Transat - Day 7 15.22.90N 39.44.40W

Suzie Too - Western Caribbean
David & Suzanne Chappell
Thu 2 Dec 2010 10:19
The night before last we heaved to and had our meal in peace as the boat sat quietly going nowhere. Tonight we sat out and watched the phosphorescence, turning all the boat’s lights and nav lights off to watch a quite spectacular show as Suzie Too slices through the water – still motoring. Yes, still no wind and 1 diesel tank almost empty – one more and a reserve to go and another 100 litres in jerry  cans.
Most of the morning we hoisted Code Blue, then the wind backed and we downed that and hoisted Old Blue – so many sail changes, trying to sail efficiently. In the afternoon we had several line squalls go past and over us, with not too much wind – around 20kts but plenty of rain, so at least the rigging got the salt rinsed off. Later in the morning the wind died, so we put the engine back on again. Then just as dusk fell we got into a much bigger system, winds at Force 7 with a full on tropical downpour for a couple of hours, so much rain it flattens the waves and looks like an Artic scene with the spume blowing across the sea, so 3 reefs in the main and staysail, then unfurled the yankee as the wind eased into the night.
On my watch, 0000 – 0300 zulu, the wind had eased and I shook all the reefs out and for a while we were creaming along at 8kts in the right direction and it was perfect sailing!! – That makes a change!!
1,304M to go to Bridgetown, Barbados.
Suzie Too and Crew
PS – I am really pleased with my weather routing, it has not been simple trade wind sailing and difficult to predict the best route, but with daily GRIB files from MaxSea and Synoptic Charts from Mailasail we are doing the best we can.
It is a strange year and the ARC boats, that left Gran Canaria 3 days before us, aren’t finding it easy but have also been advised to go south – for those of you that understand these things here is what Chris Tibbs, the Mailasail Forecaster who is contracted to World Cruising Club for the ARC advised the boats (thanks for sending this Sharon)
The high pressure has not gone completely and there is a weak ridge of high pressure that has been squeezed and forced south with the axis lying roughly along 13.5 degrees N. North of 14N there is WSW-SSW winds strengthening to the north, whilst a weak version of the trade winds will be found south of about 12N.

What does this mean?

For the northerly boats in the fleet there are strong headwinds with punishing seas; N of 20N the wind is expected to be over 20 knots with heavy squalls. Yachts S of the Cape Verde Islands are struggling with light winds heading to the SW to find the trade winds. The vast majority of the yachts are NW of the Cape Verde Islands between 17-20N and will continue to face headwinds; lighter to the south and strongest to the north. This leaves a disappointing choice, continue on port tack and get pushed to the north in increasing wind and the prospect of headwinds until next weekend, or take a long tack to the south to the light and variable winds in the ridge and light trade winds to the south.
The good news

For anyone taking the southerly option the good news is that the ridge is expected to be slowly moving N as the current low moves away to the NE. So by 1200gmt Tuesday the trades should be found at 15N and at 1200gmt on Wednesday at 18N.

Longer term there will be a large area of squally conditions west of about 33W. This needs watching as it may develop into a small low with some strong wind on the northern side. It is difficult to predict just how strong the squalls will be, however it is likely that there will be gusts in excess of gale force within this area. As this moves away NE, after a period of variable wind, the trades will become established again to the south and the long range forecast is for moderate to strong trades for the final 1/3rd of the crossing.
To find the trades therefore continue to head to the south, it will require a dip south at least to the latitude of St Lucia and possibly to about 12N. The alternative is a more northerly route which will give more wind but it is likely to be strong headwinds pushing you further and further north. It is easy to imagine that the trade winds are a fixed feature of Atlantic sailing, especially if you read the classic cruising tales of the 1950s.

Trade winds are part of a highly complex system that we don't fully understand; affected by sun spots, high altitude winds and sea temperatures. 2010 is obviously one of those years that reminds us that an Atlantic crossing under sail is not something that can be controlled and organised to a tight schedule - ocean sailing is still about working with the weather.