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Running Down The Easting

“Running down your easting” is an old sailing ship mariners’ phrase used to describe the path of a wind ship, usually in the Great Southern Ocean, when making the long passage from either the Cape of Good Hope in the Southern Indian Ocean east to Australia, or from Australia, New Zealand or really anywhere in the Pacific when bound for Cape Horn at the southern tip of South America. When a ship gets down into this area, it becomes all one ocean, the Great Southern Ocean. This means simply that once a ship gets to a certain higher latitude where fair westerly winds are to be found, usually in the 40s south latitude, she will simply run with the winds and seas for days on end just making miles and miles to the east. Just get to the east, no longer steering for a point but just making “easting”.

This is the sailing we are doing in Picton Castle right now and for the next week or so here at 41-35S latitude almost due south of Rarotonga, 1,250 miles due south. For the last few days we have had a large southwesterly swell, four and five meters and sometimes a bit more, from a low pressure system, the centre of which was passing some 700 miles to the south of the ship. These large swells have been laying down since yesterday. It is the riding the north side of these lows that gave the wind ships their passage to the Horn, and is what is giving us our fine passage just now.

We are now also some 1,200 miles from our point of departure, Cape Brett, bearing about 282 from the ship. This puts us about one-third of the way or a bit more, towards Pitcairn Island. We have ten tons of supplies to deliver to Pitcairn.

We are having an excellent passage thus far. Very little motoring, fair winds, fresh at times but we are all for fresh fair winds to get across this broad ocean. Around the ship swoop and fly charcoal winged sea birds with wingspans of about a yard. Have not seen any albatross yet. It’s warm enough, but a good distance from tropical. Well, we will have tropical temps soon enough once we get on the road to the Marquesas after Pitcairn – what we have is quite comfortable.

This is a big ocean indeed. New Zealand looks so small on the chart. But I think that this only due to being so near Australia. If you could plop the islands of New Zealand in the North Atlantic they would stretch from Nova Scotia all the way to Florida.

And far to our northwest near Fiji, a cyclone has formed. It should bat about for a few days, give some trouble to Tonga and Samoa, give the harbour in Avatiu, Rarotonga some nasty surge and then die out about 1500 miles from us. It gives us little concern. We are more interested in the lows to our south. That’s where our wind comes from down here at almost 42 degrees south.

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