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Old 11-03-2010, 05:29   #1
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Weather (or Not)....

It is almost St. Paddy's day. I have spent the last few weeks monitoring PassageWeather in an attempt to understand what a good weather window might look like for crossing the Florida straits from Miami to Bimini. I am still unsure. I know I want to find a period with no North to the breeze. I would like 1) to cross in the daytime, 2) keep the breezes light (i.e. 10-15 kts upon arrival), 3) have a good point of sail (breeze from the southeast through southwest and 4) enjoy brilliant sunny skes (or at least no rain).
However, it appears that this combination of events is unlikely this time of year. So what does an optimal weather window look like for mid-March in terms of pressure systems, precipitation, wind direction and speed? If I have to give up one of my criteria, which is least important?
Are there other on-line or radio resources that would alert me to weather window reports for this area?
I have less than a week to explore this question theoretically? I hope to be at anchor in Biscayne Bay in about a week looking for the 'perfect' calm.
Thanks, Llyrical
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Old 11-03-2010, 05:57   #2
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Weather's not always easy to predict, and March is probably even more difficult. It would be nice to have perfect conditions, but that's not likely to happen. Since the most important criteria is to avoid getting beat up, I'd say stick with the tried-and-true advice and pick your departure day and time to correspond with an expectation that the winds will be from the southerly quadrants and fairly light. If it rains, it rains. If you end up motor-sailing, so be it. If you wait for all the pieces to be "right", you may end up sitting in Biscayne Bay for weeks.

I made an overnight crossing from Great Isaac Light in the Bahamas to Hollywood Beach a couple of Novembers ago when the winds were 15-18 knots from the NW. It wasn't bad at all. In your boat, you can handle a lot more than many and still stay dry and reasonably comfortable.
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Old 11-03-2010, 06:11   #3
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If the weather conditions are not optimal but within "do-able" take a look at the Explorer Charts for the "Triangle Rocks" waypoint between Gun Cay and Bimini. It is nice and wide with plenty of water and no obstacles to entering the Banks. Easy day or night. After you are on the banks then you can decide whether to head up to Bimini or south to Cat Cay or further east across the Banks. It is not necessary to check into the Bahamas at Bimini (if you are heading further east) - a large number of vessels track all the way to Nassau / Andros / Berry's and check in there.
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Old 11-03-2010, 06:41   #4
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I have made the crossing from FL to the Bahamas about a dozen times in the last 40 years and never managed to sail. A few times I could have tacked over but usually had a schedule and ended up motor sailing.

You are quite correct that to find "perfect" conditions is difficult. Since you are in the trade winds belt, 90% of the time the wind will have a strong easterly component. If there is some sort of weather system coming through this can alter the wind direction but often means stronger winds as well.

I usually just waited until there was no strong front in the immediate forecast and the winds were calm enough to motor sail and went for it. You can try to wait for a front and preceding wind shift to sail across. However, the one time I tried this I didn't make it across the stream in time and got my posterior soundly kicked.
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Old 11-03-2010, 06:43   #5
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This is all good advice - go on a day when there is no outlook for any northerly wind component. Don't worry about rain, etc. It's not that long of a trip and it'll be over before you realize it.

The only other thing I'd suggest is to find a window where the forecast for the day after arrival is diminishing. If the original day is within your range of comfort, go - don't wait for the second lighter day. I prefer knowing that NOAA has to be 2 days off and I like knowing that my first night/day in the foreign place will be light.
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Old 11-03-2010, 07:06   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Llyrical View Post
I would like 1) to cross in the daytime,
You should actually leave around 4 in the morn or so...so you can get there and be able to read the waters well...you wont regret it.
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Old 11-03-2010, 11:17   #7
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You should actually leave around 4 in the morn or so...so you can get there and be able to read the waters well...you wont regret it.
Excellent suggestion. Timing departure for afternoon ETA in Bimini will give you the sun high and behind you so good light and no glare on the water ahead of you.
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Old 11-03-2010, 11:35   #8
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Planning and weather are completely incompatible. Pick a day and give it a try. Be completely prepared to cancel or turn around. Sometimes you delay a little, sometimes more. But at least you're there and trying.
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Old 11-03-2010, 13:06   #9
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If you get over to Bimini and it looks as if the weather's going to change for the worse, you may wish to head down to the bay between North and South Cat Cay. It is very sheltered from the north and east.

Also, South Cat Cay is deserted and offers some great beach combing.
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Old 11-03-2010, 17:29   #10
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Waiting for "perfect" weather is usually a LONG wait, but I should be able to help...

Llyrical,
1) First off, I've sailed (and motored) across the Stream to/from South Florida and the Bahamas, dozens of times over the past 40 years......and while others have given you some good advice, I'd like to make a few specific points that might help you out.....

2) Secondly, be sure to make your own decisions, since it is your life (and your wife's) that's on the line.....no reason to rush, and no worries about waiting.....
But, don't worry too much about all of this, since 1000's do it all the time, with little problem, and waiting for "perfect" weather will mean a LONG wait....




