Yesterday (April 18), just prior to dawn, something happened to me I’ll never forget. It was near the end of my watch, about half an hour before dawn, with the predawn light illuminating the dark clouds and haze around us. I was monitoring an approaching dark cloud and associated thick wall of haze for squall signs and decided to furl the jib in case it was. Course was 200 degrees, with Windy (windvane) steering. The dark cloud came overhead, and it and the haze enveloped us. But there was no increase in wind. Instead, within five minutes the air began to feel quite different. There was a novel freshness about it. The thick, humid, sultry feeling breeze of the last many days was replaced by a slightly cooler, less humid breeze that seemed a bit refreshing. It almost smelled different. I glanced down at the instruments to confirm we were still on course and was surprised to see that we had changed course by about 50 degrees and were now heading westwards, yet Windy was still steering us at the same apparent angle to the wind as before. How could this be, I wondered. In an instant I realized what had happened – Anthea had sailed, within the space of five minutes, from the northeast trades into the southeast trades. This is not supposed to happen as usually these two huge flows of wind are separated by a 60 to 200 mile band of thunderstorms and indeterminate wind known as the doldrums (or Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone). We knew from forecasts that this band had been squeezed out of existence by a huge trough of low pressure, but never did I think that the result would be an almost unnatural co-mingling of the northeast and southeast trades. But this had indeed happened, and to our good fortune, for it eliminated one of the challenging sections of this passage – crossing the doldrums. Instead, the southeast trades had arrived, bearing with them the marks (temperature, humidity, feel) of the their own origin and route.
Other unusual things happened at this point. Anthea left the shadow of the dark cloud and emerged into a different set of cloud formations, these ones characterized by layers of cumulus, puffy clouds extending east for miles and tinged with the glow of dawn. These clouds were crisp and the sky was clear, turning a beautiful rose color in a manner we had not seen since leaving Mexico. After taking Windy off duty and hand steering to get back on course, I glanced back to where we had emerged from the dark cloud and haze. There, against the dark ceiling of the cloud, was etched a large, piercingly bright silver abstract shape, that almost looked like some sort of mythical bird. I have never seen anything like it, and afterwards, when trying to make sense of it, thought it might have been the moon until I realized that the moon was not in that portion of the horizon at that time. It was almost as if a light from another realm was projecting that image on the screen of the sky ceiling.
Next, I asked Kim and Anson to come topsides to help trim the sails given the new wind. The seas were confused and somewhat bumpy; fortunately the wind was strong enough to give us the force to drive through the confusion. As we continued to watch and observe, we were all amazed at the different feel and characteristics of the new breeze. Suddenly, Kim called, “Look, a rainbow!” Sure enough, off to starboard, near but high above us, was a complete rainbow, with a second one and even a third, though quite dim, visible above it. These rainbows were sharp, distinct and clear – almost transcendentally beautiful in the early morning light. Behind them were the puffy clouds that accompanied the new wind system. There was no sign of rain. We watched this show of nature’s beauty and felt welcomed into a new realm – that of the southeast trades, which would carry us on another 800 miles to Oceania.
This completed our transition from one of the largest wind systems of the planet to another. Instead of dodging squalls, motoring, sailing when possible and basically just trying to make tracks across the doldrums to get from the northeast to the southeast trades, we experienced an immediate shift from one to the other. This unusual juxtaposition was accompanied by the other unique phenomena described above. It was as if the close proximity of worlds generally quite distinct and separate (that of the northeast trades and that of the southeast trades) had created a restlessness that manifested in different ways; it felt to me almost like it provided a peek between worlds to realities normally obscured by the settled and normal organization of our world. When that normal organization is disrupted, we can sometimes get hints of other realms. Whether or not this was the case yesterday morning, I can definitely say it was a most marvelous and welcome way to be ushered into the southeast trade winds and the world(s) from which they are born and carry with them.
Mark (now at 1 degree 53 minutes north and 134 degrees 20 minutes west)