You might be wondering: What determines when is a good time to leave?
The obvious answer might seem something like: “If it’s not storming” or “If the winds are good”, but these are all too general and don’t really tell you anything of use for planning a long voyage!
The truth is, you want wind in order to sail, and with wind comes waves. So a glassy calm day might look like a peach to leave on, but you won’t get anywhere! At the same time, wind strength is worthless if you don’t take into account the wind direction as well! Wind on the nose might be a great reason to wait it out a bit longer in the harbor while comfortably anchored and reading a book. Strong winds from your stern will give you a great push and a wonderful (and spirited) sail towards your destination.
Now, how can you tell when the weather is going to be good for a long voyage? You can’t! Forecasts are so horrible that more than 48 hours out, forecasts are a total guess! You need to have your boat provisioned and ready so that when the weather looks like ti will be good, you can leave in a days notice.
So, what are you actually looking for to tell you “This is a good time to leave” or “This is a bad time to leave”. The answer is very simple. On a weather chart, you will see a pressure line called the 1020 line. This line shows you the border of this air pressure and it is a great time to leave (as long as the wind is going in the right direction). The wind on this line will always flow clockwise along this line, as it makes a circle over the Earth. This line is usually going to have steady winds of around 20 knots (but not always as we have found out!). When this line is coming over you, you can slip out of your mooring and make your way out to sea!
With this wind, you will have the ability to make your way far from land, so that if you encounter a storm, you have plenty of sea way to avoid running aground.
As you can see on the chart above, the 1020 line is denoted by a number “20” and it is pretty much over Haiti. We are currently on the west coast of Florida, so there is an entire country (the Bahamas) between us and the “good wind” of the 1020 line. We should have waited for it to move closer to us, but instead we left in the very calm weather and slowly sailed towards it.
The normal route is to leave Florida and hop into the Gulf Stream. This giant conveyor belt carries you along at speeds of 1-5 knots in the direction you want to go! This means that even if the winds are light, you get a push from the current and make great miles towards the Azores.
Instead, we left, crossed the Gulf Stream, said goodbye to it’s help, and made our way towards the 1020 line.