Quote:
Originally Posted by Llyrical View Post
I have spent the last few weeks monitoring PassageWeather.....
3) Please remember that Passageweather shows computer models/predictions of weather, and while some like their easy-to-use website, you really need to understand that you're simply looking at computer generated models, and are not getting an educated, trained, professional ocean-meteorologist forecast....(which you DO get from NOAA/NWS)

Have a look at these websites, for the "gold standard" of marine weather forecasts for the areas you're planning on sailing in....
Coastal/Great Lakes Forecasts by Zone - South - Miami, FL (coastal forecasts, out to 60nm offshore, for S. FL to the Bahamas)
National Weather Service Marine Forecast (current 5-day forecast)
NWS Marine Offshore Marine Forecasts by Zone (offshore waters forecasts)
National Weather Service Marine Forecast (current 5-day forecast, including Bahamas and SW N. Atl.)

The National Weather Service, Marine Weather Home Page has more info/links than you can imagine.....
National Weather Service Marine Forecasts

If you want the graphical forecasts (weather charts and wind/wave charts), you can view them by clicking on "Radiofax Charts" and following the links, which will get you here:
Radiofax Charts - New Orleans and http://weather.noaa.gov/fax/marsh.shtml

(or if you really want to spend a lot of time searching, you can click on "weather charts", that will lead you to the master list of all the NWS/NOAA marine weather charts: Master Index )





Quote:
Originally Posted by Llyrical View Post
I am still unsure. I know I want to find a period with no North to the breeze.
4) While this is the often-quoted sage advice, it is NOT really as important as some think....
a) A 10-15 kt North (or NW - NE) wind typically presents NO problem at all....
b) Depending on the duration of the northerly wind, the seas in the Stream don't typically get steep until the wind is 20 kts.....
c) A NW wind of 15-20 is a nice reach from S. FL to Bahamas, and usually a pleasant passage.....but a NE wind of 15-20, can make for a wet beat or a decent motorsail (depending on your choice...)
d) My favorite crossings from Ft. Laud to Grt Issac Light (and beyond) have been with a stiff SW breeze (20-25 kts), VERY FAST!!!.....
And from Little Stirrup Cay to Lake Worth / St. Lucie, with a 25-30 kts North wind (a wild, but fun, ride).....



Quote:
Originally Posted by Llyrical View Post
I would like 1) to cross in the daytime, 2) keep the breezes light (i.e. 10-15 kts upon arrival), 3) have a good point of sail (breeze from the southeast through southwest and 4) enjoy brilliant sunny skes (or at least no rain).
However, it appears that this combination of events is unlikely this time of year. So what does an optimal weather window look like for mid-March in terms of pressure systems, precipitation, wind direction and speed? If I have to give up one of my criteria, which is least important?
5) While 3 of your 4 specific criteria are not mine ( I LOVE sailing at night, do not have an aversion to a North wind, and I enjoy a stiffer ~ 15-20 kts wind)....
If you wish for recommendations on eliminating one from your list, I suppose I would scratch the "cross in daytime"......since you'll need to sail at night somewhere, and a nice deep part of the ocean is a good place to start.....
If you depart at night, you can arrive in daylight, should you be wishing to enter Bimini......knowing the shifting sands, and repositioning of the channels in the Bahamas, and especially the recent (last few years) changes in Bimini, I'd not try entering in the dark!!!!

And, on the opposite end of the scale, I personally enjoy warm weather.....so I'd put "warmth" on my list.....and this is a close companion to your "brillianty sunny skies"....

My detailed comments above on winds and wind direction should give you a better clue into my thoughts, rather than just commenting on your list.....
I'm not saying to leave in a full gale, but 15 - 20 kts is just fine....



Quote:
Originally Posted by Llyrical View Post
Are there other on-line or radio resources that would alert me to weather window reports for this area?
6)
a) On-line resources are linked above....

b) As for radio sources, when in South Florida and in Near Bahamas (Bimini, Andros, West End, etc.) you have NOAA Weather Radio on your VHF....which will give you the voice weather forecasts for "coastal waters, out to 60nm offshore" (all the way to the Near Bahamas), as well as measured (every other day) positions of the western wall of the Gulf Stream.....
There is quite simply no other service that compares....it's FREE, it's there 24/7, and is available right there on board (and you'll be able to hear it from 50 miles + offshore)

c) Once you get to the Bahamas, you can get very accurate weather from USCG HF radio broadcasts (voice, text, and fax)......using a marine SSB radio / ham radio, or a small portable (~ $100) shortwave receiver.....again, these are the "gold standard" for marine weather forecasts and are FREE.....(and Sirius marine weather's provider uses these NWS/NOAA forecasts/data for their marine weather broadcasts...)

For details, have a look here:
USCG HF Voice (voice)
USCG HF SITOR (text)

NWS Radiofax (wefax info)
http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/fax/hfgulf.txt (wefax schedule)
http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/fax/hfmarsh.txt (wefax scedule)


d) Also, once you get to the Bahamas you'll find "cruiser's nets" on VHF (such as on ch. 68) where you'll find weather forecasts being read / repeated often....

e) There's a lot more info on weather / weather forecasts....but I think thius gives you the "gist" of what's what...



Quote:
Originally Posted by Llyrical View Post
I have less than a week to explore this question theoretically? I hope to be at anchor in Biscayne Bay in about a week looking for the 'perfect' calm.
7) If you want "calm", you might as well be on a powerboat...
Sorry about that, I couldn't resist....



I do hope this helps.....
If you have more questions, please ask.....

John
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Old 11-03-2010, 18:17   #11
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Originally Posted by ka4wja View Post

7) If you want "calm", you might as well be on a powerboat...
Sorry about that, I couldn't resist....


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