Choosing The Right Time To Go

We have been sweating about the longest trip we will do this year.

We need to go from the Bahamas to the BVIs. Roughly 850miles ESE from where we are against the prevailing trade winds. So not the easiest of passages.

There are two routes to go.

The Thornless Path

The first is to drop S from the Bahamas via the Turks and Caicos, down to Dominican Republic and then along the coast via Puerto Rico to the Virgins.  This is called the Thorny Path as it goes against the Trade winds from the SE for the majority of the trip. There is even a book about how to cheat it.

Named “The Gentlemen’s Guide to Passages South” by Bruce Van Sant, otherwise known as the “Thornless Path”.  It is an interesting read on how to read and cheat the weather to get you to your destination.

As it allows you to miss the difficult offshore passage and allows day and night sails, it is understandably a popular read. In my opinion it is an interesting idea but a bit ingenuous.  I am not willing to sit and watch the weather to the extent this guy demands nor do we have the time required to wait around to hit the right windows and I’m not prepared to do the fall back, which is to motor for 500 miles if the wind fails or more likely doesn’t come from a sailable direction (a reasonable likelihood).

Personally I think he is on to a good thing.  Lots of smug “I’ve watched the weather to the detriment of having a good time (other than my guaranteed sundowner…) but I’m getting there”…. type comments and 10 editions.  Good retirement fund. But of limited use to us as we:

  1. Have a restricted timetable and don’t have the time to fanny about waiting for the right day to day windows to take that next 20 mile jump.
  2. Aren’t afraid to go offshore………

I will say that it is a good description of how to do a passage via the S then E route but if you have confidence in yourself, crew and yacht and want to get to the BVI sometime soon, look to the second route described below.


The second route is the one that the delivery skippers use. For those that have agonised over their routing across the Atlantic from Europe to the USA, only to listen to the very simplistic instructions of the old and salty – “Go S and turn W when the butter melts”, so there is an equally simplistic instruction to get to the BVIs as well.

For anywhere in the S USA continent or Bahamas it is “run E until the 65W longitude then turn S”.  You should hit the Virgin Isles as long as the prevailing SE winds are blowing.

No surprise, the weather gets a say here as well.

The Bahamian winter months (Nov- Mar) have a high incidence of fronts sweeping through from the N, disrupting the Trade winds from the SE.  These run with a major front coming through about once a week with weaker fronts in between.  These fronts take from a couple of days (weak) to a week (strong) to go through and the wind clocks from the E/SE firstly into the S, then through W to the N.

What we are looking for is a front large enough to disrupt the Trades for us to travel about 600Nm E but not so big that the wind will be up in the gale force strength.  A difficult balance.  You need to be out on passage pretty much as soon as the wind goes into the S so you will be out on route when the first big whoosh of wind from the W comes through.

We missed a very nice front as we simply weren’t ready to go which Taia, taking the Thornless Path, took and ran S on, past the Turks and Caicos after a brief stop to sleep all the way to the Dominican Republic.  The wind was still reasonably good so they got a good hop along the coast before the weather settled back in to the SE.  It would have done us too. C’est la vie.

The next big front comes through this next weekend and is coming just after another weaker front which we will use to bounce out and preposition ourselves at San Salvador and take about 100miles off the journey distance to the E.  We also get the chance to do some follow up on the girl’s current history project, which is Christopher Columbus, as San Salvador is where he first hit the Americas.


I’ve put in a links one for Bruce Van Sant’s book for interest.

2 thoughts on “Choosing The Right Time To Go”

    1. You don’t miss a trick, do you! I’ve just found it in our blog folder and realised that Stewart never published it and thought it was quite good so put it up.


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