Day 1, St Helena to Ascension Island

0830Z 12MAY22, Day 1, St Helena to Ascension Island. Wow, this is cruising sailing! Warm weather, sailing downwind, following seas - sweet. We had nice speeds during the day and dropped our average speed down due to a sail change resulting in slower speeds overnight.

Current Position: 14 29S / 006 56W
24 hour progress: 113nm, 4.7kts avg SOG, approximately 585nm to Ascension. 2.5 hours on the engine before securing to sail.

We slipped our mooring lines with a bit of help from our neighbor and friend Eric on Sangoma just before 0830 Wednesday morning. As we never inflated our dinghy (and had help tying up the stern line from our friends on Skylark), the plan was that Megan would swim off to release the stern line. But it was raining and a bit cold, so when the drizzle stopped we called Eric on the radio and asked if he would help and he quickly agreed. Of course, it was back to drizzling hard again minutes later when he came over to free us. But sailors don't mind too much and do this type of thing to help others out. You never know when you might need help, so many of us try to make sure we pay it forward / keep good karma on our sides. We tried to pass him a beer but he refused. We hope to repay him with a beer in a Caribbean port one day or just by lending a helping hand to someone else at some point along the way.

We motored out of the mooring field in light and variable winds and drizzle that provided a lovely rainbow. We used the engine time to top up batteries, make some water, test out Watt&Sea, do a bit of laundry. It felt like we kept finding some excuses to keep motoring. But after about 2 hours the winds had filled in and it was time to sail. We dragged out the asymmetric - our beautiful, big spinnaker that we haven't seen up for years. We took our time getting it all set up as we were a bit out of practice. Daxton was even out on deck helping.

We raised the main to the 4th reef, so just a bit of sail, as that would give us options and not block a headsail if we were going deep downwind. We unfurled the asymmetric and settled into the sail. The weather was warm, sunny and beautiful, with no more clouds or heavy drizzle. We lounged around and watched Saint Helena get smaller and smaller off the stern. The sailing was comfortable and felt like quite an amazing start to what should be just under a week long passage to Ascension. Soooo much better than our trip to Saint Helena where we were beating and bashing, clawing our way upwind!

We were happy for a relaxing day as we were all quite tired from Tuesday's busy day. Tuesday was filled with jobs and errands. We stowed for sea. Jon took a trip up the mast to check rigging and down the forestay to check our furler - good thing, as, unbeknownst to us the foil had come apart again and ripped our Falkland genoa leech tape repair! Ugh! (That sail is going to a sail loft for some much needed attention and these furler set screws are going to get sealed into place with something stronger than locktite!) Jon reset our two problem furler joints with set screws and more locktite. He then stowed the accumulation of gear in the cockpit and began taking the old generator piece off of the Watt&Sea in preparation for the new part's hopeful arrival as we still didn't know for sure that the part had made the flight. By 11 Megan and the boys headed into town to pick up our orders and last minute shopping. Along the way into town, they stopped by customs to see if our part had arrived. After some asking around and then digging in their truck it was located - yay! Daxton ran it back to the ferry so that it got sent back to Jon at the boat. Megan and the boys were then back on task with picking up a meat order from the butcher, doing last minute shopping, a bank run and veggies from the veggie bus. We ended up very well provisioned with fresh food from St Helena. We were lucky that the monthly cargo ship delivery came on the weekend between the flights. So we were able to stock up on apples, pears, cheeses, lemons and even some limes! Plus all the local meat and vegetables. It took a bit of work learning the whole stocking process for Jamestown, but it was well worth it for how well stocked up we are for this next part of our passage. Overall it will be another month or so at sea, but this section gets a small break at Ascension before carrying on. Meanwhile with Megan in town, Jon continued boat preps and the W&S part swap while he waited for the vet to come visit the cats for health checks and to update their rabies vaccines. After that was complete we all met in town and got to work with the checkout process - visiting immigration, customs and paying fees to the Harbour Master. It was a very busy day that ended with some beers at Ann's Place before returning to Zephyros for final stowing for sea and last minute preparations. So a relaxed, pleasant sailing day was much appreciated by all!

