Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Namibia to St. Helena

Technology makes our life as ocean goers so much easier. Besides the auto-pilot ('Otto'), satellite communications for weather, GPS and radar, AIS is our superpower out here. It's like our eyes, but better. The Internet has all the details (look up Automated Identification System), but basically AIS uses VHF and GPS technology to let ships track each others' position anywhere on earth. Smaller fishing vessels in certain parts of the world often don't have AIS, so you still have to keep watch). Most of the time, ships will see us on AIS and avoid us without even a radio call. As a vessel under sail, we technically have the right of way, but bigger ships always win.

But sometimes ignorance can be bliss.

On our passage from Namibia to St. Helena, there was a huge tanker called 'Winning Kindness' that was drifting along as we passed it. We were too far away to see it but it showed up on AIS. We wondered what it was doing, but often ships will change their speed to get to their destination at the right time. Then later that evening, we saw the same ship on AIS again. This time it was going 12 knots and we were projected to be on a collision course. It didn't help that our boat speed was fluctuating a lot due to the flaky winds we have been getting, making it hard for other boats to predict our position. As we kept an eye on the boat's position for the next hour and a half, it occurred to me that it was like the start to a bad horror film. 'An unsuspecting family unwittingly sails past a tanker. Later, the same tanker is suddenly in front of them and heading straight for them.'

Well, of course nothing bad happened and the tanker passed a couple miles behind us. If we hadn't had AIS, we would never have even known the ship was there until we saw its lights as it got closer. After spending so much time making sure we would avoid hitting Winning Kindness, we later saw on AIS that it was drifting along at .3 knots again. Of course, even though the drama on AIS kept us in suspense for such a long time, without AIS it would have been much more disconcerting to see a huge tanker that close to us, especially at night.

Being in South Africa and Namibia reminded us that the Portuguese gave the world more than Peri Peri chicken. Vasco da Gama and Bartolomeu Dias, who were Portuguese explorers that landed in Africa in the 15th century, did their exploring without any of the information or technology we rely on. It puts what we're doing--with all the tools at our disposal--into perspective.

But almost nine days at sea is still nine days at sea. Overall, it was a pleasant-enough passage, but it was certainly not a set-it-and-forget-it kind of sail. The flaky wind required many course adjustments and sail changes. The seas kept much of the ride bumpy and banged the boat around. But we made bread (using Maeve--the 50-year old sourdough starter that Merel on Anjea gave us), fished (1 mahi mahi and 1 tuna) and played Euchre.

As always after a long passage, we were elated to see land. We were greeted by huge volcanic cliffs that plunge into the sea and a mooring field full of boats, including a few that we know. Having arrived on Tuesday morning, we have a couple days on the boat before our PCR tests on Thursday. It's just as well because it gives us a chance to rest and work on some of the projects we have accumulated. We can't do much about the dead start battery for the generator and starboard engine until we can get to land, but the top car for the mainsail needs a repair and the clothes we have been wearing for way too long need to be washed.

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