Sailing to the Marquesas from El Salvador is different from leaving from the Galapagos. In the Galapagos you’re already below the equator and the only decision to make is how far south do you sail to maximize favorable winds and minimize unfavorable sea state and ocean currents. Basically it’s west all the way. From El Salvador, and for the dozens of boats that make the crossing from Mexico each year, there’s the Intertropical Convergence Zone, where the northern trade winds meet the southern trade winds and everything gets all confused, the seas, the currents and the wind. Complicating matters is that the ITCZ undulates like the jetstream and it’s nearly impossible to plan where to cross it. We’d been trying to catch up to the Mexico boats thinking we’d follow their strategy and cross the ITCZ very far west where historically the band of confusion is the narrowest. The problem with that for us was that we didn’t have enough wind to keep us going at a normal sailing pace and we were starting to think that it would be well into May before we make landfall. We ordered up a fresh round of wind and current reports and decided on the spur of the moment that we would turn south from where we were and ride what looked like a favorable wind to carry us over the axis of the ITCZ. It could go either way but what could be worse?
It turned out great for the first two days as we made our way south. EV romped along, happy to be out of the barn and making headway. Then on Wednesday night the seas started building and hitting us on the beam making life unpleasant aboard so we altered course to keep the swell behind us, pushing us more west than south but still towards our destination. Thursday night towards the end of my watch we got hit with the first squall. Then another, and another. Neither Jack nor I got much sleep as we stood by and monitored the boat and the weather. We didn’t have much canvas up and EV handled everything beautifully but it was still hard on crew’s nerves, maybe because of losing the rig last year, maybe because this is our first ocean passage since then and we’re just out of practice.
Each time the wind and seas moderated a little we turned our course as much south as we could stand, and when the wind kicked up again we turned back downwind to ride it out and keep the seas from hitting us broadside. This went on all night and all day Friday. Gradually we got to appreciate how well EV handles everything and we started to relax, but still, we needed to get south past this band of squalls that was sitting stationary along a line just below 4 degrees north latitude. The relentless wind on our beam took out one of the windows in our cockpit enclosure. Luckily it’s just the stitching that gave out and not the vinyl so we’ll be able to sew it up when the conditions improve and it stops raining.
Finally Friday evening the wind started to abate as we crept further south and by about nine o’clock I could tell we were past the axis of squalls. The seas were still up but I turned EV as much as possible south. I knew from our weather reports that we’re going to lose our wind again and we need to get across the equator and into the southern trade winds where we’ll have smooth sailing to Polynesia. There’s still a long way to go. I handed off to Jack at 1am and fell into a deep sleep. This morning when my alarm woke me I could tell we’d lost our wind. It looks like we won’t have much useable pressure through Monday so it’s back to coaxing a little movement from what we’ve got. In the meantime we need to clean up EV and ourselves. And sew up that window.