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ontherocks83 04-10-2014 14:28

Gulf Stream Question.
This is a ways in the future for me but figured I'd ask out of research and curiosity.

If I were to sail from Newport Rhode Island to Bermuda how do you plan timing the weather for the gulf stream and the path (rhumb line or other)?

I can guess you'd be able to forecast the weather when leaving as the stream seems to be only 2 or 3 days out but what about on the return trip? Or as an extension/further illustration to the question crossing the Atlantic east to west. Theres no way to predict the weather that far out and everyone always go on about waiting weeks to not catch northerlies across the stream. So how do you plan for the crossing?

Thanks for the insight!

MarkJ 04-10-2014 18:48

Re: Gulf stream question.
I havent done it from that direction but have from Bahamas to New York.

I sat in the Abacos for 4 weeks waiting out a long spell of bad weather. Many other people got tired of waiting and headed off.... And were punched up pretty badly. One of my friends when getting to shore put his boat on the market immediately. Perhaps I have sailed in more oceans so I know not to sail in bad weather in any ocean, let alone the Gulf Stream. Doesn't that sound full of myself? Lol. But theres no way I leave port into a "mixed sky" and thats all there was for a whole month. So don't forget to look up when you read the weather. :)

Mixed sky | Cloud Tags | The Cloud Appreciation Society
This pic on this link is from the Cloud Appreciation Socienty (you didnt know they existed!) because I havent got a good photo. A mixed sky is different layers of clouds doing things that are not really associated with other layers. But each on their own look a bit weird, and when all the layers put together they look a bit grumpy. The Forecast may be only 10 to 15 knots but you look up at this mixed stuff and wonder how long the 10 knots will be before the 40 knots takes over... So learn to pick it as they are often contrary to weather reports.

sailorboy1 05-10-2014 05:51

Re: Gulf stream question.
I think Passagemaker gives the forecast for 5 days out including the Gulfstream.

Sent from my iPhone using Cruisers Sailing Forum

ontherocks83 05-10-2014 06:15

Re: Gulf stream question.

Originally Posted by sailorboy1 (Post 1645952)
I think Passagemaker gives the forecast for 5 days out including the Gulfstream.

Sent from my iPhone using Cruisers Sailing Forum

It does but what about when going the other way or when coming from across the pond? I cant imagine you would heave to outside the gulf stream waiting for better weather. Is it just a luck game in those cases or is there a lot more to it?

belizesailor 05-10-2014 06:45

Re: Gulf stream question.
N of about 35N the Stream really spreads out and develops a lot of complex patterns so accurate & very detailed info can make a big difference in your crossing. When crossing the Stream towards Bermuda, details can make a big difference. For example, you not only want to know the location of the axis of Stream, but accurate location of meanders and hot/cold eddies. These thermal eddies spin much like low/high pressure systems so choosing the favorable side can give you a nice boost. Stumbling into the wrong side can kill your SOG.

Jennifer Clark is a Gulf Stream guru retired from NOAA who provides routing services.

Lots of data and images available on OPC & Navy sites like:

An accurate sea surface temp probe reading on your instruments can be very handy in helping to gauge where you are relative to stream features (a bit like using a barometer to gauge relative location to a weather feature).

Choose your weather window carefully, the stream can have a big impact on sea state. It can also create its own localized weather near the axis due to all that rising warm air. You can use this to help spot the axis when approaching too by the line of cumulus clouds above it (much like using the same to spot a land mass from a distance).

belizesailor 05-10-2014 07:00

Re: Gulf stream question.
When crossing E-W if you can't get details aboard then I suggest having someone ashore via SSB/sat phone who can advise you. Experienced guidance from ashore can make a big difference not only in boat speed, but in safety. I think Herb, many years ago, potentially saved my life when he advised we not enter the E wall of the stream in route to Annapolis. We hove-to outside and waited out the weather instead. We had steep, breaking 20'+ seas outside the wall, I can only imaging what it must have been like in the stream...that brief radio conversation at the very least saved us a hellish opposed to being comfortably hove to with a nice meal and a good rest.

accomplice 05-10-2014 07:10

Re: Gulf stream question.
Good advice from others, the only thing I'd add is to factor in the season.

I'm leaving for Bermuda (from RI) in two and a half days and have had my eyes on the weather for a month now. The Newport-Bermuda and Marion-Bermuda are run in the second half of June for good reasons. Not only are tropical cyclones rare in those waters in that month, but also as the pilot charts show -- the wind is often out of the southwest quadrant. In fall and especially winter, the wind is more often out of the northwest. I haven't done it that time of year, but I expect this would make a return to New England unpleasant.

