Summer is waning, thank goodness. I realize that summer is the season for most sailors, but here in South Florida summer is the time when we literally sweat out hurricane season. Summer winds are fickle, temperatures are too cruel for impulsive action, and late afternoon and early evening thunderstorms wash out the best sailing hours. By September, I am ready for the steady easterlies to rustle the palm the trees and the heat index to return to double digits. I am ready to thrust open the hatches in open defiance of air conditioning and sanity. I know that September is really just an extension of summer down here, the month when tropical storms get serious, but Im ever the optimist and a Midwesterner by birth. September still translates into fall for me. The fall, the glorious fall. The kids go back to school and I get ready to go back to my Atlantic Ocean office.
The fall and spring are my "busy seasons," the times when I temporarily abandon my computer and go back to my real job, moving boats around. Although I dont deliver as many boats as I used to, and now focus on shorter passages than during my crazy old transatlantic days, this fall I have an interesting array of passages looming. Right after the Annapolis Boat Show, in mid October, I have agreed to deliver a Hylas 46 from Norwalk, CT to Palm Beach, FL. Later in the month, I am working out the details of delivering a Crealock 37 from Ft. Lauderdale to the Virgin Islands. Early November is the time when I set off from Annapolis bound for Antigua, in what has become an annual training passage aboard Super Chief, a Hylas 49. Just two days ago a yacht broker pal called, wondering if I was available to deliver an old Swan 44 from Trinidad to Ft. Lauderdale. I told him that if he can wait until the end of November Im available.
I thought it appropriate for this months article to a look at what goes through my mind as I prepare for these upcoming deliveries. Preparing is both a mental and physical process. My wife Lesa laughs every time I dig out the pilot charts and spend hours studying the array of information presented month by month. "How many times have you sailed up and down the East Coast," she asks in a half-mocking tone. "You could write your own pilot chart."
What Lesa says is nearly true, but thats not the point. Pilot charts, as old, obsolete, and non-technical as they are, are part of the protocol, the mating dance that occurs before every passage I undertake. I can lose myself in a pilot chart, from studying where the southern limit of the Arctic pack ice is in October to the percentage of time to expect waves of 10 feet or higher. With the DMA (Defense Mapping Agency) Atlas of Pilot Charts for the North Atlantic and a pair of dividers, I can amuse myself for a long time.
For my Norwalk to Palm Beach jaunt, a distance of about 1,100 miles aboard a lovely Hylas 46 sloop, what should I expect? The passage breaks down into three legs. First, you must clear Long Island Sound. Although its less miles and certainly more interesting to sail west and south via New York Harbor, my instinct is to head east, through The Race and around Montauk Point toward the open sea. This distance is approximately 100 miles and creates more sailing options as you head south. The Frers designed Hylas 46 is fairly weatherly and should be able to make good progress in any wind other than a hard southwester. The second leg is south, southwest to a point offshore Cape Hatteras; the distance is approximately 350 miles. The pilot chart and my own experience show a favorable current and a good possibility for favorable winds. The key is to avoid the north-setting loop current that sometimes spins off the Gulf Stream north and east of Hatteras, so I will likely avoid a long offshore tack.
|"You must cross the Stream and then select a tactic for working south. Do you hug the coast or sail offshore?"|
The final, 650-mile leg to the sunshine state is the most challenging. You must cross the Stream and then select a tactic for working south. Do you hug the coast or sail offshore? Either way you must steer clear of the Gulf Stream, which can slow your progress dramatically. Naturally this decision will be made as conditions dictate, but if I have my druthers, Ill take the more direct offshore route and try to take advantage of the favorable eddies spawned off the eastern edge of the Gulf Stream.
Mid October is still tropical-storm season, so having a good method of obtaining weather reports on board is important. I always carry a short-wave receiver, even if the boat is equipped with single-sideband radios and or weather fax. I also will be sure to have plenty of harbor charts, just in case we need to make a hasty landfall. The owner of the boat has made the pilgrimage north and south a couple times, so I will assume the boat is fairly well equipped for offshore sailing. Nonetheless, I will ask for an inventory of gear before the passage and make suggestions as necessary. The owner wont be able to join us, unfortunately, so I will likely assemble a crew of two others to join me. Three is a good number for offshore sailing, provided each crewmember can pull his or her weight and the autopilot behaves.
