The following was originally excerpted from an article by noted cruising guide author Donald M. Street.
< Donald M. Street Jr. - Home
I regret that I donít recall the original source location.
Picking Your Point of Departure ~ by Donald Street
The departure points on the U.S. East Coast
for most boats bound for the Caribbean
can be grouped into four geographical sections:
Southern New England
, North Carolina
, just south of Cape Hatteras;
The Virginia capes
From southern New England
: The passage
sailed directly from southern New England
presents the same problem as the Virginia-capes route: You have a long distance to sail before crossing the Gulf Stream
. On this route, youíll have to sail 400 to 450 miles to clear the Stream. But as competitors in the annual races to Bermuda
have shown, you can use the features of this current
to your advantage.
Unless youíre sailing a very big boat (90 feet or longer), you donít want to leave from southern New England
on the face of a northwester. Wait till the front blows through, then get across the Gulf Stream
as fast as possible. If the wind
is light, turn on the engine
. This is the time to use your fuel
. Itís important to get across the Stream and south of 30 degrees north as quickly as possible.
When departing from Beaufort
, wait for a northwest front to come through. Take off at the top of the tide and head south, paralleling Cape Lookout shoals. Once clear of the shoals, head east/southeast (until the butter melts, as they say), then turn south to the islands. Usually the northwester will blow you across the Stream; then the wind
will clock north to northeast, all favorable on your east/southeast course. Sometimes the northeast wind will carry you down to the trades, providing you with wind all the way to your destination
. Early in the passage
, itís important to work your way as far east as practical before you hit the trades farther south, which in my experience tend to blow from the east, east-southeast, or southeast in November.
If the Intracoastal Waterway isnít an option, the next best jumping-off point is the Virginia capes. Wait in Little Creek, Virginia, for a good weather
report. From here, you donít want to take off on the face of a northwester unless youíre on a very big boat capable of making good time. To cross the Gulf Stream will require 300 to 350 miles of sailing, and if you donít cover this stretch before the northwester clocks to northeast, the wind will be blowing directly against the Stream while you cross it. Depending on where you hit the Stream, it will be setting northeast at anywhere from 1 to 3 knots. A northeaster against this current can set up survival conditions for many small boats.
When sailing from the capes, leave with a good weather
report, steer east southeast, and get across the Stream as fast as possible. Once across the Stream, head south to get below 30 degrees north, which is pretty much the southern boundary of the gale area.
If youíre in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, the fast and easy way to get to the Caribbean
is to cross the Stream to Freeport
, in the Bahamas
, then wait there until a norther is approaching. As it arrives, take off through Northwest Providence Channel. The norther may blow hard, but since youíre starting in the lee of Grand Bahama, you may have smooth water
until you exit Northeast Providence Channel, where the sea will increase.
The northerly wind will allow you to hold a course due east. Again, try to make as much easting in this wind as possible, because the wind will gradually ease and clock toward the east. When it does, go on the port tack and see what you can lay.
There is, of course, the so-called "thornless" path extolled by Bruce Van Sant in his popular cruising guide, The Gentlemanís Guide to Passages South. This route leads through the Bahamas
and along the northern coast of Hispaniola. Itís based on the premise that you have plenty of time and can wait for weather windows. But as I see it, with all the stopping and waiting for weather windows, the whole winter season may be over by the time you reach the eastern Caribbean
. Then youíre left with the choice of either heading back to the States or south to Grenada
, Trinidad, or Venezuela
to get out of the hurricane