Isbjorn Offshore: Ghosting Through a Placid Night

9 May, 0400

Despite the early hour, there's the slightest hint of the coming dawn in the sky to the east. The night is crystal clear, and crisp. For the first time since November I have on a fleece to ward off the chill. And thanks to the northerly wind, it's a DRY chill, a feeling I've been looking forward too all winter long through the oppressive Caribbean heat & humidity.

The wind came back at midnight, a light northerly, but enough to set sail. We'd been motoring since dinner time on a flat calm sea. Though our course should have been due north, the best we could make in the new breeze was 045 on the compass, about 030 true.


As the nearly full moon sinks in the west and the sky lights up in the east, we're headed. 045, then 050. Frustrating. I tack, managing some fancy footwork at the helm and on the genoa sheets to do so solo. The wind's too light on the new course and we're barely making any progress north of due west. I tack back to the NE after an hour. In 8 knots apparent Isbjorn ghosts along at 4.5 through the water on a placid sea.

I can't decide which way to look. To the east the sky is ablaze with a new, clear dawn, the sun's rays piercing the heavens through some fluffy clouds over the horizon. In the west, the moon follows Jupiter, sinks lower and turns a blood red before dipping beneath the horizon.


I wake up to the alarm on my phone, just in time to get take a noon sight and check our latitude. The pre-dawn star sights I worked out aren't making any sense, and I'm not at all confident in our position after the morning spent tacking around to the east of the the rhumb line. Cheryl worked out a good morning sun LOP which gave us a good idea of our longitude. The noon sight would get us our latitude and a decent running fix.

The wind is still in the north, though we're lucky to have any at all. The GRIB forecast shows an area of calm in our vicinity, so despite the headwind, we'll take it. I'm confident that the wind will back to the west, as predicted. We just need to be patient. Isbjorn makes anywhere from 3-1/2 to 5 knots as the wind oscillates around either side of north, still only able to sail 045 or so on the compass. But what a great sailing boat! We've gone far enough now that we're committed to the east side of the course, for better or worse. We take bets on when the wind will back enough to lift us onto our course for Bermuda.


Bangers & mash for dinner! One of my favorite offshore meals. 'A good, calm evening to eat with a knife and fork!' says Mia.

The wind is still north, but it's trying to shift. It's teasing us. Occasionally we get lifted 20, 30 degrees, almost where we need to be, then we've got to give it all back again as it veers back to the north.

We take some afternoon sun lines. After working them out, Cheryl realizes our morning LOP was off, so we recalculate both and get a new running fix for 1800, advancing our noon sight latitude along the 30 or so miles we've sailed to the NNE since then. Our position puts us some 40 miles east of the rhumb line and about 240 miles south of Bermuda.

I go to bed at 2000, predicting that we'll be on course & with eased sheets by midnight when I come back on watch. Thane thinks I'm overly optimistic.

10 May, 0000

My alarm goes off at 2350. I snooze for 3 minutes and roll out of bed. Or, climb out of bed, struggling in my sleepy stupor to get my foot over the lee board and onto the floor. I'm on the high side on port tack.

As I emerge from the companionway into a brilliant night sky, with the full moon high overhead, I find Tom easing the genoa sheet ever so slightly. We're on course! 000 magnetic, which should be about 345-350 true, just west of north and angling back towards the rhumb line. The air has a distinctly different feel to it than at dinnertime. There's more humidity in it and the cool 'bite' it had earlier is missing.


My second cup of coffee for the night sits steaming on the companionway steps. It's Trader Joe's instant coffee, and with UHT milk to boot. But it's good! Tastes like adventure!

The wind has continued to back and steadily increase as we sail into the band of westerlies the GRIBs had earlier predicted. We're lucky to have managed to actually 'sail' into it at all, given the giant wind hole on the weather chart. I wonder how many boats in the ARC Europe fleet have spent the past day motoring? Our patience has paid off and we've enjoyed a fine day of light-air sailing.

I began my 0000-0400 watch making 4-5 knots boatspeed to the north, and now we're cracked off and going 7.5 to the NNW, bang on course and flying across a smooth sea, hatches still open below and the decks dry (though not for long I imagine). The full moon is high over my right shoulder. It's quiet, alone in the cockpit, the only noise the rush of the water along the hull and the reassuring hum of Wattsson, our hydrogenerator, astern, quietly making our electricity. 'That's the sound of the engine NOT running!' said one of our crew members Dan L. en route to Canada last year. Dan also dubbed the unit, a French-made 'Watt & Sea', "Wattsson", which we immediately agreed was very clever. The name stuck.

Now it's a race to Bermuda with a developing low pressure that's predicted to form over the island sometime on Friday, around the time we anticipate making landfall. If we're late in arriving, we'll have to contend with a strong-ish frontal passage, then headwinds across the last stretch of ocean in to St. George's. If we're fast, or the weather is late, we'll ride these westerlies right on in.