Clouds

Transatlantic: Day 25 [Day 46]

Aug 1st, 2018. We have now entered the Azores, and with great speed too! Our average speed for this 24 hour run was a whopping 5.5 knots.

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At dawn the horizon was still empty, but I knew land would be visible soon. We decided to sail close to Corvo because we wanted to see some land before we made our way into the archipelago.

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While the horizon might look like more water, there is a give-away written in the clouds! All clouds move, but clouds over an island will tend to be stationary.

While staring ahead, I noticed that the clouds just above and to the left of the gate never seemed to move. All the clouds were moving from right to left over the horizon, but those clouds were stationary. LAND!

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We kept sailing in that direction and soon I could see the faint outline of the cliff sides of Corvo rising up out of the water!

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A while later, we were several miles closer to the island and the outline of the landmass seems more pronounced on the horizon.

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The original plan was to sail between Corvo and Flores as we entered the Azores, but I was worried about wind shifts from the cape effect as we passed through the narrow straight between the two islands. I was also concerned with the current that might exist in there as the tidal waters moved from East to West. According to the tide tables, it was supposed to be high tide, so we might be approaching the pass at peak ebb tide and be pushed back unnecessarily!

Instead of risking it, we simply put Corvo on our starboard bow and continued to make our way towards it.

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We passed the island on the North side and stayed close enough to appreciate the beautiful sight of land but far enough to keep safe from the dangerous shores that we saw before us.

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Passing the island on the North side while sailing on starboard tack means that we were not going to have a lee shore, but we would have to negotiate with the islands wind shadow. The wind shadow of an island can extend for miles, as it is roughly 8 times the length of the objects height. On a massively tall island like this, the wind shadow could easily extend for miles out to sea. Thankfully, the island is small so the wind shadow would be short lived as we drift across the waters while being pushed by the current.

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As we neared, we were graced by the presence of something we hadn’t seen in a while: birds.

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This guy looks like a brown albatross from a distance, though I am not a bird watcher by any measure. It was merely massive, huge, glided around without flapping its wings, and had a beak that resembles that of an albatross. Most importantly, this bird has land behind him!

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We have now entered the Azores and were close to our next port.

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We passed rather close to Corvo and once clear of the wind shadow, made our way towards Faial. Horta is located on the SE side of the island, but the winds were acting kind of fluky, so I decided it would be best to head straight there in as short a distance as possible. If we could get close to the island, we could then day sail our way into port without any major distances to cover. If we hedge our bets on what the winds will do, we might find ourselves far off with the wrong winds and no motoring ability to correct the mistake.

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Seeing land after 25 days is magical. The horizon used to always be empty, and all of a sudden, there it is, the missing vision we have been searching for!

Transatlantic: Day 23 [Day 44]

July 30, 2018 and we are nearing the Azores. The goal was to make it there in around 18 days, and at this point we are 5 days over that mark. This might seem like an issue to someone who is adhering to a strict schedule, but that is not us!

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The winds got a little light so we turned North a bit until they got stronger, then we continued sailing East towards the Azores.

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According to our friends who have now made it to Flores and our friends who are in the United States with weather routing programs on their computers, they have been telling us that the ideal turning waypoint is coming up. I plotted it on our screen with a sign post because I thought it was cute and it gave me something to do. I also added another lighthouse down on Ponta Delgada of Sao Miguel. Why? Because it is a harbor that I have studied and if we miss Horta, we can try for Angra, and if we miss Angra, we can try for Ponta Delgada. Why have so many backups? Because having backups means we don’t stress out if we miss our goal.

Imagine you are in a race and someone holds out a cup of water. It is a long race and this is the only cup of water that you will be offered to you. You are probably going to be really focused on that single cup of water. Everything else is unimportant and all your attention goes into reaching and obtaining that water.

That’s a lot of pressure to grab that single cup of water!

How about this situation for perspective: same race, but a long line of people holding out cups of water. If you miss one, simply re-aim for the next cup and grab that one. Easy!

That’s what I did here. I marked all the cups and created a long line of them for us to grab. We still have our ideal cup, but we can grab any of the other cups if we miss.

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The clouds start talking today too. Up ahead on our starboard side, the sky is completely clear (high pressure).

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To our Port side, you can see clouds rolling in (approaching low pressure).

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Way out in the distance, directly to our Starboard beam, you can see reddish skies. This is very visible with polarized lenses, and tells you that you are looking at a high pressure system in the distance. The higher air pressure refracts light differently and shifts it towards the red side of the spectrum. Just by looking at it, you can see that there is a High to Starboard and you know that means no wind over there.

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As the day continues on, the low from the Port side begins to roll in further and is now visible on the starboard side. This is how we make sure to stay in the wind. A low pressure system will have winds rotating in a counter clockwise manner, so being on the lower right side of the system means we will be having winds blowing from behind us! Basically, we can expect to be on a Broad Reach on Port Tack tomorrow (when the system comes in all the way), just by looking at the clouds!

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As the day drags on, the low pressure continues to roll in. Low pressure systems are great because the winds come on gradually. This means that you don’t have to reef right away when you see them because you aren’t going to get smashed by a wall of wind in two days. Instead, the winds will simply continue to build gradually and you can go reefing accordingly.

Transatlantic: Day 12 [Day 33]

We are approaching the Azores High and it would behoove us to head further north to keep with the winds.

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We are moving a little slower but still moving right along. The weather around us is stable and we are making great progress, but we know that the large high is rising up from the south and will bring calm winds and seas. The further north we can get, the more chance of keeping up this pace we will have.

The view never changes, everywhere we look, all we see are clouds and waves. The waves tell us what the winds are like right now and the clouds tell us what the winds will be like in the next few days. We haven’t bothered to receive a Weather Fax in weeks since they are so inaccurate. Instead, we get our weather the old fashion way: by looking up at the sky!

Transatlantic: Day 17

We are moving! Another day of 90+ nautical miles and we are quickly gaining on the next place we can make landfall!

Yesterday, some clouds warned us that conditions were going to be deteriorating. Today, those conditions arrived and we were ready!

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With our staysail and trysail set, we are ready to handle any conditions that could come our way.

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While I’m not a fan of squalls, and I’m really not a fan of squalls in the dark, squalls at sunset are breathtakingly beautiful! The colors of the sunset mix and combine with the moisture in the air from the clouds. What would have been another ordinary sunset was a world of pastel and surreal but all in front of our eyes!

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Having our storm sails set and ready took the fear that loomed in my mind and shut it away! We were ready for the winds that could accompany a squall and all we had now to do was enjoy the beauty that was being presented to us hundreds of miles from civilization.

On a side note, an easy way to judge how bad a squall will be is to look at the rain coming out of it. If the rain is vertical, there probably won’t be much wind. If the rain is slanted, then that is the direction of the wind.

Do you see the flaw in this method of observation? What if the rain is slanted towards you? It looks like the rain is falling vertically and you would expect no wind, but in fact it could be quite tremendous and catch you off guard.

These clouds were all around us and the rain in all of them seemed vertical. The lack of white caps also meant that there was little wind at the moment, but it is always best to reef down in anticipation and simply lose a few knots of boat speed for a while than to be caught out at sea with too much sail up!

Atlantic Crossing Part 8

 
 

Herby gives you a crash course on how to read the clouds and use old school weather techniques to get you across an ocean safely and without relying on electronics.