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Old 07-04-2016, 09:33   #16
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

Or, if you want a reference that would have been aboard in 1984, Heavy Weather Sailing by Adlard Coles. I know we had a copy on board then.

Fax machines were pretty rare on recreational vessels at that time, but not unheard of so you could have one if you like. Otherwise, we got weather over the radio. WWV for wide area coverage, in the Gulf you could also likely pick up AM radio stations from the Gulf states (particularly at night). Personally, we got pretty hammered in Nov 85 and our only real source of weather (and hurricane track information) was the WWV broadcasts.

I agree that the April timeframe makes things difficult, the reason we all sail the Gulf/Caribbean then is the nice weather. But, you can look around a couple of recent threads here, there was some less pleasant weather at Easter this year. For accuracy I'd suggest stopping somewhere in the gale range, would be pretty rare to encounter storm force winds in the area at that time of year.

You may want to take a look at the Pilot Charts of the area, they display average wind/sea/storm conditions for each month of the year.

If you look at the GoM detail page and then at the detail gale chart you will see that for the entire GoM area the percentage of gales in April is zero. Not saying it doesn't happen, just improbable.

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Old 07-04-2016, 10:04   #17
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

New Orleans to the Cayman Islands in April could be a rough passage. The main obstacles are: a contrary current (the Gulf Stream) much of the way, and adverse winds, mainly from the southern quadrant.

Note that the routing would likely be past the west end of Cuba and the East end of Cozumel, off the Yucatan Peninsula. In that area, one could expect both contrary current and adverse winds ... in addition to the cruise ships earlier mentioned.

Below is the Pilot Chart for the area for the month of April. It shows wind direction/speed (blue arrows & feathers) as well as currents (green arrows).

BTW, heaviing to in heavy weather is a good technique and is very easy for most boats. There's usually no need to go to the foredeck. Rather, just come about on the other tack but don't loose the jib. It will backwind and press against the mast, cutting off the flow of wind to the forward part of the main.

Helm down and most boats -- and certainly the Passport 40 -- will come to lie very quietly and surprisingly comfortably, while forereaching at 1-2 knots. The rule is: heave to on the offshore tack, i.e., the tack which takes you AWAY from land. Have done that very successfully many times, once in a boat very similar to the Passport 40 while approaching the coast of Grenada at night in a bit of a blow.

Good luck with the book,

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Old 07-04-2016, 11:29   #18
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

Well, as I started my cruising/sailing/voyaging life as a kid in the mid 1960's, making many passages to/from the US and Caribbean over the next decade or two, and my first Atlantic crossing in the late 70's.....I can give you some specifics......but first I'll give you the generic answers!!

1) For most offshore sailors in the 1970's and 1980's, particularly those crossing oceans:

a) Communications =
--- "SSB Radio" (Marine HF Radio), for both transmitting and receiving....these were crystal-controlled and most cruising boats' radios were 75watt to 150watts and had only 12 - 24 channels....(although some of big Swans had BIG 400 watt Sailor rigs, with dozens of channels, etc...)

b) Navigation =
--- for offshore = typically celestial and dead reckoning (using a sextant for sun and moon sights, and time/speed measurement for distance between sights)...

--- island hoping = typically dead reckoning (DR)...along with use of depth soundings on the banks or near shore...

--- along coasts, and/or when nearing coasts = also included RDF (Radio Direction Finder), which uses LW (Long Wave) NDB (Non-Directional Beacons).....and this was also used to DF on AM broadcast stations...

--- many coastal cruisers also had LORAN C units in the 1980's.....some had older LORAN A & C units...but once a few hundred miles away, effectiveness was poor.
(I remember trying to use those old A & C things, where you had to line up the master station's sync burst on top of the pedestal on the green CRT display, and then read the time delay in microseconds!!! Argh! what a pain that was....modern LORAN C receivers in the 80's were adream by comparison!)
--- and those in fog conditions would typically also have radar, but those in the Caribbean, etc. never did...
{remember even though President Reagan authorized GPS for civilian use, in 1983, the early model receivers were VERY Expensive (~ $5000 for the big Magnavox GPS....and Garmin's NavPro for aircraft was > $2500) and about the size of a couple loafs of bread! And, I don't know of anyone who had GPS on-board until the early 90's....Magellan introduced their Nav1000 in '89, I think??}

