Evening, Wed 28th June
Last night, just before 11pm, in pitch black darkness, I had a very worrying experience while drifting about in little wind, 113ml W of SF's Golden Gate. I spotted a ship, "SCF Ural", on the AIS window of my PC which was clearly heading south almost directly for me.
Thinking I'd better call him up immediately, in case he needed lots of time to turn (as tankers do, for instance), I tried to do just that. Took a time for him to respond on VHF16, with no response on VHF13. Then it took even longer to make it clear what the problem was - I must have given my coordinates six times at least (language was clearly a problem for the Russians on board) so that they could try to find me on their radar (I know I give a good signal on big ship radars at around 30mls and the sea was not rough). I ended up speaking to the Captain, who finally got the message - but only after I told him firmly he MUST TURN TO PORT IMMEDIATELY to avoid hitting me - a small sailboat nearly stationary in his path, drifting (for the moment) at under 1 kn to the west. By now, I was getting very concerned - even put the engine key in the ignition ready for the worst - but he eventually said he would change course to port - and I was able to see, shortly after that, that he had turned by 11 degrees (the AIS info one gets includes course steered, rotation, etc) which would put him several miles off my position. By then, a slightwind had got up, so I was able to sail, initially on starboard tack, at just 1.4 kn, until I realised that was taking me into his path so I then changed to port tack. Worryingly, he did not show up on my radar until he was 6-9 mls away - usually big ships show up at 24mls - and although he passed within 4 mls of me, I did not see any lights despite knowing precisely where he was from my AIS window...
The wind continued around F1-2 overnight, so not much progress was made - at the 9am rollcall, I'd made just 1 ml towards Hawaii since the previous evening!
Later this morning, I heard a noise and a big humpback surfaced several times close to 'Nereida' on his way north.
Often, the wind has picked up and we've made over 4 kn but then it would drop again. After carefully looking at the weatherfaxes I'd downloaded, I decided to turn south at 1pm today - saw barometric pressure was up to 1018, from 1014 at 0400, so concluded low pressure over SF may have dissipated earlier than expected, meaning I could safely head S now rather than waiting longer (no wind close offshore had been predicted while the low was present over SF). The wind then veered from SSW to WSW making for a better course. It's still not strong, but at least I'm having a very pleasant sail - in roughly the right direction!
Actually saw over 6kn of boatspeed later today and we're regularly seeing over 5kn - not too bad for being close-hauled and with variable light winds. The other good thing is that most of this afternoon, and on into the night, I've been on a constant starboard tack (no frequent tacking around) which is a lot more relaxing and meant I could catch up on some sleep in the cockpit. Also the sun came out for a few moments just to remind me it exists - but it's still cold enough for me to need to change into warmer trousers.
According to Don Anderson this evening, we're all in for a slow race because of the highly unusual weather pattern - the usual Pacific high is finally about to be re-established in its usual place - right in the path of a lot of the fleet - so they have to try to avoid ending up becalmed by heading SSW now as fast as they can - but they could well end up with a major problem. Equally, I can expect several more days of light winds but by going south from here for 5-6 days I should eventually find the wind increasing and 'clocking' - then I can head more & more west with the Trades to Kauai. We'll soon see over the next few days whether people have made the right choices of route & timing - it's a difficult call!