Pacific Ocean Crossing.- Day 20

After 11 wonderful days sailing, we entered the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) or The Doldrums. This is a band near the Equator that is infamous for squalls and funky weather. During the squalls, the wind picks up suddenly, at times going from 15 knots to 30 knots in seconds. There is also a sudden burst of an indescribable amount of rain.

The sudden squalls were usually too much for the autohelm (self-steering mechanism) to handle, or it was unable to adjust quickly enough, so we usually hand-steered through them. Depending on the strength of the gusts, steering can be quite a battle. Fortunately, the squalls don't last long.

Of course the first one was probably the worst. Just before dawn, a squall hit and the wind went from about 15 knots to over 30 knots in seconds. I called for Malcolm and he dashed into the cockpit as the wind went to 50+ knots and the rain dumped on us. The noise was horrendous and the rain so thick we couldn't see the sails. We let the main out, got the steering under control and as the rain started to ease we saw that the genoa (the sail up front) was shredded. The entire blue UV panel we just had sewn on in La Paz was flapping in the wind. We furled (rolled) it up and sailed with just one sail until morning. In the light of day we set up the solent sail (a smaller inner head sail) and brought down the ruined genoa.

Passage days 12 to 18 were full of squalls, especially at night. During one squall, I tacked to go behind it, but it seemed to surround us. In the next few minutes we had the steering cable jump off the sprocket (so no steering) and we accidentally gybed breaking the shackle on the main sheet. While the boat maintained itself on a balanced close-hauled (into the wind) course, Malcolm got it all straighten out.

It was about the 14th day when we finally turned the engine on. The wind reports looked like we were going to be stuck with no wind at all for days, but there was wind just south of us so we motored for about 4 hours to get back into the wind. It sort of felt like failure. We hadn't used the motor since we were in open ocean past Cabo San Lucas. We had hoped not to motor at all.

On day 15 we crossed the Equator a little after dawn and close to a regular watch changeover. We, sharing with Neptune, had champagne, peach mimosas and chocolate to celebrate.

We are now back in sunny, squall-free, consistent wind and enjoying the downwind sailing. Dolphins have swam along with us a couple of times. We are making great time, even though we are still sailing with our smaller solent sail. It looks like we will make landfall in Hiva Oa, Iles Marquesas, in two days!

- Dina