Cold Front

Sailing a Cold Front

A cold front, also referred to as a "storm" is a powerful wind that will reverse the prevailing winds. If your destination is upwind of the prevailing winds, a cold front is your ticket to thee fast lane!

A cold front always rotates clockwise with its winds, meaning that you can plan what direction the winds will be flowing by looking at a weather chart.  

Now, the intensity of a cold front will vary and you obviously don't want to head out in the face of a major storm! Looking at the closeness of the isobars will give you a clue as to how intense the winds will be. If the isobars are stacked closer together, you can bet on some pretty extreme wind! If the bars are spaced well, the winds will be lighter.  

As a cold front approaches, you want to plan on leaving as the 1020mb line approaches. This will give you good winds and a nice passage as you make your trek with the winds. 

With your passage planning, it is important to keep in mind the sea state. Waves form because of the winds. The stronger the winds, the taller the seas. Mature waves, however, need a lot of distance and some deep water to form. If the winds are blowing off the shore and onto the water, the fetch wil be less and so will the height of the waves. The other aspect to keep in mind is the water depth. If the water is shallow, waves will crest and break long before they reach their mature height.  

In winds of 30 knots, mature waves can be around 20 feet tall, but if you are in water of 30-60 feet in depth, the waves will top out at around 6-8 feet in height. This will give you the power of the wind without the uncomfortable motion of a tall sea state.  

The duration of a cold front will vary, so it is important to study all available inlets between you and your destination. This way, if the weather becomes something you do not want to endure, you can sneak into the next available inlet and escape. Also, if the winds shift or the cold front passes over you before you get to your destination, you will know where you need to go to wait for the next favorable front to continue your downwind sleigh ride!

Ocean Passage Planning

When you want to go from one place to the next, you might find that the shortest is across the ocean. If you are sailing, the quickest way across will be when the wind is blowing well and in the direction you are going. 

If there is no wind, you will have no power with your sails. If the wind is on your bow, you will have to beat into the wind and waves as you tack towards your desitnation, easily sailing 2 to 3 times the distance between the two points.  

Picking when to go based on the weather will give you the perfect conditions to make your way there quickly and easily.

If you are planning to go in the direction of the prevailing winds, then you will find it easy to choose. Since you are going with the prevailing winds, most of the days will be blowing in the right direction. This means that you will have plenty of times to choose from! Simply picking a day that has fair winds will give you ideal conditions. 

If you are planning to go in the opposite direction of the prevailing winds, then you will have to wait for a cold front to come through and reverse the winds. This will blow you to your destination, but the days are not as frequent. 

Cold fronts come through periodically, and can vary in intensity. Obviously, you don't want to go out in front of a very powerful cold front, but you also don't want to head out on a very weak one that won't be able to push you along. 

It is important to keep in mind that cold fronts are also called "storms" by other people, so be prepared for those kinds of conditions. 

We have sallied from Charelston, SC to Ferdinandina, FL moving along quickly under storm sails, and again from Ferdinandina, FL to Fort Pierce, FL thanks to strong cold fronts. 

There were small craft advisories, and we were only flying the trysail and staysail, yet we were doing 5-6 knots most of the time with periods of 8-10 knots! The ride was rough and intense, but we did manage to cover two days worth of sailing in a single day!  

We worked hard, slept little, and sailed fast. Once we arrived at our next inlet, we were able to pull in and go to sleep for the whole day!