Sunday, December 21, 2008

Shiriri Saga # 76. Typhoon Dodging.

A Close Encounter.

Moonflight, our American buddy boat calls us up on our radio schedule and warns of a typhoon to the south of us. They are further east and in the clear but this nasty brute is headed our way in the next 48 hours. Head east they say. We start the engine and motor all night into the easterly wind and waves and gain perhaps twenty miles for our pain. We are full bowed, have a lot of wind drag on our masts, hull and rigging and do not have a lot of push in our engine. We decide to sail north and try to outpace it. Although the circular winds within the typhoon can be very powerful, the actual movement forward can be slow. Perhaps we can keep ahead of it and hope it will wander off to the west as most do.

The next day, Moonflight reports that the typhoon has turned and is headed for the Marianas to the west of us.( Over the next while it will devastate the island of Truk and thrash the shores of China) We are back into convergence zone sailing amid an endless procession of enormous rain and squall filled clouds. We turn the radar on at night to see the rainy cores hidden in the black cloudy skyline to windward. We make rough guesses that lots of rain means lots of wind but really we are taking chances just to keep sailing and adding up the daily miles. We are already bone tired from constant sail changes.

We are sailing through the spawning ground of typhoons and sometimes find ourselves in the center of a perfect ring of big thunder clouds. The light is a coppery colour, the feeling oppressive. Just a little more energy and the right upper level winds would start the engine to turn this into the swirling winds of a typhoon (typhoon, cyclone, hurricane - all the same event.).There are some really vicious squalls roaring out of the base of monster black thunderclouds that force us to turn and run with them thereby losing more and more precious easting. We seem to be headed for Japan. Every mile lost to wind and current now is an extra mile we will have to make up once we get up into the Westerlies.

We listen to NOAA weather radio each day and are frustrated when they spend much time on a hurricane off the Mexican coast and forget our big square of the Pacific entirely. Does that mean we are OK or what? We are tense and tired. At last they describe a typhoon starting up to the south-east and predicted to have 160 knot winds in three days time near where we will be. We feel a cold stone settle into our hearts. Our chances of surviving this would not be good. Anne and I raise the mainsail, heel Shiriri down, bury her bulwarks in foam and race northward. We must try to out-sail the typhoon as it is almost on an identical course. The only safe direction would be for us to go east and we now know that we can not do that! Perhaps this one too will turn west. The next day we listen to NOAA once more . Please let them not forget us! Blaaa, blaaa, they work their computer voice way through all the other regions of the Pacific and then tell us that this typhoon has dissipated after twenty-four hours. Phew!!

Slowly we reach the half way mark of our voyage. There are thousands of miles yet to go but we start counting down the distance at around one hundred miles a day. We are a thousand miles due west of Hawaii now and see the con-trails of jets headed for Asia. We speak to a freighter headed for America. One moonlit night we see masthead lights coming over the horizon on our port side. Our radar shows us to be on a collision course. What are the chances of hitting another boat way out here? Pretty good it would seem!

First we call up the boat on the VHF to call their attention to our presence. No reply. We know that they would not be looking for another boat out here and might be chugging along on autopilot with no one on lookout. We have the right of way according to the regulations but we do not want to be right, dead right, either. I call for the red strobe light and play a spotlight on our sails. We can see the bow wave flashing in the moonlight..... We start the engine and scuttle forward and out from under. The Asian style fishing boat, silhouetted against the moon, plods indifferently on over the horizon.

The Trades now permanently switch from mostly east to north-east and become stronger. We really do not wish to go to the west side of the Pacific so we furl our trusty gaff fores`l and hoist a storm jib between the masts as a mainstays`l. That together with the jib, forestays`l and storm trys`l gives us a small but efficient upwind sailing rig. Shiriri heels less and goes closer to the wind than we have ever experienced before. The clouds are in ferment as they swirl and twist high above, indicating we are approaching some new celestial boundary. The warm air that rose high in the atmosphere near the equator has travelled north and cooled and is now descending as a belt of high pressure to begin its return trip to the equator as the trade winds. Finally the wind eases, pauses and then very faintly at first begins to blow from the west!

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