Gifts from King Aelous
There is a moment in Odysseus' journey when he is so close to home, he can see campfires burning on the hillsides of Ithaca. But then a mutinous crew member, suspicious of being robbed of his fare share of treasure, opens the ox-hide bag containing the gift of King Aelous—winds from all points of the compass. Once the silver strings were opened the winds were released, and Odysseus and his men were blown, yet again, off course.
We have no mutinous crew aboard, but our winds prove equally fateful.
Yesterday's breezes quieted to a whisper. And then, in the night, they started playing tricks on us: shooting up to 25 knots, waiting for us to raise the sails, dropping down to eight knots, waiting for us to furl the sails, shooting back up to 19 knots...impish pranks for 3:30 in the morning.
When dawn with her rose-red fingers shone once more, there was consistency in the wind, 18 knots that held us at six knots through the water. But our breakfast of oatmeal and granola brought wind squalls up to thirty knots that had us hobby horsing in chop and bashing up wind.
It's amazing how spoiled we've gotten by our two to three day sails between archipelagos in French Polynesia and our afternoon jaunts between destinations in the Society Islands—six days seems a long time to be underway; how quickly the endurance we built during the 23 days of our Pacific crossing erodes.
With only 104 miles to our to go, we reviewed the long term weather forecasts for Palmerston and our loosely scheduled destinations farther west and began to question the stability of the conditions. We had originally planned on tying up to a mooring ball at Palmerston for a couple days, then heading southwest to Niue. Both islands are what could be described as fair weather mooring fields: okay when the wind is blowing from the Southeast, but completely hazardous when weather fronts roll through bringing wind and seas from all points of the compass.
As we reviewed the GRIB data (weather forecasts that we downloaded via our sat phone) we noticed a surprising change. Starting Sunday and continuing on into early next week, the weather over the entire region from Tonga to Niue to Palmerston is predicted to deteriorate fast, with winds howling forth as high as 35 knots. Knowing that both Palmerston and Niue would be dangerous in these winds, we weighed our options and decided to adjust course to west by northwest in the general direction of Samoa, which is another 620 nautical miles away. Samoa is farther north and at the fringes of the high winds currently forecasted. By adjusting course now, we'll be inside its protected anchorage by the time the weather front comes barreling down on the region.
Though we're slightly daunted by adding five days to our passage, changing destination for the second time isn't so unexpected. It's the nature of longer passages that the weather can shift en route, and it's the nature of this particular region (living up to its nickname, The Dangerous Middle) that such a shift means a change in destination. So in the end, we, like Odysseus, have decided not to go weeping with the swells or throwing ourselves into the wine-dark sea, but to sail on, and make the best of it.