c) Weather =
--- Offshore and Hi- Seas Voice weather broadcasts were sent out via HF-SSB Voice by multiple coast stations....(both USCG and public coast stations), and this was what most would typically use for the N. Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean....
{FYI, back in those days ITU channel 816 was one of the most popular channels to listen to when on it was shared with NMN (USCG out of Virginia) and GKA, Portishead Radio (in England)....and at nighttime, when in the middle of the Atlantic, you could hear both, and raise both on the air....and back then the radios were all crystal-controlled, and most cruising boats had radios with limited channels, so 816 was a popular channel! }
Oh, and calling a large ship on VHF when you sighted one, you would always get an opportunity to ask for an up-to-date weather forecast, etc....and back then, they ALL wanted to talk to cruising / voyaging sailors!

--- those with money, had a WeFax machine on-board...
And, the US Navy was THE broadcaster of most of the useful WeFax charts back then....(heck, I even remember the freqs...8080 and 10865!)
We had US Navy WeFax broadcasts from the US as well as Rota, Spain....covering the N. Atlantic...

2) Specifically for your work of fiction...
Originally Posted by JBChicoine View Post
My characters—the skipper, the cook, and the ‘guest’ passenger—are sailing on a wooden, 47’ Bermuda yawl from Lake Pontchartrain, LA to Cayman Brac in mid-April, 1984. I’m planning on an eight- or nine-day voyage with at least a day of no wind and, shortly thereafter, a big storm, perhaps not too far off the coast of Cuba. This is a sound vessel, equipped with a motor (used only under the direst circumstance) and whatever technology was available at the time.
Most "sailing auxiliaries" of the time did have fairly small diesels, which were used to power in/out of a, so far your story sounds good..

{And, if your vessel was American-built (an old Hinckley 48' yawl, perhaps), then it probably had an SGC-714 marine SSB radio...very popular in the 70's and 80's...}

What sort of a storm warning might they receive, both visually and or barometrically?
a) Hopefully, their first indication would be getting a storm warning from a offshore weather broadcast from a coast station....typically a USCG broadcast or a WOM radio broadcast, over their HF-SSB Radio...
b) If they weren't able to get the above weather broadcast, they would certainly tell my a falling barometer (a mb/hour drop is a great indicator), but in my experience you'd get a wind increase even before noticing the, to ME this would have been my first warning after the weather forecast...
c) And, as for what kind of weather???
It would be highly unlikely to be any kind of warm-core / tropical storm!!
So, it is most likely a "storm" along this passage would be the Low along a front, sweeping across Florida....and this can be a real bitch of a storm, but luckily they do move fast!!
d) Also, take note that with wind opposing the current thru the Yucatan passage, even a nice springtime passage can produce some steep seas....and if you combine that location with the end of a deep front (driven far south by a dip in the jet stream), you've got the makings of a rough night!!

And what sort of communications were available technologically back in the early 1980s?
In addition to marine VHF radio, and the ability to actually raise large ships within line-of-sight and communicate with them effectively....HF radio ("SSB") was the ubiquitous means of offshore communications (for weather, safety, distress, etc...)

I welcome any insights or advice!

3) And, as for storm tactics with a passing storm along this proposed passage....heaving-to would be the most likely choice (assuming you have the sea room, and/or can head away from land)

There were some ocean sailors that had military surplus parachutes to use as sea anchors, but most had the old 6' round canvas cone types....and they weren't too effective on large cruising boats (such as your 47 footer) heaving-to would be the most logical choice....especially since a "storm" along this passage would pass rather quickly..

I do hope this helps....

Fair winds and good luck!

John, KA4WJA
s/v Annie Laurie, WDB6927
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Old 08-04-2016, 00:13   #19
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

There is a book - The American Practical Navigator - read by professional ocean mariners that has a good chapter on recognizing approaching storms and hurricanes by clouds, pressure and winds. Also a lot of good navigation info. It available on line at: Maritime Safety Information

Table of Content attached.

The book is 3-4" thick. Probably available on line.
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Old 08-04-2016, 06:59   #20
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

Thank you all for so much helpful information!

