Scanning the horizon for clouds that might have wind under them, I could hardly believe my eyes when a white sail appeared! "HEY, sail ho!" They were moving fast, so they must be motorsailing. We called them immediately on the VHF radio, and they answered, dropped their genoa and motored toward us. We didn't get their names yet because they're Japanese and have limited English, but the boat was a Contest 38 named Gaku. Turns out they actually know our other Japanese friends! They met Dai on Summersalt and know Yoshi and Fumi on Foxglove, and have heard of Yasuo and Michiko, our two former Dana-owner friends. "You have a lot of friends in Japan!" they exclaimed. Wow, even in mid-ocean it's still a village!
They asked, "Do you have enough beer and food?" which made me wonder if they already knew Jim and were hiding the fact. We laughed and said yes, and then we wanted to cry as we watched them motor off at five or six knots. What a treat to see another boat, our first since day 7 when we chatted with the Russian freighter in the Panama Canal-to-Yokohama shipping lane. We haven't seen a plane, or even jet contrails since then.
So, resigned to waiting for wind, we hove-to, sort of, in a 4-6 foot swell, with reefed main and staysail. It's not really heaving-to in the technical sense, but it is a form of parking the boat in a certain position. Reefing the main sounds counterintuitive, but it reduces the level of maddening (and chafe-inducing) slatting we'd otherwise endure with full sails while trying to keep the boat generally oriented in the direction we want to go. One experiment with sails and helm positioning resulted in perfect alignment in the desired direction, going 1 knot... perfectly backwards. Nope, the bow is the pointy end, not the stern. Try again!
It's odd to realize that sometimes in light winds you have to reef the main to balance the boat enough for the self-steering vane to work, because big seas continually push the boat off course, adding to the directional confusion. As a result, there are 2 choices: maximize speed with full sails and steer by hand, or balance the sails, go a little slower and let the vane steer. That's a no-brainer on a long voyage. We've been becalmed in wind that on a flat sea would let you ghost along, but that's impossible with these swells of 1 to 2 meters.
Jim figured out a good strategy for when the vane won't steer because the too-light winds have made the helm feel mushy. Induce lee helm (or weather helm if you prefer) to deliberately unbalance the boat in a known direction, and then correct the imbalance with the vane, using one rather than both lines leading to the tiller. That way there's lots of room for the tiller to swing, yet a firm corrective force opposite the induced veering off. It worked pretty well, when nothing else would. I asked him, "How'd you come up with that?"
"You just have to think outside the boat," he said.
Eventually we settled on a double reefed main let out 45 degrees to starboard, a tightly sheeted staysail, and the helm amidships, held in place with a bungee cord. This kept us pointed in roughly the right direction in the calm, ready to unreef the main and unfurl the genoa when the wind returned. We stayed there into the evening, and the most spectacular sunset of the voyage was our reward. There was even a good-sized green flash. This proves the adage, "Red sky at night, sailor's delight."
Finally a wind sprang up around 9:30 pm, and we've been moving well since, in a fairly steady 8-10 knot SE breeze. With less than 100 miles to go, we hope to make landfall the day after tomorrow. But as you know by now, there are no guarantees. However, hope springs eternal.
Sent via Ham radio