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rockDAWG 03-08-2013 09:21 PM

Thorny Path
Can anyone tell me more about Thorny Path?

What is it?
Pros and Cons? Cautions?
How the deal with it from either direction?


malyea 03-08-2013 09:27 PM

Re: Thorny Path
Thorny Path

see if this helps

Minnewaska 03-08-2013 09:29 PM

Re: Thorny Path

night0wl 03-08-2013 09:48 PM

Re: Thorny Path
There are 2 generally accepted routes to get to the BVI from the mainland of USA. There is "I-65" and the "Thorny Pathy." I-65 basically entails making your way into the teeth of the SE tradewinds until you hit the 65 longitude...or generally "until the butter melts" from various ports on the east coast of the USA. What some people try to do is take advantage of regular cold fronts that march across the SE USA and northern Bahamas that shift the winds to the West/Northwest and ride the front to the east. THe problem is that fronts will overtake you, and the winds will then shift to the NOrtheast at 15-20 knots. If you're caught in the Gulfstream with a North wind and a South're going to get hammered. BIG STEEP marching elephant this is a risky tactic. Others just grit their teeth, power up their engine, carry lots of fuel and push into the wind and make easting. Once you reach 65 longitude, then you turn right and the Easterly trade winds make for a beam reach into the BVI. It is a long passage...on the order of 1000 miles or 10-15 days all offshore and well away from predictable weather windows. You really need hardy, fit crew and an extremely capable boat for that.

For captains/crew not willing or able to perform a long offshore passage, the Thorny Path is the best way to make it. You generally start by leaving Florida and making your way into the Bahamas and Turks & Caicos as a cruiser. The first major passage involves leaving the general safety of Bahamas and Turks and making your way to the Dominican Republic...ports of Luperon usually. This is a major passage and most people "chicken out" and return to the Bahamas...mostly to Georgetown, aka "Chicken Harbor". For those that choose to proceed from Luperon, the challenge is that the tradewinds are in your teeth. Furthermore, the winds off the island of Hispaniola get stronger and stronger as the day progresses, making for very harsh seas and more wind generally from the wrong direction. Some people choose to bash (and bash and bash) into these winds/waves to make their easterly to questionable ports/anchorages on the north shore of the Dominican Republic. However, what Bruce Van Sandt publicized with his book was that there is a peculiarity in the wind patterns in that at night, the winds off the Dominican mountains quiet down and the tradewinds lay down as well. This allows people that are nocturnal to make night passages in relative comfort. You are still motoring...or at best motor-sailing...but you are not doing it to weather and beating the hell out of your boat. Since a "gentleman never goes to weather"...he named his book a "Gentlemans Guide to Passages South." In theory, you can make your entire way from Luperon through the South Coast of Puerto Rico and eventually to the British Virgins via this method, including the very serious and dangerous "Mona Passage" between Hispaniola and Puerto Rico...where the entire Caribbean and the winds associated with it are forced through a gap about 50 miles wide. If you do this in a hurry and wait for reasonable will take you 1-2 months to do (versus 10 days for I-65).

Its a questionable many have said that night sailing isn't safe and you still get beat to hell and back. But others swear by it.

A few things. The Thorny Passage will beat up your boat probably as much as I-65. Things will break on this passage. Your boat better be up to snuff, as you'll be doing a serious passage through the Gulfstream from Florida to Bahamas (easy), then from the Turks to Luperon (not so easy), then the Mona Passage (brutal). Dont take this as "easier" than I-65. Its just less offshore stuff and there are places to turn tail and run to....but they too are questionable. In a north wind, hispaniola is one big lee shore. In a south wind, the south coast of Puerto Rico...another lee shore.

FSMike 03-08-2013 11:18 PM

Re: Thorny Path
Buy Bruce VanSant's book and read it cover to cover. If you follow his advice, particularly as regards researching the weather and waiting for weather windows, then you will get his results.
If you decide to experiment, then you will get what you get.

Yorksailor 03-09-2013 01:38 AM

Re: Thorny Path
Nightowl and FSMike have it right...

I have done the trip three times from South Florida and plan a 4th in April. The Thorny Path, done twice in delivery mode, was brutal, especially going along the north shore of Hispaniola. This route requires following Van Sant's advice and a couple of months to be a civilized trip.

The offshore route was benign and we picked up the trades and turned south at 67W. This route requires lots of fuel (I carry enough for half the distance) and the willingness to sail 'best course to windward' to get the easting even if that means aiming for Bermuda. A serious problem with this route is that if the weather turns bad it is hard to bail out back to the Bahamas as the Bahamas become a very dangerous lee shore in north easterly gales...some of the entries like the ones into the Abacos become lethal. You need a strong boat and crew and the willingness to spend a few days hove to in an Atlantic gale!


sony2000 03-09-2013 07:46 AM

Re: Thorny Path
From south Florida to the BVI, and leaving out politics, did saiboats ever follow the south side of Cuba to get to the BVIs? The waters near shore seem calm and there are a number of ports along the way.

flandria 03-09-2013 08:39 AM

Re: Thorny Path
Gee, going to the Caribbean ain't so easy after all. I did meet a fellow sailor some years ago up here on Lake Ontaria who did the "I-65" on a fairly substantial steel ketch. Either way, this seems to explain why the folks doing deliveries manage to get customers and make a living... Or, is the average sailor just not up to this kind of weather/sea/endurance/risk...

Minnewaska 03-09-2013 08:47 AM

Re: Thorny Path
While prep and crew requirements are different, I think if you're going to the Caribbean, it makes as much sense to just point go. Get on the other side of the Gulf Steam as soon as practical. Offshore for two weeks, plenty of spare fuel lashed to the decks and pick as good a weather window as possible.

The average trip from RI to BVI is 12-14 days. I know its been done in 9, but stories from that trip did not sound relaxing. Sailed through 50+ knots for three days.

Yorksailor 03-09-2013 08:57 AM

Re: Thorny Path
Going south of Cuba is not really any easier, you have to get through the Yucatan Straits which if part of the Gulf Stream and flows 2-3 knots to the north. You need to be in Cuban waters to avoid the current.

Going through the Windward passage and then east might be a little easier than going north of Hispaniola but I have not done this route.

We were in Cozumel and decided it was easier to ride the trades than bash to windward and sailed north to Miami and then east out to 67W which appears to be the harder way but was so benign we only broke $9 of shackle.

The shortest route is not necessarily the easiest when going into wind and tide.

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