Week 6 - The Weather Continues to Entertain...
Crossing the River Plate as we left Montevideo!
Day 35 (Tue 04 Jan 2022)
Day 34 ended with us heading in to the berth in Montevideo. As we arrived we discovered that, as a foreign flagged vessel, we not only required a Pilot.... we also needed a tugboat, which was about twice our size!
We had allowed for 5 hours alongside, to ensure there was enough time for a Chief Engineer’s handover between Luke and Paul. At this point we seemed to morph into thethe nautical equivalent of a F1 Pit crew as the two engineers took the opportunity to do an oil change on the main engine and change filters. An oil change on Astra requires 370 litres of 15W/40, which is the same engine oil spec as you put in a typical motor car. As the bunkering of 22,000 litres of diesel finished, the somewhat lurid grey sky provided an early indication of the evening's entertainment.
We sensed that Montevideo would be a great location to store up on meat and Mikey increased our meat order by a factor of 6. This has paid dividends, with some of the largest and best cuts of steak and lamb and the largest, plumpest chicken breast I think any of the crew have ever eaten. We now are on the Montevideo Atkins diet! (and we haven’t even got to the 5kg of Uruguayan blood sausage yet!).
‘it’s a small world’
The agent from JR Williams asked if my father or grandfather had been here (blimey - do I have cousins?!?). I said that yes, my grandfather was in the region in the 1930s and I recall tales of him going up to Fray Bentos to the meat packing plant. He then said he recalled a Capt. Macneil who had been on a Bank Line ship in Montevideo in the 1960s - not my family I think, but I will need to check with the folks back in Barra on that one!
Iain & Kat had edited a book called ‘Navigation in Shallow Waters’ in 2015, which was written by two Argentinians. This had introduced Iain to some of the hazards of the shallow waters of the Rio del Plata, which is basically a funnel shaped plateau, the mouth of which is 100 miles across and 175 miles to the end. The whole area has an average depth in the range of 6 – 8 metres. (But was he prepared for what followed?........Kat)
Our Pilot boarded at 17:00 hr, to take us out, but with building weather from the south, he safely disembarked on the pilot boat before we got to the breakwater.as As we stuck our nose out of the breakwater we were into winds of 30, gusting 40 knots. However, while the waves were only 2 metres in height, the comparatively shallow water depth of 6-8 metres created a wave pattern with a period of 3-4 seconds, where we would normally have expected 8-9 seconds. This resulted in short, steep sided waves and a very unpleasant rollercoaster effect as we left Montevideo (see above)
We adopted an easterly heading out but, with these steep sided waves coming from the south, quickly picked out a route to head to the south, keeping the winds 20° on the bow.
Day 36 (Wed 05 Jan 2022) We started with an average speed of about 3.5 – 4.0 kts as we were pitching heavily, like a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke, to get out of Rio del Plata. This continued until 08:00, by which time the water depth below us was 21-22 metres and, while the wind and wave height hadn't changed, the wave period increased to 8 seconds between crests. This enabled us to increase speed back to 8 knots .
As soon as conditions permitted, we inspected the forecastle deck and saw that two of our Tote/IBC tanks had been pushed in by the seas and our canvas cover for the anchor windlass was now torn in a number of places.
Back to the routine of the ship’s navigation and assessing the weather for Cape Horn, which showed us that we could not proceed straight to the Horn. Iain decided to proceed to an anchorage just inside the 'scorpion's tail' of South America. This is name for Cabo de Malenguena, which is about 150 miles from Cape Horn.
However, the distance to Cabo de Malenguena at this point was still 1,200 miles and a lot can happen to the weather patterns in this area in that time!
