Off-Season Passagemaking

We got an e-mail the other day from Catherine in Australia. We've never met her, but it feels like we know each other. We've been in contact off and on over the last couple of years via e-mail. She and her husband have just recently “cast off the lines” and are cruising. She asked about our change in plans and wondered about passagemaking in the off-season. It's surely not the time when most folks set off to cross the Atlantic. She thought it might be a good blog topic and we agree. First of all, as we've said many times, making plans on a sailboat is always done in the sand at low tide. Things change … the boat needs work, unexpected repairs, weather delays, emergencies at home, health issues with the crew or maybe friends need help. We've delayed departures and changed plans many times in the past for these reasons and others. Once we moved a sick friend's boat from Ushuaia, Argentina to Uruguay, leaving Cups on the hard in Panama. When we returned to Panama, only a tiny bit late in the season, there was a slow-down (read that “strike”) of Panama Canal workers and we didn't get through till two months later … too late to cross the Pacific. What to do? We visited old friends in Ecuador, then headed to Puerto Montt, Chile to visit more friends there. We dawdled in the Patagonian canals and Chiloe (not a bad place to dawdle, by the way) and waited till it was reasonable to cross the Pacific and headed across from there.

plans at low tide

We were late leaving New Zealand when David's Mom was ill. We opted to stick around another season to explore the South Island till cyclone season was over in the Pacific. In Australia, Cups stayed in Adelaide for months while Marcie's mom recovered from an illness. The next year, we were late leaving Mandurah, Australia  to cross the Indian Ocean when Marcie's mom died.  These are unavoidable circumstances and going with the flow is the best philosophy. We still made it across the Indian, but at a less relaxed pace than we would have liked. We missed some places we would have liked to see.

That said, wind, weather and currents many times dictate our passage-making plans. We consult Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes and wind pilots, as well as available cruising guides and notes from friends. Most Atlantic crossing guides talk about crossing from the US to Europe and back. Fewer guides talk about the South Atlantic crossing. We've done it twice before from both directions, but at different times of the year. One crossing was rough (Uruguay to Cape Town) and one crossing was the stuff dreams are made of (Cape Town – Charleston,SC).

plan a plan b

Once again, we're late …  leaving Africa is best done January-March if you're heading back to the States. Repairs and weather mostly account for our late start. The hurricane season is now in full swing in the northern hemisphere. So how does that change our plans? Well, crossing the South Atlantic this time of year is not the problem since tropical and subtropical hurricanes are rare south of the Equator and  when they do occur, it's in the austral summer. Additionally, the problem of crossing the ITCZ (the InterTropical Convergence Zone) this time of year is less of a challenge, since it sits further north above the Equator in the austral winter.  The problem is once we cross the Equator, where do we go?

itcz january to july

We had originally planned to head out across the Atlantic in the February/March time frame with a destination of the US east coast, probably the Chesapeake, via Bermuda. That was Plan A. Then, there was Plan B. We'd head out in the April/May timeframe and perhaps head to the southern Carib … Trinidad, maybe. We're now working on Plan C. We'll hang in Namibia … Lüderitz and then Walvis Bay further up the coast … till the August time frame and then head across the Atlantic via St. Helena and Ascension as originally planned. Instead of heading into the Caribbean, we'll head to the Guianas … three small South American countries we've yet to visit. None of these countries suffer from hurricanes … only heat and humidity. They're a good point of sail and on the way, and will provide a good entrance into the Caribbean once the hurricane season has passed. The Chesapeake will have to wait till next Spring.

plan c

Being flexible is key when you're cruising … especially on a sailboat. There are times when it's prudent to wait and other times when it makes sense to alter your plans a bit to fit with Mother Nature's plans.

stay flexible

The world is huge when you're sailing and 70+% of it is water. There's always somewhere to go. By the way, we've begun to think of it as being extremely early for next season as opposed to being particularly late for this one. It's all in how you look at it!

Thanks for this blog post idea, Catherine! Anyone else have any ideas for blog post topics? We're wide open to suggestions. Leave a comment or send a quick note via our contact page.