As Saint Helena disappeared in the distance and the day continued on we started thinking about our citizen science work. Daxton was quite excited about the project and kept making hopeful statements like we could start as soon as we were 20nm from Saint Helena or 50nm. These statements had no basis in reality, just his desire for them to be true so that we could take samples. Now, having taken a round of training samples and re-reading the directions we don't think any samples within 200nm of St Helena are allowed on the research permit. So we were just doing practice preparations and not sampling. In truth, there is a bit of a learning curve so practice runs are necessary to ensure we get good samples when they count. It seems they are focused on the 200nm around Ascension (a Marine Protection Area or MPA) but hopefully they will also find the 300nm between the 2 exclusion zones useful. We plan to try to sample daily in that in between zone and perhaps twice a day if we can in the Ascension Island EEZ / MPA.

Around 5pm we started our sanitation routine. Do they really want a 10% bleach solution? That is serious stuff. 1L of bleach for 10L of water. Wow. We settled on 300ml of bleach for 6L of water to do the sanitization, but even so, perhaps didn't do it long enough either as the longer, more detailed directions say for 15min or more. Around 5:30 we rolled in the asymmetric, slowed to around 3kts and put out the tow net to drag for plankton. We also rinsed all the bleached equipment with sea water from the area to get rid of residual bleach. Then we ran through the process for DNA sampling. That liter of water gets suctioned through a piece of paper, with a hand held vacuum pump, the paper gets folded in half and stored in a small plastic bag. The scientists will take the paper and look for environmental DNA to try to figure out what has recently been through that small sample of ocean water. Fascinating. We hope that we can get them some good quality samples! After that was done, more than 20 min had passed and the tow only needs to go for 15 min. It was time to pull in the towing net and pick up some speed as everything was quite rolly. They had asked for boats to do the tow around 2kts, Jon asked some questions via email and we felt confident that we should be able to try ours with whatever speed we slowed down to with the asymmetric down which was around 3kts. It seemed to work fine. Of course, pulling in the net meant Daxton wanted to process it (same process as the water sample for DNA), but we also still hadn't brought down the furled up asymmetric and we needed to get that down before it unfurled. We got the asymmetric on deck, put out the genoa, did all the work to stow the asymmetric and sheets (lines). Then we decided we should probably pole out the genoa so we could continue deep down wind on a mostly straight course to Ascension. We haven't used the pole in a long time either so we carefully went through that maneuver finally getting everything set up after sunset but before it was too dark. Then Jon practiced processing the plankton samples with the kids while Megan started working on dinner. Whew it got busy and people were hungry and cranky in the rolly conditions! There was a lot of plankton and after processing (sucking the sample onto the paper with the vacuum pump, folding the paper in half and placing it in the baggie) plankton was coming out the sides of the paper. Really interesting. The samples would ideally get stored in a freezer, since we don't have one they are in double plastic bags right next to our cold plate in the refrigerator. All in all we learned a lot and we have ideas on how to improve our process and routine next time. When the collections count we should be ready!

Night time saw us continuing on a good course. Speeds were down a bit compared to the asymmetric but as the weather showed we would likely have true wind speeds above 20kts and it was our first night out we felt we should sail conservatively with the genoa. (The asymmetric is good in winds up to about 20kts apparent. So it should have been fine, but it might have been a bit sporty with around 18 or more kts apparent at times.) By early morning the winds had shifted east and we were able to come up into the wind to keep a good course and increase our speeds as we moved to a deep broad reach rather than deep down wind.

Jon and Daxton shook out reefs in the main, leaving one in place. By that point the winds had shifted back and we were back to deep downwind sailing. We closed out day 1 with squalls around, variable winds and around 1 meter following seas. We will be figuring out how to tweak sails and heading for this passage as it's been awhile since we've sailed in similar conditions.

The crew is well. Excited for this passage and the citizen science project. Feeling well in these seas even though they are a bit rolly at times. Of course, Poseidon has been sick - poor kitty. Everyone else has been fine though both boys felt a bit queasy for a short while. The plus side of a rolly mooring field is that sea legs arrive quickly.

For sealife, we found a black noddy hitchhiking and hanging out on our canvas this morning. He was around 100nm away from land. Hopefully he can make it back without issue as he is no longer with us. He also left a mess which we have now cleaned up.

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