Day 4 to NZ – Bye Bye, Wind.

Miles to Go: 516 (Well past half way!)

So what I’m thinking is that the front/trough/whatever we hit two days ago was moving a little than predicted. It caught us a day earlier that we expected, and has now disappeared a day earlier than expected as well.

That’s my theory anyway, I’ve been unable to download a new GRIB file to confirm this since we found all that wind on Friday. But it sort of fits.

But as of about 7:00 am this morning (Sunday 11/22/15 on this side of the world) the wind petered off to nothing and we had to turn on the engine once again. We’ve been motoring ever since.

We had over thirty-six hours of excellent sailing conditions though, which should definitely put enough miles in the bank to make sure we don’t run out of fuel before we get through this hole in the wind.

Wildlife Report

One thing of interest to report today is what we believed to be a sighting of a Beaked Whale, though we weren’t close enough to tell if it was a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale (most likely) or a Blainville’s Beaked Whale. It looked to be about twenty feet long and brown with white spots. A small curved dorsal fin was visible, and the brown color was quite distinct and is a possible color for the Cuvier’s. Geographic ranges precluded a few of the other beaked whales in the book. It was considerably larger than a bottlenose dolphin, so definitely a small whale, and was on it’s own – also a common way to come across older male Cuvier’s whales.

That’s our tentative identification though. We’re still scanning the skies for our first Albatross as we approach closer to New Zealand.

Arrival ETA

With the lack of wind and rough seas and the fact that we are motoring now we’re able to start to pin down a more likely estimated time of arrival in New Zealand. We’ve got just under seventy hours left motoring at 7.5 knots, which should put us in early afternoon on Wednesday the 25th (NZ Summer Time)

Of course things could still change. I’ve got to stick my head in the bilge and check the fuel levels to re-assure us that this pace isn’t burning it up faster than expected. More weather could blow up, though it isn’t expected. Depending on the weather, we could either be slowed down a lot (wind from the Southwest), sped up with favorable winds, or slowed down a little if there is enough wind to sail but not to sail quickly.

Trouble Getting the GRIBS

Above I mentioned that I have had trouble getting updated GRIB files. This is not a technical failing, everything is working well. It also should not be taken to mean we don’t have access to any weather reports – we do. We have several text based subscriptions of regional weather reports e-mailed to us every day.

It’s the GRIB files we haven’t updated yet. When I am communicating from offshore I am using my shortwave (SSB) radio to send and receive e-mail via radio over the amateur radio bands. There are radio stations out there that are connected to the internet, they listen for our calls in the ether and connect with handshaking and error checking protocols to send digital data over scratchy, static filled, narrow bandwidth SSB radio.

This is not fast. For those of us who used PC’s in the 80’s and early nineties connecting to Compuserve or other BBS software with 2400 Baud modems.these speeds would usually seem slow.

A GRIB file can be huge, depending on how much geography you want to include in it, how much detail you want to include (You want sea surface temperatures, wind, air pressure, sea currents, rain, and so on), and how many days out you want to go. When I am sitting at anchor connected to shore Wifi or Cellular I’ll grab a great swath of the South Pacific thousands of miles on a side so I can watch the weather patterns move over the next two weeks in detail. These files can be a megabyte or more.

Offshore like this? I basically need to request a GRIB for a tiny swath of ocean that covers where I plan to be for the rest of the trip, and only about four days out. The last request I sent was for a file about 44,000 bytes in size. I couldn’t secure a fast connection, and it was estimated to take 3-5 hours to download this. The fastest connection I can get take maybe twenty minutes to download the file.

It’s also important to note that one can not simply connect to someone else’s hardware for free and hog it up for hours. There’s a fair amount of equipment and cost to running one of these stations, and they are shared by all amateur operators free of charge. But there are limits – set both out of manners (don’t be a pig), and also by the operators of the radio station. The best radio station I can reach out here is in Wellington, NZ. I can establish a “High Speed” (meaning about like that 2400 baud modem or a little faster) connection there, but I am limited to forty minutes time connected each day. Other sites give you more time, but they still usually kick your connection off after half an hour to make sure others get a chance to use the station, so you have to call back and reconnect to continue your download.

To add to it, there aren’t that many radio stations doing this in the South Pacific. My primary contacts are with stations in New Zealand, Hawaii, and Australia. Weather, atmospheric conditions and time of day limit which stations I can reach and when, but in general I’m limited to about eight stations in those areas. I can not just sit down any time during the day and establish a connection, mid-day for example it is near impossible and night time is best.

So yeah, it’s slow. Slow is the normal. Some much so that I ask anyone e-mailing me out here to make sure to NOT quote my original e-mail when replying to me because it makes downloading the e-mail reply double or triple in time.

Hopefully we can get a GRIB from yesterday by tonight!

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