Sailing to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean 1500


One day, a rainbow presented itself; we had widely scattered showers and squalls but decent winds. CiCi and I took pictures. Click on the right-hand picture to see a bigger version; use your browser's "back" command to return here.

The weather during the trip was a mixed bag, some good and some not so good, as might be expected during a fall voyage on the Atlantic Ocean.

Weather Background Information

In general, the trip started in a mid-latitude zone of variable weather, though weather systems generally move from west to east in this zone. As we sailed towards the tropics and the Caribbean, we entered a different weather zone with northeast or east trade winds; this zone usually starts around 25° North latitude. Typically, sailing directions say to sail more easterly while you're in the variable weather zone, then more southerly in the trade wind zone. This is because the trade winds can have a significant easterly component, making it difficult to sail to the east once you're far enough south to be in the trade winds. During our voyage, this wasn't a significant factor and the recommendation was to sail in a straight line.

When considering a voyage from Chesapeake Bay to the Caribbean in the fall, there are a number of weather concerns. The main concern is the chance of hurricanes and tropical storms, since the Atlantic hurricane season extends until November 30. Named tropical storms have occurred well into December, including in 2007 when the Virgin Islands were affected by Tropical Storm Olga in early December. In addition, before we left on November 4, Hurricane Noel traveled up the East Coast, though far enough offshore that the Chesapeake Bay area was not affected. By November 4th, Noel was off New England and later significantly affected the Canadian Maritimes. In our area, strong winds were no longer a concern but lingering offshore swells were.

Another weather concern is the effect of strong cold fronts that can sweep south and east from the continent and advance as far south as the Caribbean. Passage of a cold front can bring squally weather, strong winds, and boisterous seas to the area where we would be sailing. In addition, a cold front can serve as a breeding ground for developing gales which then tend to track northeast along the front.

Once we get to the trade wind zone in the tropics, we can be affected by tropical waves, which are large areas of unsettled weather that travel from east to west through the Caribbean. Sometimes a tropical wave can intensify into a tropical depression, tropical storm, or hurricane.

An initial concern at the start of the trip was to have favorable winds while crossing the Gulf Stream. Winds with a significant northerly component can produce notoriously steep seas in the Gulf Stream, making the Gulf Stream crossing uncomfortable if not dangerous.

There's more weather information on the next few pages.

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