Weather Windows

Weather window – a limited interval when weather conditions can be expected to be suitable for a particular project, such as laying offshore pipelines, reaching a high mountain summit, launching a satellite….. or allowing the Henderson family to sail in relative comfort without the wind directly on their nose!

‘We’ll be fine, Louise.  As we have time to wait for the weather then we should always be able to sail in favourable conditions.’  This was Stewart’s stock response whenever I voiced concerns about being able to deal with the weather and resultant seas – the theory and his logic seemed to be sound…..  However, time (as the saying goes) flies when you are having fun.  I honestly do not know where the last six months have gone but what I do know is that we are having a fantastic time and regularly lose track of the day of the week.  We were not on a strict schedule but we did have to keep on the move if we are to explore the Caribbean and be far enough south for hurricane season.  And sometimes the weather does not always do what you need it to do.

We have had to wait for several ‘weather windows’ on this voyage so far and I’m still not sure that I have experienced a good one.  Our departure from Florida required us to wait for a weather window that would see us across the Gulf Stream.  We had seen solid northerlies for more than two weeks and we had been avidly watching the forecasts for the right conditions, namely winds without any elements of a northerly.  As we stood on the beach at Fort Lauderdale the night before the predicted window that would see the winds shift to the East, we questioned our decision.   The ships anchored offshore were pointing determinedly to the North East and the wind was howling.  The difficulty was that if we didn’t use this window, however small it was, we could be stuck in the US for several more weeks.  We were keen to start our adventures and, more importantly, we needed to take the boat out of the country as we did not want to pay the tax that we would incur if we went over the 180 day period from purchasing the boat.  The date was getting nearer and I had done enough shopping to last me a lifetime.  So at 3am on the morning of 2 Dec 14, we set off in less than ideal conditions.

The crossing was pretty lumpy and uncomfortable but we made it and, for me, it was a real confidence boost.  The 4-6 ft waves that had sounded so terrifying before we set off, as I could not visualise just how big that would translate to, were actually manageable.  We survived and we made it to Bimini.  However I am still envious of all those we meet who talk of ‘mirror-calm crossings’ and ‘gentle southerly breezes’.

The next weather window we were on the lookout for was to see us out of Georgetown and across to the BVIs.  The tradewinds are normally from the East and we were looking for a front that would see the winds shift from the East and allow us to sail as far East as possible before heading to the BVIs.  Again we waited longer than we thought for the window and, lovely as Georgetown and the Bahamas are, we had to start moving before the start of the weaker fronts in the Spring.  As we set off on our longest crossing to date, conditions were not quite the perfect calm that I had hoped for.  On the second night as I had a little ‘teddy in the corner’ moment when we were surfing down large waves at speeds I was less than happy with, I recalled Stewart’s words.  I had a good old chunter to myself at 0300hrs over a cup of tea and a chocolate chip cookie or five.  It made me feel slightly better.

Arriving in the BVI was a real sense of achievement and I felt that we had the worst out of the way until our next long crossing from Grenada to Columbia at the end of the year.  However, St Martin is a good 80 miles South East of the BVI.  When we were due to move on we were again waiting for a weather window where the traditionally Easterly tradewinds would shift enough out of the East to allow us a comfortable overnight crossing.  Our friends on Taia had managed a relatively calm 15 hour crossing a few days earlier with a perfect weather window (jealous – moi?).  Alas, it did not look as if we were going to be so lucky.  We were keen to get to St Martin as we had work to do on the boat and Stewart still had a vague hope of getting to the cricket in Antigua.  We set off from North Sound, BVI, in less than ideal conditions – our friends on Almost There, who had decided to come with us, turned back after battling out past the reef.  They decided that they did not want to hammer their boat unnecessarily.  The only difference on this crossing was that we had an extra pair of hands onboard in the form of Lou, a French lady who had made her way across the Atlantic to the US to visit her brother and was now in the process of making her way back so we offered her a berth.  Lou’s extra pair of hands was a godsend.  What was a particularly unpleasant, if relatively short, crossing was made 100% more bearable by the fact that we all managed an uninterrupted six hour stint in bed overnight.  It was bliss and I even managed to converse with the kids on a level of more than a grunt in between being on watch and being in bed.  24 hours later we arrived in St Martin, having had to tack to the south as the waves hitting us on our nose for the rhomb line were killing our speed to under two knots – and that was with the engine on!

I am still awaiting that perfect weather window but circumstances have generally worked against us.  Although we may not have had great conditions, both Stewart and I have agreed when to move on and are glad that we took the opportunities when we did.  We would do it again, even with the benefit of hindsight.  We have spoken with boats who missed our Florida window and, as a result, did not leave the US until the end of December.  We know boats that arrived in Bimini weeks before us and were still there weeks after we had gone.  Igor, our Ukranian friend, was still in Georgetown the last we heard of him, waiting for a good weather window and crew.  Not for nothing is Georgetown also known as ‘Chicken Harbour’ as many boats run scared, not taking the decision to go and staying put for the season.  It is easy to get comfortable. We were amazed at how quickly our three weeks ran up.

We left in February and have spent a great six weeks exploring the BVI with various family visitors.  We may not have made the cricket in Antigua, but we have used our time in St Martin to get a lot of work done on Skylark, while enjoying some very good times time with our friends on Taia and Almost There.

It would be nice to have the time enough just to wait for that perfect window but as we are finding out, sometimes you just need to go.


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