For the purposes of my plot, which is more character than action driven, I don’t need a full-blown hurricane or tropical storm. All I need is a serious distraction after a big reveal, something to protract the tension before the next big revelation—and I particularly like the storm metaphor. I think a dip in the jet stream that produces a fast-moving storm will be sufficient, especially as they approach the Yucatan passage. Incidentally, there was some crazy weather moving through the southern states in March of ’84, not that tornadic activity would have any bearing on the Gulf [or would it?], but it was a spring of extreme weather.

At any rate, the location of my storm is important as I’d like it to cause a bit of a waylay in Cuban waters, somewhere between Cabo de San Antonio and Isla de la Juventud (the 24-year-old, female skipper is Cuban/American, so she has some ‘associates’ in the area). She may simply come across a fishing boat, or perhaps her boat has sustained some minor damage in the storm…still working it out.

If I were to go the route of a breakdown, what might be a likely scenario? The boat is a 47’ Bermuda yawl based on the Infanta. So far, I’ve written the boat as a sound vessel, and she certainly looks great and is seaworthy, but perhaps she has some underlying weakness…just thinking while I type…

Also, a couple of you mentioned cruise ships in the area? Just curious, how frequently does one sight such boats in the Gulf and in the Yucatan Channel?

Thanks again for all your responses and helpful links!
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Old 08-04-2016, 07:41   #21
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

Nowadays, you spot cruise ships all the time at night, they're lit up like huge stadiums! (they're in port during the day and sail to their next port at night)

But, back in the 80's, there weren't too many of them out there....and as far as I recall, darn few in the western Caribbean, except for perhaps one or two running to/from Cancun/Cozumel and the US?
Originally Posted by JBChicoine View Post
Also, a couple of you mentioned cruise ships in the area? Just curious, how frequently does one sight such boats in the Gulf and in the Yucatan Channel?
So, for plausibility sake, an encounter with a cruise ship would be rare....but would most probably be NW of Cabo San Antonio...

Hope this helps.

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Old 10-04-2016, 18:33   #22
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

I've been lucky. Never a major failure on an offshore passage. But even with an apparently "well found" boat, the number of potential failures abound.

Some friends have hit something damaging the prop and the shaft. Others have had seemingly perfect rigging wire snap. Another had the rudder stock break. I just had chain plates that I had inspected two years ago fail, fortunately while at anchor. Now add possibilities like the rudder quadrant breaking or one of the through hulls snapping off.

You'll run out of pages before you run out of problems to bedevil your cast.

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Old 10-04-2016, 20:27   #23
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

Originally Posted by JBChicoine View Post
That sounds like a tense journey!
For the purposes of my plot, I don't need anything as severe as a hurricane, but rough enough weather to shift the crew's focus. Above you mention that if they were expecting a hurricane, running into a sheltered anchorage would not an option--Is that because being tied up is worse than being tossed about at sea? Would you care to expound on that?
Running into a port or safe anchorage is a good decision if you have the time and know where to go. If you are sailing off Cuba in those days, running into an anchorage there would probably would be a no go so you'd be stuck at sea and have to either heave to, run off before the storm and/or drag warps weighted with old tires to slow the boat down. Possibly go hide in the Keys but I don't know anything about hurricane hidee holes there. The Gulf Stream is not a good place to be in even moderately bad weather if the wind is blowing against the current. That would be the case sometime in the passage of a low pressure system even if it wasn't hurricane strength.

Weather Fax may have been available back then but the equipment to receive the Fax's was very expensive. Maybe a 47' boat would be expensive enough that the owner would have the wherewithal. Know we wouldn't have had the money.
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Old 11-04-2016, 05:43   #24
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Re: Weather, Navigation, and Communication Question for a Work of Fiction

Originally Posted by maxingout View Post
If the pressure drops more than a millibar an hour for many hours, you are in for a big storm.
"A Backing wind means storms are nigh; a Veering wind will clear the skies."

Worsening weather - Wind backs counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere (clockwise in the southern hemisphere), and pressure drops.

Improving weather - Wind veers clockwise in the northern hemisphere (counterclockwise in the southern hemisphere), and pressure rises and stabilizes.

In the northern hemisphere, stand with you back to the wind, extend your arms to 10 o'clock and 4 o'clock.
Your left arm will point to the low pressure area, and your right arm will point to the high pressure area.
(In the southern hemisphere, the high is to your left and the low is to your right.)
Use this technique to help guide you away from lows, and toward highs.

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