The delivery from Ft. Lauderdale to the Virgin Islands will be a lot like work, specifically, windward work. Anyway you turn the pilot chart the winds still come from the east, so conning a boat from Florida to the Caribbean Islands will require days and days of beating. Its best to just accept this notion instead of hoping and praying for Neptune or El Nino to create a weeks weather aberration. The odds of favorable winds on this 1,000-mile passage are only slightly better than winning the Power Ball Lottery.
For many years of experience (I have probably made this passage more than 40 times), Ive learned that the rhumb line is the key to success. The fastest way to the islands is to simply draw the rhumb line on the chart, or course plotter, and sail the tack that keeps you closest to the line. In the old days, when we delivered Morgan OI 41s to the charter fleets, conventional wisdom dictated beating east until you reached the 65th meridian. At that point you could fall off and sail south on reach. Todays boats are capable of making windward passages, which changes the tactical aspect of the passage.
The first obstacle is to keep your lunch down as you cross the Gulf Stream, which can be lumpy between Ft. Lauderdale and the Bahamas. Once across the Stream, it is approximately 130 miles due east through the cruise ship laden NE Providence Channel, until you clear Eleuthra. Although it is tempting to fall off to the southeast at this point, you should stay the course and try to leave the next mark, the island of San Salvador, as far to starboard as possible. The clawing continues as you maintain sea room off the dangerous offshore banks southeast of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Dont fret if you fall slightly below the rhumb line here, invariably you will get a lift somewhere along the way as the wind backs and like any good racer you must take advantage of it. However, you really should resist sailing south too early, or the beat back to the islands can be brutal.
I am looking forward to sailing the Crealock 37, a well-built boat and proven passagemaker. Although it wont be particularly close-winded, it should track well and most importantly, have an easy motion in a seaway. This time the owner will join me, and well probably add a third crewmember as well. The boat is based where I live in Ft. Lauderdale, so I will be able to inspect it carefully before shoving off, which is not usually the case in the delivery business. Hurricane season should be pretty well over by the end of October, but of course well be ready to alter our plans if a tropical storm threatens.
Faithful readers of Sailnet may have stumbled across my earlier articles describing training passages between Annapolis and Antigua (Offshore Training Passage, and Making Landfall at Night). This year I am planning to take four new victims, I mean crewmembers, on this 1,500-mile passage. I wont delve into the details, but suffice it to say that this is one of my favorite passages because of the variety of conditions usually encountered. From the cool waters of the Chesapeake, to the crossing of the Gulf Stream, to finding the trade winds, to landfall in the Caribbean, this passage is always intriguing. The S & S designed Hylas 49 is an exceptional sea boat and one I know well. I recently calculated that I have logged 27,000 miles aboard different Hylas 49s, nearly equivalent to a circumnavigation.
Hopefully, the delivery of the Swan 44 from Trinidad back to Ft. Lauderdale will work out well. There are three reasons why this passage is particularly appealing. First, it pays well. Secondly, the S & S Swan 44 is one of my favorite boats, and finally, the 1,400 mile passage up from the islands is invariably an off-the-wind romp. This passage is more of a classic delivery. I will fly south, inspect the boat, provision and shove off, all within a matter of days. Ill expect the worst with the boat just coming out of charter service, so I will bring, among other things, my own charts, tools, sail-repair kit, liferaft and spare autopilot. I will probably put together a crew of one or two others to join me, depending upon the budget and insurance requirements and well sail nonstop, hoping to complete the passage in 8 to 10 days. For many years spontaneous passages like these were how I made my living and I thrived on it.
Yes, the summer is fading, today was the first day of school where we live. After dropping off the kids I stopped by the boat. I started to assemble my delivery kit, odds and ends like nylon webbing for temporary harness jack lines and underwater epoxy for emergency repairs. I cleaned up my sextant and even sharpened my knife; it is definitely high time to get to sea.
An Offshore Training Passage by John Kretschmer
An Island in the Stream by John Kretschmer
Rounding Cape Hatteras by John Kretschmer
Buying Guide: Refrigeration Systems