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Dealing With The Dull Doldrums

April 5, 2011

3 15.745′ N 43 20.639′ W

The Picton Castle and her crew have been slogging through the doldrums for close to a week now. The doldrums generally spread a few degrees on either side of the equator and can be characterized as an area of low pressure with high humidity, clouds, rain and squalls breaking up calm winds.

The term itself is derived from an old English word meaning dull and was most frequently used by the mariners of the time who feared they would get stuck in these equatorial latitudes. Luckily for us we have our hefty diesel engine which we can fire up if the winds continue to evade us. However what we have experienced could not, in good faith, be called an area of calm winds. To be certain there have been moments where the wind dies down to nothing more than a breath and the jibs, spanker and staysails flog in protest until we strike them. But there have been far more moments where the wind throws a mighty temper tantrum and the crew must immediately rush to take in and furl the royals and the topgallants. An engineless vessel could esily get stuck for three weeks trying to cross the doldrums.

For days the ship has been tossing on large white-crested seas and the horizon has appeared as a continuous line of squalls. When the rains do come, whether in short sputtering bursts or heavy prolonged showers, they quickly put an end to the majority of the projects on deck. When a squall gets close, its’ put down tools and take in flying jib, spanker and maybe the royals then up and stow! Watch your helm and maybe run her off. It is the watch officers most important job to watch out for squalls. Our crew is fast to adapt though and ship is still a hum of activity.

The sailmaking team of Joani, Taia and Tammy have set up their sails in the salon and are busy sewing grommets and seaming. The carpenter team of Jan and Niko have been working in the carpenter’s shop or in the hold. WT (Bosun) and Pania (Bosun’s Mate) have been cleaning the boats and garbage cans and scrubbing the decks –the rain greatly aiding their efforts. Chris, Fred and Cody are, of course, safe from the squalls painting and maintaining in the warmth of the engine room. Many of the daymen, including Nadja, Meredith, Brad and Shawn have been reassigned to watches for the time being, to augment the numbers to make for snappy sail-handling.

Our deck maintenance class has been put on hold – varnishing and painting best kept for a time of somewhat prolonged dry weather. However we all did have a chance, over the past couple of weeks, to take the charthouse and navigation class. This class included a day when we discussed weather patterns. Since we entered the doldrums almost everyone has done more research to find out about the weather we now find ourselves experiencing. This is just one of the benefits of an education at sea and one that cannot be replicated in a classroom.

The warm air around the equator (heated continuously by the sun) rises, as hot air does, and heads out toward the poles. Clouds are formed as the warm air rises in these low pressure areas. Cold fronts are also more often associated with low pressure systems and with cold fronts we find all sorts of capricious weather. All one has to do to see examples of this are to look to the darkened sky. This intense frontal system might also be an example of cyclogenesis which occurs when warm currents, like the one we are in, interact with cooler sinking air. You see, some of the warm rising air from the equator becomes cool as it moves toward the poles and sinks at approx 30 degrees north and 30 degrees south. Since air consistently moves from high to low pressure, this wind – moving from these high pressure areas back toward the equator – creates the trade winds… the trade winds which we should find, fresh and consistent, just on the other side of the doldrums and we cannot wait!

None of us are complaining too bitterly though. The rains briefly carry away the humidity endemic in this part of the world. And a thorough warm fresh water rinse off is not be decried. The winds, though inconsistent, bring cool refreshment with them to our sleeping quarters. The fish persistently bite at our lines. Donald continues to make scrumptious meals which the crew gather together in the salon to eat if it is raining. Life is still good and all of this grey weather will only make the Caribbean sweeter!

A rainbow in the North Atlantic
A sqaull breaks for a spectacular view
Davey, Shawn and Dave show off the latest catch
Donald in the Galley
Even Chibley studies the weather!
WT wire splices

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