Join Date: Mar 2006
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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 current..you're going to get hammered. BIG STEEP marching elephant waves...so 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 weather...it will take you 1-2 months to do (versus 10 days for I-65).
Its a questionable tactic...as 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.
Last edited by night0wl; 03-08-2013 at 10:53 PM.