The weather window at the Horn kept changing, seemingly by the hour! we had started to watch a LOW Pressure system of 975mb, which became 2 x 985mb and, by the end of Week 06, we were watching a 960mb LOW pressure that was looking to scream its way past the Horn. Friday 7th Jan started with around 200-300 dolphins playing around within a couple of miles of the boat for about an hour. They leapt out of the water frantically, like 1970s Punks doing ‘the Pogo’, and our sense was that they were probably driving fish (see pictures in the Nature Notes below)
Day 39 – Sat 8th Jan 2022 The morning allowed Iain the chance of looking at the various options for crossing the Pacific:
1) Great Circle route - think of how planes fly in arcs of circles, or the maps of plane routes at the rear of an in-flight magazine, which ships also use as the shortest distance between two points on the earth’s surface 2) Rhumb line – which is a straight distance, constant compass course between two points 3) Dogleg route – Using leg adjustments to position us in favourable westerly currents and winds. The sense is that it will be a dogleg route, or an evolving variation of one, but in practice we will need the weather router to program any proposed route into his software and continuously assess it, almost right up to the point of departure from Valpariaso in 10-12 days time. This will help us to identify the most efficient route across.
By 21:00hrs we approached an occluded weather front, where the cold and warm fronts mix, and we had a lightning storm lasting 9 hrs, through to 06:00 the next day.
Day 40 – Sun 9th Jan 2022
Another day dominated by the rapidly evolving weather between us and Cape Horn. The available weather gaps at the Horn continued to shorten and change quickly. We were able to see a weather pattern that will deliver winds gusting 48-52 knots on Day 42 (Tue 11/01) that lay between us and Cabo San Diego (the Scorpion's tail ). Iain looked for another secluded cove to anchor and selected one in Bahia Marino Bay at 48°S. This is just south of the bay where Magellan waited for a weather window before proceeding southwards, although in his case the crew mutinied at that point.
On sunday evening, we receive an email update from Capt Adam Williams MBE on HELENA, telling us that the crew are following our progress and posts whenever their network allows. They attached a crew pic with the commemorative plaque that we presented to them in Saint Helena. HELENA is now in Cape Town and is expecting to sail back to Saint Helena on Tue 11th Jan, with another consignment of goods for the island.
Day 41 – Mon 10th Jan 2022
At 08:30 we anchored in Bahia Marino Bay in NW’ly winds of 16-18 kts. This gave us chance to top up our engine lube oil header tank with 400 litres of oil from 20 litre drums and then we filled those empty drums with used engine oil. We can land these drums in port for safe disposal.
By 17:30 the wind swinged to the SW and we had gusts of 40-45 knots and started to drag the anchor. Paul was in the engine room at that time and had the engine started in less than 5 minutes.
Daniel and Mikey got to the anchor windlass and let another 20 metres of chain out, which appeared to hold us while we caught our breath.... and then we detected that we were dragging again. With the engine started, Iain decided to come ahead, with about 2 knots of forward speed on the engines to take the weight of the anchor cable so that Daniel and Mikey could retrieve the anchor.
We moved about 200m closer in and dropped the anchor again, finishing off by running the engines 30% astern to give the anchor a good test before we settle for the evening. With how the wind was at the time of dropping the anchor, we were able to drop it on a heading in line with where the wind was expected to approach through the night and during the course of Tuesday morning.
Day 42 – Tue 11th Jan 2022 Through the night, while the forecast was for winds of 10-14 knots. We had a few occasions where gusts exceeded 30 knots and, just before 5am, it gusted to 40 knots, in each case only for a very short time before dropping down again.
The day started with a thorough assessment of what the wind is planning on doing in the 580 miles between us and Cape Horn over the next 4 days! Once the assessment was completed, the (current)plan was made as follows:
Tue 11/01/2022 - 19:30hrs Pick up anchor and proceed south at 8 knots, keeping in reasonably tight to the South American coastline for shelter. Fri 14/01/2022 - 09:00 hrs Round the headland at Cabo San Diego (The scorpion’s tail of South America)
Fri 14/01/2022 - 21:00 hrs Round Cape Horn.
Watch this space!!
Day 38 - Dolphins driving fish (we think)
Day 40 finished with two humpback whales approaching close to us at evening twilight - what a privilege!
Day 42 included some Argentinian wild horses (pampa) appearing on the shoreside to check us out!