled up the anchor, set full sail, and headed east-northeast for Addu Atoll - the southernmost of the Maldives.  We've now sailed 130 miles from the Seychelles.

Addu is an atoll - a ring of islands (motus) surrounding a central lagoon.  We're headed for the island of Gan, which is the southernmost island in the atoll.  We stopped there in 2007 on our way to Chagos.  Note that we sometimes refer to Gan and Addu interchangeably.  Gan is just 41 nautical miles south of the equator.

One of many amazing sunsets on passage to Maldives
One of many amazing sunsets on passage

We're planning a curved course to Gan, one that goes east-northeast and just touches the equator before coming southeast into Gan.  This is primarily to catch the east-flowing Equatorial Counter Current.  It should also maximize what winds are out here.

Somewhat surprisingly, the winds have been very good to us so far.  Our GRIB files have been predicting only about 5 knots of wind along this leg, which is why we decided to take on more diesel.  But we've had 15‑20 knots of wind, which makes a delightful sailing breeze.  We're not sure how long it will last, but we certainly appreciate it.

There were US, Spanish, Norwegian, and Italian warships in the Seychelles when we left.  We contacted 2 of them and they had no news of any new pirate encounters in the area.  They also gave us contact info if we have any trouble.  Also, the US is moving Predator Drones into the Seychelles.  Presumably this means that their Rules of Engagement have changed.  But we're rapidly sailing out of any previous pirate areas.

Fair winds and calm seas -- Jon and Sue Hacking


Tuesday, 22 September 2009, Very much at sea!

Squalls are common when sailing in the ITCZ
Squalls are common when sailing in the ITCZ

Dear Friends and Family,

It's just past noon, the sun is bright on an ocean ruffled by a light breeze, and Ocelot is (finally!) sailing along nicely.  This is Sue writing because Jon is getting some shut-eye and I have now, after 2 days at sea, been fully marinized.  That means I can do email, read books and solve Sudoku puzzles without getting queasy.

Yesterday, shortly after Jon sent the email about how wonderfully Ocelot was sailing with the unexpected 16‑18 knots of wind, the skies clouded over and the wind died.  So for the next 24+ hours, Motor Vessel Ocelot played a game of "bounce between the squalls."  It was wet, dark, and not a real fun day, and it continued through the night so we didn't send a newsletter.  But with the port engine ticking over at 1800 rpm we were able to maintain about 4.5 knots, and our 24 hour, noon-to-noon run was a reasonable 114 miles.

Jon off watch. Novels. Sudoku. Snoozing.
Jon off watch. Novels. Sudoku. Snoozing.

What we use for weather predictions on the boat are called GRIB files, and we get one every day via email.  Our classic saying is that "GRIBs lie like a dog."  It was sure true our first day out of Praslin when we were projected to have winds of only 10 knots but instead had 18.  Typically, we have more wind than is forecast.  But yesterday we were in an area projected to have 5‑10 knots from the south and instead we had 0‑5 knots from everywhere.  The GRIBs show an area to the northeast of us that is completely without wind, but that is supposed to be several days in the future.  If we entered it early, and it extended for very far, we were in big trouble.  Neither of us wants to (nor can we!) motor the whole way across the Indian Ocean!

After the sun was up (still behind squalls) this morning we noticed cheery little "cats paws" (ruffles) on the water from astern.  But there was nothing ahead or to the side.  A false little breeze, we thought.  But lo!  That was almost 5 hours ago and we are sailing still!  It seems we MAY have found the illusive Southwest Monsoon winds which we were hoping to find in a few days!  Touch wood.  Let's hope my optimism isn't a jinx!

All these squalls and unsettled weather are probably due to a nasty little reality of near-Equator sailing.  Since the winds south of the Equator are coming from the east, and those north of the Equator are coming from the west, they have to do something when they meet.  Hence the ITCZ or Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone.  Light winds, squalls, thunder storms.  You name it.  In the Atlantic they are known as the infamous "Doldrums".  Please wish us a narrow and non-stormy ITCZ as we move closer to the Equator!

Red Footed Boobies circled above us. Photo c. Amanda Hacking
Red Footed Boobies circled above us

Jon is getting much needed sleep with the calm seas and after his "obligatory" 48 hours without sleep.  Sue is getting more arm exercise trimming the sails for the past 4 hours to keep Ocelot sailing.  It's 85F (29C), very gentle on the sea, the fishing lines are out, Ocelot is sparkling clean from all the rain and life is good.

At noon we were at 234'S 5943'E or 263 miles from the Seychelles with 815 miles to go to Gan, in the southern Maldives.

Some folks have been asking about our fishing:  We put a line out when we sailed to Praslin.  Something big hit it and we lost everything from halfway down the (steel) leader!  This is now the 3rd time that has happened on that sail.  So now we don't fish when we're on the Seychelles Bank.  Just too many big fish (there are many HUGE tuna clippers there).  We've put together more lures and dragged 2 "squids" all day today but no bites.

Fair winds and calm seas -- Sue and Jon Hacking

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