Perhaps you've noticed that in southern New England the last few weeks the wind pattern has changed from south westerlies that build as the day goes on to north-easterlies that blow around the clock.

I've made a few gulf stream crossings -- probably not nearly as many as some on here. With good weather they're pleasant and uneventful. With wind opposite the current they're rather uncomfortable. Even with wind in the same direction as the current, I was surprised at the wave heights & steepness in the stream in gale conditions.

My suggestion would be to pick the time of year when you're likely to have favorable weather, to watch for a good forecast before leaving (even though forecasts are imperfect and a good forecast is no guarantee of good conditions), and then to plan to stay in Bermuda for a while before returning so you can wait for the good timing to return.

Another option, too, is to crew on someone else's boat to get a feel for it before doing it on your own.

jstevens 05-10-2014 07:24

Re: Gulf stream question.
+1 on using Jenifer Clark to get a GS analysis a few days before entering the influence of the GS. She delivers her analysis as a JPEG file via email, so it can be received while underway (via Winlink). I usually import her chart into plotting software (e.g., Fugawi) so I can plot out a potential route around the eddies. The GS doesn't change much in a week or two so you don't need the very latest analysis. Also the analysis depends on satellite images, which may be obscured by cloud cover.

To answer the O.P.'s question on how to plan your encounter with the GS to coincide with settled weather - basically you can't, and yes heaving to for several days well outside of the GS core is often done by prudent cruisers. That's why most cruisers on the US East Coast will wait in port for several days after a frontal passage before heading toward the GS. Those crossing from east to west have the option of stopping in Bermuda.

Those that just plow through regardless of weather often have a bad experience, although the horror stories of massive seas in the GS are a bit overdone. It can produce very dangerous conditions, but that depends on a good fetch of northerly winds: strength, distance and time. Usually a northerly will produce very uncomfortable conditions, but not life-threatening.


ontherocks83 06-10-2014 10:43

Re: Gulf stream question.
Thank you all that is a great starting point for me. I have saved Jen Clark's website and will start with some research there.

Accomplice I hope you have fair winds for your trip. Check in after you get there. I would love to hear how things went.

Happy sailing!

SVTatia 06-10-2014 10:52

Re: Gulf stream question.

Originally Posted by ontherocks83 (Post 1645961)
It does but what about when going the other way or when coming from across the pond? I cant imagine you would heave to outside the gulf stream waiting for better weather. Is it just a luck game in those cases or is there a lot more to it?

You'd do the same as on the way out - get a good forecast window and GS information. Bermuda has very good weather tracking and provide cruisers with all the information needed.

ontherocks83 12-10-2014 05:57

Re: Gulf Stream Question.
Accomplice with Fay hitting Bermuda hope you didnt leave yet. Let us know how your planning/trip is going.

Hud3 12-10-2014 06:32

Re: Gulf Stream Question.
Here are a few more websites with Gulf Stream graphics...

NCOM Gulf Stream Currents

Gulf Stream Compare

DEOS Current Velocities

The graphics really illustrate that planning your route to take advantage of the "fair current side" of the eddys is important, especially when crossing from New England, since the current patterns are so much more complicated than down around Virginia and North Carolina.

MarkJ 12-10-2014 08:14

Re: Gulf Stream Question.

Originally Posted by ontherocks83 (Post 1651653)
Accomplice with Fay hitting Bermuda hope you didnt leave yet. Let us know how your planning/trip is going.

Yes, at least the wind is behund him.

Snore 12-10-2014 09:34

Re: Gulf Stream Question.
I have not done that run, but living/sailing in S Fla, I am familiar with the Gulf Stream.

In general any wind north of east or west, will stand up the Gulf Stream. How bad? In the winter when the wind is out of the NW or NE for a few days- looking out over the ocean you can see what appears to be small mountains- those are the waves in the GS.

Suggest you research the logs of the Newport Bermuda or the Bermuda 1-2. I believe you will see most cross the GS at a perpendicular and then head south.

accomplice 14-10-2014 22:49

Re: Gulf Stream Question.
ontherocks83, here's the checkin you asked for.

It was quite an eventful trip. I originally planned to depart at first light on Wednesday (8 October). The forecast was for 25-30kts out of the south early Wednesday accompanied by 6-9 foot seas, winds and seas veering to the west as the day went on. Rain was supposed to be heavy in the morning, clearing in the afternoon and winds dropping to 15-20. The rest of the trip was looking mild with 5-15 abaft the beam the whole way. Cloud cover was set to be clear most of the journey, to increasing on Saturday evening as we made landfall in Bermuda.

