Weather Routing

Hurricane Impacts on Transatlantic Passage

When I was a small child growing up in Puerto Rico, I thought that hurricanes were conscious beings. That they could make choices about where to go and if they made the right choices, they could grow larger and stronger. The wrong choices would weaken them. I also thought that they chose to attack small islands in the Caribbean when they wanted to, or chose to avoid the small islands and spare the islanders who were living there. I was 5, give me a break.

Now that I’m older, I understand that hurricanes are merely weather phenomenon and their actions are not controlled by conscious choices but by the forces acting on them.

Crossing the North Atlantic in the Summer means that you will need to be aware of and avoiding the Hurricanes that (typically) are raging south of you.

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Every year is different and every hurricane is special, but in general, hurricanes form off the coast of Africa and intensify as they travel across the Atlantic. Once they get to the Caribbean, they are powerful and will either deviate north which will cause them to skirt the East Coast of the United States or they will slam into the Gulf of Mexico.

In general, if you are North of the Doldrums, and East of Bermuda, then you are safe from hurricanes. Hurricanes have trouble making it through the Doldrums and tend to lose a lot of steam as they venture north. They are also incapable of traveling through the high pressure system known as the Azores High, which is why the Azores are safe from Hurricanes.

We know this information very well, but do the hurricanes?

In 2018, we were in the Harbor of Bermuda when Hurricane Chris was approaching. We sailed away and left to hide further east of it as it raged on to the North West of our position. We left Bermuda on July 9 and made it to Horta, Faial, Azores, on August 2. We had great sailing going across and were safe in our knowledge that we were where hurricanes could not reach us.

Debby formed in the path we sailed on August 9.
Ernesto formed in the path we sailed on August 15.
Joyce formed in the path we sailed on September 12.
Leslie formed in the path we sailed on September 23.

You get the picture. There is no safe place from a hurricane while out in the ocean. Areas of the ocean that are famous for stopping the passage of a hurricane and deflecting them away actually had hurricanes (Leslie) spawn in there and thrive for over a month!

The weather patterns of the past have changed and the storms are becoming more vivid and with fewer rules that they must abide by.

Hurricanes are a major consideration for choosing what route and when to sail across the Atlantic, but the important part is to make sure your yacht is never caught in the path of a hurricane. Do what you can to avoid them and steer clear of them because your life does depend on it.

Weather Routing Software

You head out to sea because you want to sail to somewhere far away, but which way should you go?

Wind direction can have a drastic effect on your ability to cover ground under your keel. If you are running, it will be slower than a broad reach, and still slower than a beam reach, but certainly faster than if you are beating. What does this all mean?

It doesn’t matter because there is a computer program that will interpret all the weather data and spit out a simple command: “GO THAT WAY”. You no longer need to know what you are doing or why you are doing it because a computer will tell you everything you don’t understand.

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The program takes the forecast information and breaks it down into 4 scenarios depending on the models. There is the US and the European model, as well as the Predict Wind version of each. The colorful program even shows you where you will be at each time interval and which direction to go next!

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Look at the little boats scoot across the hypothetical screen, aren’t they cute?

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Looks like the GREEN boat is in the lead, woohoo!

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Come Friday, the yellow boat seems to be the slowest of the pack!

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RED and GREEN seem to be neck and neck!

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RED has taken the lead!

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Here is another lovely example of a program playing the role of Captain while you are merely a deckhand to the computer overlord. Hurricane Chris is looming to the NW of the boat and the computer is suggesting that the GREEN boat should head up into the hurricane and sail on its navigable semicircle.
Why? Because the hurricane is predicted to move straight and this would give you favorable winds to sail quickly.

What if the hurricane turns Easterly? Now what?

Weather routing software is nice to confirm what you have already decided is prudent and best. It can be used to run out theories in your head, but it should not by any means be the Captain of the ship. The software runs under the premise that the forecast is correct and as we all know, the forecast is never correct. This means that the suggested route is not going to be as expected!

If you still feel the need to have a program tell you where to go, don’t go to sea yet. Take some classes on weather and weather routing, read some books, and learn the material yourself. First, so that you can judge if the electronic information is prudent, and second, so that you can still navigate the weather should your electronic leader die at sea.

Transatlantic: Day 9 [Day 30]

The winds have gotten a little odd on us. We are far from any point of land and able to sail in any direction to provide us the most comfort.

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Far to our north-west is a hurricane, and it also has wind. A friend of ours that was about 400 nautical miles ahead of us the whole way had the ability to download and view weather routing information to his yacht. He would plug in our position and then tell us what waypoint to aim for to get the best speed.

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The interesting thing about the software is it doesn’t care what is causing the wind, it simply sees wind and suggests a way to sail it. Here, it is suggesting we head north and into the hurricane. Our plan is to not sail into a hurricane and instead stay south as that monster blows past us.

We know that after the hurricane passes, we will have a high pressure to deal with and light airs, but we would rather float around in no wind than brave a hurricane.

Transatlantic: Day 6 [Day 27]

It’s a really big ocean, and while we feel that we have been moving fast each day, we are still only in the beginning of our voyage. Every day, every hour, every wave, we get closer to our distant goal, but it never gets closer to us.

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We are traveling very far south of the usual route and the reason is simple, sail to the winds that you have and not to the winds you might get by going somewhere else.

Our friends on shore are telling us that we will have steady winds in the 20 knots range a few hundred miles north of us. We could sail a few days north to find them and then turn East, or we could simply sail straight towards our destination via the shortest distance possible.