I woke up to an email from Mia and the crew on Kinship this morning. It's grey, cool and foggy here in Reading, but it sounds like they are having perfect weather offshore.
"Beautiful day, clear sky and the sun came up through the water this morning just before 08.00," Mia wrote. On of the things that didn't occur to me with a winter crossing is how much darkness they'll have at night. It's almost a new moon right now as well, which means it will be really dark at sea, and with the long winter nights, it'll be dark for over 12 hours. In Las Palmas, in fact, the run doesn't rise until 7:54am, and sets again at 6:26. In St. Martin, it's no better - the sun rises at 6:46 and sets at 5:53. Granted the days will get slightly longer as we move towards spring, but nonetheless, they are in for some long hours of darkness offshore.
Personally, I like the nighttime at sea, once I'm into the routine. I will admit that for the first few days when I haven't yet adjusted to the sleep/wake cycle of 4 hour watches, I am awfully tired during the darkest hours of the night and struggle to stay awake. The coming of the dawn is always an enormous mood-lifter, and better than a hot cup of coffee at perking me up.
On our passage north from Visby (on the island of Gotland, in the Baltic) to the Stockholm archipelago, we had the opposite - short nights and early sunrises. And that far north, the sunrises and sunsets are exponentially elongated, time seeming to slow down as the sun rises and sets almost horizontally. It started to get light before 4am, but it was several hours later until the sun actually crested the horizone. You know those times when the sun at dawn or dusk creates incredible pairings on the bottoms of clouds, or over the horizon? They last for hours in Sweden, and that was an incredible, unexpected part of the joys of sailing over there.
(One quick humorous aside: Magnus Olssons, the famous Swedish Volvo skipper, told Mia and I how a lot of recreational sailors in Sweden don't know how to sail at night. They are so used to the long summer nights, often devoid of darkness altogether, that they never learn how to steer by the compass in darkness. They never get the chance!)
Back on Kinship the sailing is good and they are going in the right direction. The boat was moving 5-7 knots in 15-18 knots of breeze from the ENE.
"We set the reacher yesterday, partly furled on the main boom last night before it got dark and had it like that all night," Mia wrote, explaining their sail combination. "You would have been proud of us... ;)"
Mia was describing one of my favorite downwind sail combinations when it's too breezy for the spinnaker. The 'reacher' onKinship is actually the genoa. The boat is a solent-rigged sloop, with a genoa forward (which Tim calls the 'reacher') and a self-tacking jib on the solent stay (which Tim calls the staysail). They'd rigged the genoa ('reacher') sheet to lead to a block on the end of the mainsail boom (the mainsail was furled), which was prevented out square to the wind, using the topping lift,
foreguy and mainsheet to secure it in place. The genoa sheet then leads through a snatch block attached at the outer end of the boom, down to another snatch block on the toenail near the lifeline gate, and finally back to the primary winch. It works great to both stabilize the headsail when the boat rolls, and allow dead-downwind sailing instead of gybing (check out the archive and my article on code sails that appeared in Yachting World in November. Read the sidebar on sailing downwind versus gybing angles on cruising boats. It proves my point).
GRIB forecast, Jan 13. Same one Kinship gets onboard, so this is exactly what they see.
As for the weather, it looks good from my end, though it's good they're not further north. A big low is centered WSW of the Azores, but where Kinship is, they have the wind on the starboard quarter, and it will shift more to the east and behind them over the next few days. That low has sucked away some of the trades further west, but they ought to fill in as the low moves off to the ENE and Kinship continues WSW.
Check back over the next couple of days for more updates as I get them.