Based on this forecast, I decided to delay our departure a few hours. Who wants to start a trip pounding into a lumpy 25+? We cast off at 0930, just as the sky was clearing. The wind had already shifted to the southwest and we had a speedy run (8.5kts+) along the rhumb line (165M). The winds eased during the day and by nightfall we had slowed to 7 knots. I looked at the current GRIBs I had pulled before departure and decided to alter course to the east to pick up what looked like a long run of favorable current. We spent Thursday alternating between sail and power. Thursday weatherfax showed a new development -- a possible tropical disturbance forming just north of the virgin islands. The hoped-for favorable current never materialized, and I found us motoring against a 2knt current into the night and into Friday morning. Friday afternoon brought a shock. The Navtex, slightly garbled, described a tropical depression headed for Bermuda late Sunday and requested all vessels within 300 miles of *&*(&)&^(* to get on a 3 hour reporting schedule with Bermuda radio.

Although we had wasted time getting east of the rhumb line and fighting adverse current, I decided I'd burn some diesel and beat the storm to Bermuda. I was only about 250 miles out. Without the current, I could get in late Saturday night. If the unfavorable current persisted, that might push into early Sunday morning.

Interested in keeping Bermuda marops updated per their request (did it apply to me? i didn't know), I realized that I had forgotten to note the HF frequencies for Bermuda radio. I also didn't know if they wanted us on the reporting as I couldn't decipher the area of interest.

I attempted to call my wife on the satphone. It was then I discovered that the "units" I had just purchased for the phone were, for some reason, not valid. No worries.. I could still take incoming calls. So I pressed the custom "please call me" button on our spot gps and an hour or so later my wife called. I asked her to call Bermuda marops, to give them our tracking URL, learn their HF monitoring frequencies, and call me back.

My wife did call back, with the message that the storm had been upgraded to a tropical storm, was due in Sunday morning, and that Bermuda marops had said I should slow way down and not plan to arrive Bermuda until at least Monday. Monday? I was only 240 miles away now and it was still Friday!

So, what to do.... I felt that simply going slow was not an option for me -- if something changed in the storms path, and it came further north, I was a sitting duck, sitting in the strong current of the gulf stream (or a northbound eddie). So, I headed west southwest. This way if the storm did change course, I'd be more sure to be on the navigable side of it. Also, I would hopefully escape this northbound current I was in. I went west until 68W, then due south. I planned on heading south to below 33N, and then make a bee-line directly east to Bermuda.

I arrived at about 35N 68W by Saturday night. A look at the latest weatherfax, though, showed the storm was continuing Northwest and was going to hook "up" a bit more before turning east for Bermuda. I decided to go no further south and hove-to at 34 45N for the night on Saturday.

By Sunday morning the seas and winds had built. Even hove-to it was getting bouncy. I was still 240 miles from Bermuda -- the same distance I had been about 40 hours before -- I was eager to make progress. Up until now, the only "weather" we experienced the whole trip was a fast and bumpy first day -- it was otherwise gorgeous. I figured that since the storm was moving NE at 15-20kts and I would be moving ESE at ~7kts, it would be moving the nasty stuff away from me.

Sunday was interesting. We were broad reaching in 30kts gusting 35-40, facing a 1-1.5kt current. The seas were very odd in the 10-12 foot range, as they were developing -- causing the boat to both yaw and roll. By afternoon the seas had developed to 15-18ft, but were much more comfortable. I had no interest in pushing the boat hard since I was chasing the storm, so I was perfectly happy making only 6kts SOG. (against a current).

By midnight the wind had eased and the seas became strange again, coming from every direction. Just before dawn we put on the motor to keep forward progress. When the sun came out, we took a reef out of the main, and exchanged the staysail for a partially furled genoa. We screamed along, beating, against the current with 15-20kts true wind, all the way to Bermuda, arriving Sunday at sunset. As we took a right turn to make it through the reef, for the first time in the whole trip we finally had favorable current.

So.... what should have been a 3.5 day 640 mile trip turned into a 5.5 day 900+ mile trip. We pretty much avoided any heavy weather. The gulf stream, aside from giving us contrary-to-prediction opposing currents was quite timid.

Now we have a different problem. We're sitting in St. Georges looking at the weather forecast and seeing Gonzalo headed straight for us. Wish us luck!

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