Sunday, November 13, 2016

On Passage Again - Palau to Philippines

We are (so far... knock, knock, knock) having a great passage.

November is "transition season" where the summer monsoon transitions back to the winter northeast trades. It's this seasonal wind shift that makes the triangle we are about to complete--Davao to Raja Ampat to Palau and back to Davao--such an easy run, if you time it right.

November and December is also the time of year where the budding typhoons that normally sweep NW into the northern Philippines and Taiwan and Japan, sometimes get depressed by cold fronts and plow right through Palau, and into the middle Philippines. Instead of being a pretty safe season for hanging in Palau, and passaging westward to the Philippines, this can be a fairly hazardous time of year. We've had a series of developing lows marching west from the western Marshall Islands for the last month.

The November 1 Satellite Picture
(Red=Heavy Rain/Convection)

Our friends on Mystic Rhthms made the dash from Palau to the northern Philippines about 10 days ago, and we agreed to be their "eye in the sky" during their passage. About the only weather you can't get by Sailmail is a good satellite picture. But in the tropics, the satellite picture IS the weather. We had helped them find a weather window that would be able to sail most of the way. I was using the marvelous website to check on the trip weather for about a week before we saw a likely window coming up. But we were so focused on the wind aspect that we forgot to pay attention to the "unsettled weather" aspect. Mystic Rhythms had wind all right...

Halfway through their 5-6 day passage the satellite picture was so convective that you almost couldn't see the ocean underneath the squally looking clouds. Richard said they had squalls almost the whole trip, with gusts to 40 knots. But they didn't have to motor!!

One of the old hands at the Bottom Time Bar at Sam's Tours in Palau was looking over my shoulder at the satellite picture and said "We're going to have a typhoon soon." And he was right--a day or so later, one of the passing Lows spun up into a full blown typhoon. Even though it passed well north of Palau, it brought some terrible weather for a week or so. The only direction that the protected Sam's Tour's mooring field ISN'T protected is from the southwest. This typhoon dragged a long monsoon trough behind it that brought 30-40 knot squalls from the SW for several days. Fortunately, we'd decided to go out for a last trip into the Rock Islands, so we were in a protected hurricane hole when the worst of it came through.

Anyway, we had decided several months before that we'd start looking for a weather window to head back to Samal around the 1st of November. The historical data (OpenCPN Climatology plugin) showed a good chance of NE winds after about the 10th of November. So we watched and waited, and as soon as the typhoon cleared away to the north of us, we decided to go. But wait... another Low popped up between Mindanao and Palau...hmm... which way was it going and was it going to develop??

Bottom line was, it looked like the Low was going to inch northward, and NOT develop. If we got going, we could scoot south of it and avoid the worst of the squally weather. We delayed our departure a day to let it drift a little north, and to let the big seas kicked up by the passing typhoon subside. And then we left...

With all that said... the unsettled weather season, more Lows building into typhoons behind us, etc etc, we have had a GREAT passage. We left with SW winds (which would be right on our nose), but the weather routing algorithm routed us NW out of Palau, to go up and over an adverse current stream, and then had us motor through the light air in the wake of the Low, and after that it would be smooth sailing. And that's exactly what happened. The first day we tacked once to avoid a squally looking bunch of clouds, but after that we've had sunny skies and smooth sailing. We motored about 7 hrs in light headwinds, and then right on schedule, the wind switched to the NW and we could sail again. We have had one light sprinkle of rain that lasted just long enough to close down all the hatches, but no squally weather.

We are now smoking along with wind aft of the beam, and a 1-knot following current.

Our new Soggy Paws loves to sail in light winds. We've had nothing over 15 knots, and most of it has been in the 10-12 knot range. She's fast and comfortable on just about any point of sail.
At 11/12/2016 11:45 PM (utc) our position was 06°30.35'N 126°37.66'E

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