The Infamous ITCZ

May 25, 1997 (Saturday)


We were introduced to the ITCZ (Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone) somewhat gradually. On our ninth day we saw our first squall. We still had good winds and moderate seas. Then came squall number two and then number three. We watched as lightening lit up the sky off in the distance. As we heard no thunderclaps, we felt that the storm was far enough away to not begin worrying. We did, however, go down below and disconnect all electronic equipment and throw our lightening grounds over board. We felt that there was no sense in taking a chance on being hit by lightening. We watched as the lightening remained off in the distance. We did get some rain but it was not much to worry about. It was somewhat refreshing as we had been subject to uncomfortable heat for several days at that point.

Well the fun was about to begin. I was down below taking my turn at a nap. Phill was on watch and was studying the sky off in the distance on the port side. He saw one cloud formation that looked somewhat ominous. Pretty soon I was called on board and told to make sure I had on my safety harness and was strapped down. Phill had heard a loud whirring off in the distance and decided to put a reef in the main. He barely got the first reef in the main when this whirring increased. Fortunately, the movie 'White Squall' had educated us to this sound. Phill immediately began putting in the second reef and furled the jib. I came onboard and finished the second reef and immediately began putting in the third reef. We were down to as little sail as we could get. The wind began to blow furiously. The bambini broke loose and was being held on by only two small tie lines in the corners. We cut the lines and threw everything that was in the cockpit into the salon. At about this time the Autopilot went on vacation. Phill told me to get him a lightweight rain jacket, put in the storm hatch board and get down below. The last thing I saw was true wind speeds of 40 knots. We had just refreshed ourselves on what to do if caught in a storm. We followed the literature literally. We changed course to an apparent heading of 165 to the wind and rode with the wind. Phill still marvels at how easily Mouse Pad took this storm and how easy she was to handle. I sat on the companionway steps and held on, waiting to see if I could do anything to help. As we were being shoved around, I got slammed into the EPIRB. The contact caused me to hit the on/off switch. The strobe light started flashing but I had not yet figured out what was causing the lights to flash. Phill started to yell to "turn off that light!!!". I didn't know what light he was referring to but I knew I had to do something. Fortunately he recognized what had happened and told me it was the EPIRB. For the next few minutes we worried that we would be fined for sending a false alarm. Although the unit was on for only a few seconds, we certainly did not want to be responsible for a false alarm.

We rode this storm for about an hour and a half. There was a steady sheet of rain making visibility for Phill nearly impossible. He had to just stay on course and be able to see the instruments. The storm eventually turned into a normal squall with just moderate to heavy rain and wind speeds of 20+ knots. Needless to say, we had some good sailing for quite a while after the storm. Once everything settled down we assessed the situation to see if we had suffered any damage. Everything down below rode the storm out very well. Very little moved. Nothing got wet. I got blisters on my bottom-side from being slammed up and down on the braided mat on the top step of the companionway stairs. Phill was exhausted physically after everything settled down and he had had a chance to relax. We checked the instruments and learned that we had seen true wind speed of 44 knots and apparent wind speeds of 44 knots. This was our first and hopefully our last Force-9 gale. We had checked the weather fax several hours before this storm hit us but we didn't understand all of the technicalities presented on the fax. We certainly are a lot smarter now and have a much better understanding of the terminology used on the faxes. We saved the one that showed us where not to be on May 25, 1997. ( Insert the fax here 1535_0525 from my machine) Unfortunately, we could not have avoided this storm; no matter what tactics we would have tried to use. The speed of the storm and our ability to get out of its way were in direct conflict. As a result of this experience we made a concerted effort to get as many weather reports as possible. We grew dependent on the weather faxes. I'm not sure if this is good or bad. I can now triple reef the main with my eyes closed. At these times, I'm very grateful that Phill has led all of the running rigging back to the cockpit. At least we don't have to go on deck during bad weather unless of course we need to change sails. We haven't figured a way to do the sail changes from the cockpit.

On Sunday, May 26 we had officially entered the 'doldrums'. The winds had clocked around dramatically and literally stopped. It was as though someone had flipped a switch. There were no swells, no wind waves, not even enough of a breeze to move the hair on your arm. Everywhere you looked there was just a flat sheet of water. Once our speed dropped to .75 knots per hour we decided to turn on the engine. These calm seas afforded us some time to look into the sporadically working running lights. Some nights they went on strike and some nights they decided to work. The night the compass decided to go on strike we decided to take the problem a little more seriously. We rewired the compass, replaced the stern running light, jerry-rigged the bow running lights and decided to ignore the masthead light until we got to port.

We motored for about a day and a half. Eventually the winds picked up again and we could resume sailing. Now we only would run the engine to charge the batteries.

To take advantage of the calm seas we had our first official dinner cooked from scratch. Up to this point we had either cooked something from a can or created something from ham. We had brought along a large tavern ham. How many ways can one prepare ham? We came up with some pretty strange combinations. One thing I can say is that I never got tired of ham sandwiches for lunch. I made bread and sliced ham and cheese real thin and piled it on with a variety of mustards. I strongly recommend prepackaged bread mixes. They make a great loaf of bread and reduce the activity in the galley while underway. I used 'Krusteaz' that I found at our local Smart & Final in the Los Angeles area. The only loaf that failed to turn out was the one that I forgot to put in the yeast.

It was a good thing that we took advantage of the doldrums and cooked a decent meal. Once the winds picked up again we went back to convenience cooking. On Monday, May 27 we were caught in another big squall. We saw the rain on the radar. It measured 8 miles long and 7 miles wide. We were right in the middle of it. We must have had a magnet in our pocket attracting these squalls. We learned to not get too concerned until the winds neared 30 knots. Up to that point it was just a type of blow that required more attention than normal.

NOTE: Comments and suggestions should be sent to Jerry Reese, Council Bluffs, IA.

Created by the Skipper of Mouse Pad.
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Revised: 19 September, 2005 .