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Old 21-06-2010, 22:17   #1
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Departure Timeframe to the Caribbean

We have just completed our first winter cruising escape aboard our catamaran. It was a wonderful 5 month cruising experience in the Bahamas and we have now stored the boat in Florida for the summer and fall. The plan next winter is to sail to the BVI's and then do the "eastern Carib chain", ending up in Grenada or Trinidad to store the boat for another season. Preliminary thinking is to depart on this trip after Christmas (important time for family celebrations) but I am hearing that will make for a much more difficult sail to get to the Virgins by waiting until the first week of January to sail out of Florida. I hear that a lot of cruisers leave in November to do this route.

So...........may I please start a thread discussing the experiences and advice of others re the timing logistics for this winter's 5-6 month cruising escape to the Caribbean out of Florida.
Thanks!
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Old 22-06-2010, 01:16   #2
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The so-called "Christmas winds" do mark the seasonal change of wind direction and velocity and, as you might guess from the name, this usually happens somewhere around christmas. The route from Florida to the islands in the northeastern Caribbean is all uphill against both wind and waves and taking the path along the islands in the chain is known as taking the "thorny path". On the positive side of all this, once you make it to the USVI/BVI and St. Martin all the other passages are a piece of cake and returning to the US is also easy - but you have to get there first.
It would be easier to take the upwind portion to the Virgin Islands before the trade freshen up. Perhaps you could split the trip into a delivery portion (November) with storage in the VI and then a return after Christmas to enjoy the fruits of your labor!
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Old 22-06-2010, 01:38   #3
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We have a thing written up somewhere on this boat: "We're not afraid of a puff of wind".

I haven't done that trip from Florida to the Caribbean but we will sometime soonish. However we have done some uphill work and have a few uphill legs in the next 2,000 miles between now and October.

We just do it slow and relaxed Reef the big sail, roll up a bit of the other sail, get a good book, nibble some nice food and remember all those old ships captains

We have one 700 mile upwind leg in a few weeks - its expedient to do it in one leg for visa reasons and also it gets it over and done with

Florida to the BVI's is only 1,000 miles. After you do that you certainly won't need to 'prove' yourself

Some people say Christmas with family is most importnat... others think that couple of weeks leading up to Christmas is


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Old 22-06-2010, 03:06   #4
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I should add to my post that I've done the USVI/BVI to St. Martin trip many times. It is only about 80nm but is against wind and weather. On time, in my 43 footer, I refused to turn on the engine and it took just short of 24 hours to beat against the Atlantic swell and 20+ knot winds. This is pretty much the direction you would need to steer from Florida if you take the thorny path and if you do it in January you will probably have the same head-on waves on your catamaran. While the 24-hour trip was an extreme example , even now on my 49 footer while motorsailing it remains a long slog when the trades are blowing. That is just 80nm out of your intended 1000 but if you can do the trip before the trades set in sometime in December it will be a lot more enjoyable and comfortable.
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Old 22-06-2010, 05:23   #5
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Teej -
If you haven't already discovered it you might want to read "The Gentleman's Guide To Passages South" by Bruce Van Sant. It's not too much help for people who want to get to the Caribbean in a hurry, but it's wonderful for those who want to take their time and enjoy the trip. Also has a lot of info that is helpful in general.
Some folk can't stand Bruce's sense of humor and writing style but I love 'em. Don't know what that says about him and/or me.
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Old 23-06-2010, 23:36   #6
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Zanshin, thanks for the example you cited of how long (and trying) a trip of only 80nm can be into the trades in January. Translating that experience that took 24 hours for 8onm to a trip of 1000nm doesn't sound like much fun at all. Hence, I understand your point.


A more direct route I have seen referenced as the I65 whereby one does the easting directly from the U.S. and then bear straight south at that longitude directly to the Virgin Islands. Have you used that route yourself and, if so, I would appreciate hearing of your experience. If not, have you heard how long that trip might take. I know it is a whole lot faster getting to the USVI/BVI by that route and I recognize it could be a marathon of many days and nights going straight east into weather.
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Old 23-06-2010, 23:48   #7
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FSMike, thank you for the "Passages South" reference. I have heard of Van Sant's book and think I need reference it as I weigh the routing options. One thing a cruiser told me in the Bahamas about the Passages South book is Bruce V.S. would have you sailing at night and sleeping during the day to make the trip more "thornless". Did you follow this routing to get to the Caribbean and, if so, would you please share your thoughts. I think I also heard that the Van Sant approach might take one months to get to the Virgins.
While I enjoy the cruising, non hurried, approach I would like to get to the Caribbean as quickly (and comfortably) as possible, so that I will have that much more time to sail down the Windwards and Leewards for the 6 month escape.
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Old 24-06-2010, 05:27   #8
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If you're going to do the I-65 route, it helps to start far enough north on the East Coast so you can take advantage of the westerlies. Starting from Florida, you're in the Horse Latitudes, so "getting in your Easting" could be a real chore, unless you luck out with some extremely rare weather.

I've done the Chesapeake to BVI route three times. Experienced Force 8 or 9 gales each time, but they only lasted three days. I think you could start as far south as Charleston and do OK with the Easting part. For me, an 8-9 day passage with a three day gale is preferable to beating into 20-30 kt Tradewinds, waves and current for 2-3 weeks, or whatever it takes.

