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Old 11-09-2012, 08:56   #1
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Caribbean weather window

I've been thinking about a transit from the US East Coast (Newport or Annapolis/Virginia Beach) to the Caribbean this fall, nominally departing around Nov 1. But now work commitments require overseas travel Nov 10-22. This means departing either Oct 24 or so or Nov 25. The former leaves me at the tail end of the hurricane season, while the latter risks early winter gales off Hatteras. I understand that I can wait for a decent weather window in Virginia Beach, but some of my regular crew are from Italy & Finland (we all Transatted the boat two years ago) and I would hate to have to blow off the whole trip if there are a succession of nasty lows. My boat is a fairly fast sailing GS 52, so I think I could get pretty far SE of VA beach in 2-3 days. The statistical weather data don't look all that bad, but I've been in some very bouncy stream crossings and I assume that Hatteras did not get it's reputation for no reason. Does anyone have any real world experience to share on the question? Thanks in advance.
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Old 11-09-2012, 09:45   #2
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Re: Caribbean weather window

Yes, give Hatteras a good wide berth, seas can get really ugly there. I've been there in moderately heavy weather, nothing extreme, and even that was unpleasant -- lots of big confused seas. Anything heavier would have started to get dangerous. Just looking at the number of charted wrecks is a very sobering reminder.

Also, sailing on a "schedule" driven by considerations other than mother nature is equally dangerous. Don't let crew and work schedules influence you to make bad weather decisions. I learned that lesson for the final time about 20 years ago, when I allowed crew schedules to influence me to set sail into what I thought was a collapsing weather window. Collapsed it did -- into Cat 1 hurricane conditions! No need to teach me that lesson again. I always make this very clear to crew before they set foot aboard.

In Oct/Nov I suggest making relatively short fast runs as weather windows permit. And wait until hurricane season is officially over before making the longer run south (you did not state a specific destination). Loads of options for laying up somewhere along the East coast. Given the degree of activity in this hurricane season I would keep an especially close eye on that. We had our first tropical storm in the Atlantic basin in May (!) of this year so who knows when it will actually end. Hurricanes often don't get the memos on what they are "supposed" to do.

Keep in mind of course, that those long term averages shown on pilot charts and such tend to smooth out the more extreme weather events which only last a few days.

Fair Winds!
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Old 11-09-2012, 09:49   #3
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Re: Caribbean weather window

THX. Destination is nominally St. Maarten. Another option would be to take the boat to SC or Georgia in the fall & then to the Caribbean later, but this sounds like a lot of upwind work ("Gentlemen never sail to windward."). B
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Old 11-09-2012, 10:16   #4
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Re: Caribbean weather window

Lot's of good advice in Van Sant's book.

Unrelated but: While cruising in Panama this year I ran across his "Margarita Cat" book. It is a collection of short recollections of a long cruising life. An easy read full of stories to which most cruisers can relate.
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Old 11-09-2012, 10:34   #5
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Re: Caribbean weather window

Do NOT try to get east from Georgia/Florida. Better to move the boat down to Beaufort NC/Morehead City and go from there. Either on the ICW, three days, or in a good window a day plus around Hatteras. That way you the weather around Hatteras doesn't affect your go no go decision. If it were me, I'd take the November date, that way waiting five days isn't catastrophic and you won't be tempted to go when you shouldn't.
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Old 11-09-2012, 11:19   #6
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Re: Caribbean weather window

I've done the trip after Thanksgiving half a dozen times, from both Norfolk and Beaufort--I'd rather deal with a front than a hurricane. The most important thing is to schedule in a week of possible waiting time for the right weather window.
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