Bruce Van Sant on “Picking Weather Windows”:
Sailors new to cruising often become so hyped up on getting "out there" that they look for huge windows in which to do it. Long periods of balmy weather
in light winds and seas rarely occur in nature. Like fish
, large windows appear rarely, but the little ones swarm in their multitudes. They can get you from here to there a lot sooner than you will find a big one. In other words, the shorter weather window you can accept, the more windows you shall net.
Considering the danger
of passage-making through reefs
and islands, look for weather windows of two to three days
. That's a day to ensure you really have the window, a day to use it at its most stable state, and a safeguard day. With today's ubiquitous forecasts: faxes from the Tropical Prediction Center in Miami
forecasts verbally from NMN Coast Guard, and by telex from NAVTEX four times a day, or from ham sources like the Waterway Net or Caribbean
George (7241 LSB at 1115 UCT), interactive forecasters like Herb Hilgenberg for the Atlantic (12359 USB at 2000 UCT) and David Jones specializing in the Caribbean
(8104 USB at 1230 UCT)ŠI could go on for a full pageŠno one needs to get surprised by the weather.
A truly golden tip: When you listen to Herb or David or other weather nets, listen to the whole show
, even if you think it doesn't pertain. You'll find that after you normally would have switched off, a "fill" for your area often comes by a later reporting station, or you get more detail of a situation to weather of you. Have you something more important to do? After all, you live and die by the weather. And, of course, copy your weather at the same times of day, every day
, so as not to miss a beat and offset your sense of progression.
Many cruisers get enamored of long passages from reading the tales of Pacific cruisers. Single-handing in the Caribbean I often pass these people by harbor hopping each day a few hours around dawn. Having giant-stepped through reefy islands, they hole up in a lousy anchorage because they couldn't get any farther in their weather window. They, of course, passed by the best waiting hole one anchorage back. Then they express shock at their final destination
when they find me already there at anchor
, having slept all my nights and dawdled all my days at secure little coves.
In the larger islands and along the U.S. coast, you can find a couple of hours of calm, scraps of leftover night lee, each and every morning
with which to hop to windward without strain‹often during adverse forecasts.
The chain of islands from Bimini
makes a ladder. Skipping steps while climbing up and down a ladder you'll eventually break a leg. Why do it out there?
By Bruce Van Sant
, noted author:
“The Gentleman's Guide to Passages South”
“Tricks of the Trades”
“ Cruising Guide to the Virgin Islands” (/w Nancy Scott)