Day 14 Overnight drama.....a peaceful downwind day... charging worries....

Monday 8th November

Drama during last night! The AIS woke me up with its alarm going just before 4am..... 'El Lobo Grande', a ship 'with tow', was displayed a few miles away.... crossing our path towards the coast (L.A.), with less than half a mile CPA (closest point of approach) ...Even with us under sail in normal circumstances, I call that 'collision' distance', since they might keep a straight course but we almost certainly do not, especially under windsteering, since the wind is always varying more or less & so our course always changes somewhat in direction.

I called him on the VHF radio - correction - I tried to call him on the VHF - didn't seem to be working. Grabbed the handheld over on the far side of the cabin - called 'El Lobo Grande'. He wanted to pass ahead - was towing a big fuel barge on a long tow...!!! The half mile distance of his CPA did NOT take account of his tow!! "No," I replied, "Please turn to pass astern of me. I'm under sail & have no engine available .." He finally agreed & turned to port, after complaining he couldn't see me visually, I only showed up on AIS when 3.5 mls away & he saw no radar signal (In fact, I've been told by others my radar visibility is good, but often ships' radar sets aren't tuned properly... & maybe, if he was a typical tug, his antenna was fairly low down compared with big ships so his 'line of sight' was reduced).

I turned on our deck light and steaming light to light up the sails - we became highly visible! I put us on automatic pilot to ensure we maintained a straight course to help his manoeuvring. To complicate matters, I found the wind had veered so we really needed to gybe.... Fortunately, with the stays'l set to windward previously, it was now helping by staying filled and the main was well out and on a preventer, so we kept up a fair speed. As soon as he had passed us, I centred the main, gybed the genoa so it was downwind and finally gybed the mains'l and placed the stays'l over to starboard where it was again upwind- it was doing a good job.

Problem then was that I noticed our batteries were now way down with the AP use - far too low... Tried to start the generator - voltage too low. Switched in the start motor battery - still no good. Hurriedly, checked main engine was in neutral and started it up to charge the batteries - it kicked in (relief!). I revved up and brought the battery volts up enough for the generator to start, so I was able to shut down the main engine after a bit & leave the generator running unil the batteries were well-charged - well over an hour. I put us on to windsteering as soon as I noticed he battery problem ....

Clearly we must have been low on power before the incident started, so using the AP was the last straw. My concern now is that the main batteries are damaged and no longer seem to be holding charge well. I'd just written the new position report, at noon UTC (4am PST, local time), before writing up this report, and noticed again that the batteries' voltage had dropped way down - too low again for the genset to be able to start, so had to charge them using the main engine for a short time again.... a worry. I normally keep a constant eye on our power situation, but clearly need to be even more vigilant. There's no problem when the solar panels or wind generator are charging, but overnight with little wind & no sun, that seems to be when the problem arises... even though we're using very little power and we're under windsteering.

Other news..... We've made a fair 24hr distance over the last two days to noon UTC - 133 miles and 130 mls - much better & nearer to what I'm used to expecting. Our speed is around 6 kt now, a lot of the time, so that's far better, with the wind very slowly veering from NNW to NNE now - becoming the NE Trades, in fact... mostly nice and consistent at around 16-18 kt, although dropping tonight to around 14 kt. All very pleasant downwind sailing, rocking and rolling quite a bit at times, but fairly smoot. Plenty of sunshine, although the air temperature is not yet very high, at only 16-17C so I'm still in fleeces - but out of foul weather gear....! In fact, the sea temperature has just got up to a touch higher than air temperature - at 18C!

During the day, thinking it was surely not really helping, I'd tried furling in the (upwind) staysail - our speed dropped... I unfurled it upwind again ... speed picked up.. I was surprised but pleased! It's earning its keep, spilling the wind into the (downwind) genoa but since we're likely to be on this downwind tack now for quite a time, I'll put out the pole during the day tomorrow to hold the genoa firmly in place upwind and see what difference that makes to our speed, if any, so we'll be properly 'goose-winged' - or 'wing-on-wing' as the Americans say.... Always feels good and secure like that, when going dead downwind.

We passed Los Angeles yesterday and are now passing San Diego. As I write this, we're 436 n.mls due W of the San Diego Y.C. Visitor Dock - a familiar place from several visits there!! Greetings from "Nereida" to my friends in San Diego (- and at the Arizona Y.C. in Phoenix)!

Written by : Mike

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