Actually, we sailed to 65 East only once in the three passages, and it took 10-1/2 days. The other two times, we pretty much stuck to the Rhumbline, and made it in 8 days and 9 days. The distance was about 1,380 nm, so we knocked about a day off versus the I-65 route.
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Old 24-06-2010, 08:23   #9
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a three day gale is preferable to beating into 20-30 kt Tradewinds, waves and current for 2-3 weeks, or whatever it takes.
You are such a girl!





Sailing isn't easy against wind. But its so damn character building that its often times worth it.

If its your first leg on a world trip then its a fantastic one to bed in the boat, the crew and the point that once done everthing is easier and if its not easier its still survivable.

When we did the Red Sea the headwinds came on us at the futherest point south that they arrive and we bashed into them for weeks (fortunately they were only 20 to 25 kts none of the legendary 35 kt+ stuff) but we just did it. We just did our watches and watches and ate, slept and did our watches. As our watch system is so good we dont get tired. By the end of it we were board and wanted it ended but we could have done more if it needed to be done.

When we finished we were tough, skinny and ready for a relax, but sure as hell we could do it again and laugh

We also are more confident in our boat, systems and ourselves



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Old 24-06-2010, 09:58   #10
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You are such a girl! ... We just did our watches and watches and ate, slept and did our watches. As our watch system is so good we dont get tired.
You are such a girl!



Watches? I expected a tough, cruising Ozzie to lash the tiller/wheel into place with his wife's stockings and then to relax with a couple of tinnies whilst tossing a few prawns on the barby!

My illusions are shattered!!!!!
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Old 24-06-2010, 10:07   #11
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I expected a tough, cruising Ozzie to lash the tiller/wheel
TILLER!! Of course we threw the wheel overboard the day we bought the boat.

We threw the autiopilot over too.

Theres no flies on my stern! We were going to chuck the keel over too as thats far too poofy, but Nic had just painted it and got to like it. Waste of space and iron in my view!
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Old 24-06-2010, 10:59   #12
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TILLER!! Of course we threw the wheel overboard the day we bought the boat.

We threw the autiopilot over too.
That's more like it!!

While you're at it, get rid of those big bits of cloth on top of the boat - they just block your view!
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Old 24-06-2010, 11:10   #13
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Teej -

As far as Bruce VanSant's methods having you sailing at night, all I can say is that it works. If you follow his suggestions you will pretty much get his results. If you try to shortcut his methodology then all bets are off. We left the East end of the DR heading for Puerto Rico with a weather forecast that was borderline. We succeeded in crossing the Mona Passage to near the NW corner of Puerto Rico as scheduled when what was borderline became quite nasty (sustaining 40 plus for a while). Up to that point all went as planned. We did not wait for a weather window of the type Bruce recommends for that area and we paid for it.

The time involved often expands due to cruisers taking their time in various fun places, but if you have a long run of no weather windows that can certainly contribute to extra days.

I've read several accounts of folks bashing to windward via "I-65" as well as accounts following the "Thornless Path". All other things being equal, I would use the system described in "The Gentleman's Guide To Passages South" (unless I was in a hurry and at least 30 years younger).

The book is well worthwhile for many reasons even if you choose not to follow the "Thornless Path". And no, I don't work for Bruce VanSant.
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Old 24-06-2010, 21:01   #14
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Historically for a week or two in the middle of November the trades winds reverse along the east-west northern Caribbean Islands. If you can position yourself in the Bahamas to take advantage of this, the section from the Bahamas to the Virgins is rather benign. But shortly thereafter, the "Christmas Winds" set in usually with a vengence and can last until February some years. However, nothing is ever constant and there will be short weather windows usually preceding a strong cold front rolling off Florida that will suppress the Trade Winds and allow relatively easy easting.
- - VanZant's books, both the "Passages South" and his "Tricks of the Trades" discuss techniques of using land mass influences to mitigate the Trade Winds. So either of the books is quite valuable.
- - The bulk of the "migration" south usually occurs after Christmas during the January to April months. Primarily because the holidays and family make getting away before January rather difficult. Then during the Jan-Mar months the Bahamas is a rather windy place and making progress east is difficult. Add in the social activities that peak in the Bahamas in March/April and wanting to head east is not easy.
- - The legs from the Turks and Caicos to the Dominican Republic and on to Puerto Rico are probably the worst of the whole experience going down island. They don't have to be, but folks start to get the feeling that they are "behind schedule" and end up pushing on in less than optimum weather windows.
- - On average if you leave Florida in January you will get to the Virgins in March/April - for two reasons, one, weather is a bitch that time of year, and two, there is so much to do at the various stops along the way that you tend to skip some good weather windows.
- - The suggestion to move the boat down in November and then fly back for the family holidays is quite good for two reasons. One you might take advantage of the short November window and enjoy a benign journey to Puerto Rico/Virgins and if you do not, then the memory of the crashing and bashing has a period of time during the holidays to be pushed back into the corner of your memory.
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Old 25-06-2010, 07:12   #15
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See Steve and Maria Siguaw’s Handbook for Caribbean Cruising
ECaribbeanPlace

Including ➥ Getting There
And ➥ Weather
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