June 23, 2015

Passage Paralysis

As passages go, the first 300 miles of our 1000 mile voyage to the Seychelles has been blissfully drama-free. In fact, despite the boisterous seas, we're expecting a second 175 mile+ day, something we haven't had since the Pacific. 
The only drama so far was a mild case of passage paralysis. This is the indecisive condition that overtakes sailors on the eve of a longer or unknown passage. The symptoms are obsessively checking weather (the more source options you have the worse the condition can get) and seeking some sort of consensus about the passage forecast while refusing to commit to raising anchor. If the weather conditions experienced by the boats underway match the forecasts, and all the forecast models match each other and the weather looks like it will hold for the 7 day passage you're good to go. If not it's really easy to stay just-one-more-day in that calm anchorage.
Chagos was especially hard to leave: of all the places we've been it's the one we know we can never get back to. That knowledge, coupled with the battering that boats that had left were getting (mostly those enroute to Rodriguez and Madagascar--boats headed to the Seychelles were being bounced but not beat up) made it easy to wait patiently for the perfect weather forecast.
With long distance passage making, it's essential to become proficient in general weather forecasting. Unfortunately what we never develop is local expertise. Every passage needs new strategies. With the passage to the Seychelles we're trying to stay out of the equatorial current by not going too far north, while avoiding hitting the stronger southern winds. This slender ribbon of positive or neutral current and moderate winds also puts us smack in the middle of the intertropical convergence zone; home of thunder and lightning squalls. And did I mention that the forecast models rarely agree on all these elements? And not one single forecast has a feature where it tells you to, 'go now! Your passage will be lovely'.
Some boats just toss up their hands, give up on trying to decifer the data and head out on a specific day, come what may (often a lot of wind, torn sails and autopilot damage). Other boats have been known to let entire seasons pass without ever finding a weather window to commit too. I only have limited data points but I'd really like to believe weather forecasting works and what we really suffer from is hard-won prudence, not paralysis.

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