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Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

Hi Folks

Many people are pretty right when they think I have a lackadaisical attitude to sailing...

I am probably sailing the Atlantic from Europe to the Caribbean in November 2020 so I have started to follow the weather patterns now, a year out.
I have done this passage twice before, once to the Caribbean and the earlier time to Brazil.

So this is a little piece about how I do it and what I am looking for... and how I can CHEAT in my planning.
For those newer to the game it would be great for others who have done a few passages to mention any methods and tricks they have in planning a passage for weather.

The passage from the Canary Islands to the Caribbean is often the first major passage for european boats... kinda similar to the first passage down the East Coast of the USA to the Bahamas or the Caribbean; or on the West Coast USA from California to Mexicos Sea of Cortez.

The timing for the Atlantic crossing really has very very long window. December though March or April. But the ARC Rally for cruisers left the Canaries yesterday, Sunday 24 November.
Now, we all know an abide by the rule to never let a date sway our passages... but heres a date thats a bit difficult: Christmas. Peoples Christmas plans are very personal and different and few wish to be at sea. They like to dump the boat and fly home to family, or drag the brats to them for an adventure Holiday.
The difficulty is that the Atlantic Trade Winds have not set in before the beginning of December and not really stable until maybe February. Unlike other passages where it can be too stormy to leave early, here the weather can be too light. But earlier again, theres the chance of a hurricane.

Its about 2,400 nms and a time of about 3 weeks. If you cant find the wind it can easily be 4 weeks. So if you leave after November 20th you may bump into Christmas at sea.

Here is todays Passage Weather chart. Looks a bit light in the beginning and then the wind fills in; plenty of wind at the end.
Simple!



Except its not that simple!
2 reasons:
1) As Ive said often but no one believes me is that I add 5 knots of wind above 20 knots and subtract 5 knots under 15 knots. So if it says theres 10 knots out there theres really SFA.
2) The great circle route does not go straight to the Caribbean... it 'curves North'.

So you need to edge south a bit for wind, but every mile you go south you add miles onto your passage becuas eof the GCR and the extra 'straight' miles. Last time I did it instead of 2,400 miles I went over 3,000 nms... thats where the 4 weeks can come in.

So, how far south do we need to go????????????????

Cheating!

I steal and cheat and ... survive
I follow other ships, I steal their AIS track and I cheat by spying on others. And this keeps me in the picture of how everyone else is doing it.

As I said, the ARC started yesterday and, stupidly, everyone has a live tracker so moi et tu can spy, cheat, and steal their tactics... and watch to see who was 'right'.




The Red line is the GCR rhumb line and everyone has headed Due South or SSW except for Eucmene a Dufour 405 doing 4.5 knots.
Of the Dues Southers is Amailia only doing 5 knots.
One doing SW is Allegra doing 12 knots but looks like a whopping racing catamaran.

Another doing just SW, a fraction south of the rhumb line is the Australian 60 foot Cat Muttley (great aussie name LOL) at 7 knots.

So I can use these guinea pigs over the next few weeks and see who has done best, and sort them out as to my type of boat and style of sailing.

At the moment I am clearly with Euceme. Same length, similar type of cruising boat. 4.5 knots in some clear sun and a fishing rod out the back is right down my idea of fun after a few winters in Europe. His speed will pick up in a week to 6 knots and the last week to 6.5 to 7 knots. Fine by me.
If he gets becalmed... check that fishing rod and roll over.
If he even saves 200nms by his lazy ways thats 2 days the faster boats have to make up.

Conclusion: Start your passage planning 1 year out so you can check the weather for your passage next year.

Your tips and ideas, critiques etc are welcome


Mark
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Re: Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

Mark, This is all well and good and there are patterns as we know... but there will be variations. I think waiting a bit for the trades to settle in as you note would be a good starting point. Unless you like DDW you want to choose a course which avoids that point of sail.

Ask Riley.... he knows ;-)

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Re: Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

HaHa, A year out sounds very Lacadaisical to me !! :-)
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Re: Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

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Originally Posted by SanderO View Post
Mark, This is all well and good and there are patterns as we know... but there will be variations. I think waiting a bit for the trades to settle in as you note would be a good starting point. Unless you like DDW you want to choose a course which avoids that point of sail.
I'm glad you brought this up.

Of course there's variations

This doesn't advocate sailing in the 'wrong season'. That is a dangerous, risky thing to do. This is Jimmy Cornells decision when to start the ARC. And he wrote the book on it Literally

The reason why its too early is not enough wind, not too much. (but yest you can get a storm anytime anywhere in any ocean)

But the reason why people want to head across in late November and not wait till be 'best' month of February is that a prudent sailor will get his boat into the Canary Islands before the 1st of October and the 15th of October at the latest, because after then is the wrong season to be coming out of Northern Europe or the Mediterranean.

Theres 2 full months of sitting doing nothing waiting for the season to change. Or if waiting till February 4 full months.

Leaving in February makes it too late to cruise the Caribbean before heading to Panama, or north to the Bahamas and the USA. So people are bound by another year, including a hurricane season in the Caribbean.

Fitting the Jigsaw puzzle of pieces together can be complicated, and a bit disheartening... I want this time here, and that time there. It occasionally need to be manipulated so far out it gets crazy. For example, look at the World ARC and see how thats done to get a whole circumnavigation in safely in 18 months. And if you want to be a little bit slower is not 20 months... but 2.5 years; 3.5 years etc etc



Mark

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Re: Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

This is interesting, thank you for posting it.

A good friend of mine will also be doing this trip next year, France to Canary Islands to BVI. He will have a professional delivery captain on board so hopefully that captain will know the boat and the optimal route, but I'm sure there will still be decisions to be made.

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Re: Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

Maybe those AIS tracks show that boats are like fish, they like to be together in schools

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Re: Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

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Originally Posted by MarkofSeaLife View Post
I'm glad you brought this up.



Theres 2 full months of sitting doing nothing waiting for the season to change. Or if waiting till February 4 full months.

Leaving in February makes it too late to cruise the Caribbean before heading to Panama, or north to the Bahamas and the USA. So people are bound by another year, including a hurricane season in the Caribbean.




Mark
I loved on a sailboat and cruised the Canaries Islands for about 4 months. Canary Islands are lovely! Plenty to do.

Yes!!! to leaving at the right time...

My friend who was sailing hard on a 20+ knot wind going South is now reconsidering the thorny path to windward. Live and learn.

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Re: Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

I wonder how good the PredictWind passage planner is, for multi-week offshore passages. No forecast is good for that long, but it may get one a good start. Not sure. Certainly, it will favor an off rhumb line tack, for better wind conditions and better VMG. Iíve never used it though.


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Re: Weather Passage Planning - How early should I plan?

Nothing good past 3 days other than the history of trade winds. I cross Gulf of Mexico a few weeks ago, Windy and Passagemaker were wrong after the first day.

Mark has been around, Iím sure his way works!
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