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28/29March2010- Days 20/ 21 from Cape Town

Monday 29th March - NNW of Kerguelen Island - More albatrosses, the usual White-Chinned Petrels and a small flock of prions, among others...!

I'd never heard of Prions until I got my new birdbook on birds of the oceans ('Albatrosses, Petrels & Shearwaters of the World' - a great book!) in Cape Town. Alex on 'Berrimilla' recommended it as he & Pete headed down the S. Atlantic to the north of me in December. I kept giving him descriptions of birds I was seeing & he tried his best to tell me what it might be. Now that I've the book, I can see just how difficult that is .... such a lot of very similar birds, you just can't be sure what exactly they are most times..... But NOT so in the case of the Antarctic Prions I've been seeing so much of today, close to me!! There were 20-30 of them, wings beating fast, then soaring, close to the water and then up..., behaving quite unlike the far bigger juvenile Wandering Albatross gliding among them. That was distinctive by its size & its dark upper parts and white face - unmistakable (although it might be an Amsterdam Island Albatross adult...!!)!

I'm not that far from Kerguelen and Heard Islands (~560 & 830 n.ml to my S) and Amsterdam Island is ~580 n.ml. ENE of here ... Islands where many of these birds breed. I've not seen the Yellow-Nosed albatross for a time now - just these enormous Wandering Albatrosses - this morning there was a pair (Snowy or New Zealand Albatross?),,, and this juvenile - a family, I wondered? All the Albatrosses are said to range over long distances - all the Southern Ocean, in fact. Horrific numbers are slaughtered still by (illegal) fishing methods around here - let's hope they don't become extinct as a result of man's greed, as could so easily happen - that would be unforgiveable.

It's been a very pleasant day of relaxing sailing, with little swell, under almost full canvas, the wind shifting from S to NNE overnight, as a high pressure system passed over bringing almost no wind (I actually motored for several hours, very slowly), and then backed to NNW. Unusually, I ate in the cockpit late this afternoon, it was so pleasant - good to enjoy the moment & study the birds all around.

I'm expecting a cold front to come by soon - that also brings an often-dramatic windshift with it - usually from NNW to SSW. So, seeing a bank of grey cloud on the horizon, I decided to take in the 2nd reef with night falling - then to find the weather (grib) files are forecasting lighter winds over tonight & tomorrow, from an extended high pressure area to the north of me... Oh well ... better to be safe than sorry...! We're still making 7 knots or more in NNW4-5 (~17kt), so all's fine for now (8pm local time)... 40S seems to be the 'magic' latitude for keeping out of both the worst of the high pressure systems' no-wind areas to the N and the really strong winds and associated cold fronts of the depressions to the S, which come by on a frequent basis every few days (Wednesday could see strong winds as I 'catch' the top end of the expected low & its cold front). Keeps me busy with sail trimming, gybing and tacking pretty often!

Sunday was notable for the impressive pair of Wandering Albatrosses with white body & white splashes on their dark wings, the usual grey overcast skies - & excellent overnight and morning speeds (6-7+ kt) in good SSW wind, with a building SW swell. But as the high pressure area came over, the wind dropped - by late evening to 6 kt. I'd removed the broken batten in the morning, well before needing to change tack - it slid out easily while the 2nd reef was in but now the question is whether to try to replace it after cleaning/smoothing off the broken end (but how would I keep it in place? Sew the batten pocket end closed??) or leave it out. I'll see how the sail behaves without it & decide later - no rush.

29March 17:00 UTC:
40*07'S, 065*46'E
COG: 090T, SOG: 7.3 kt
WIND: NNW 18kt
BARO: 1018mb
AIR: 20C, SEA: 15C

Noon-to-noon distances:

Sunday: 146n.ml.
Monday: 115nml (poor overnight wind)

Written by : Mike

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