Weather windows rule the “cruising” itinerary, you can “sail” in any weather, but to “cruise”, you have to take it easy and wait for easy going weather. “Type A” personalities have a hard time cruising. You can stick to a schedule if you are so compelled, but there is a good chance that you won’t feel like you’re on a pleasure vessel,  because it may not be very pleasurable in rough weather.

When we crossed the Gulf of Mexico in January, we sailed 800 miles in 8 days; 5 days of that time in very rough and adverse conditions. Of course, if we had waited for a week-long weather window we might still be in Texas. Since then we’ve come an additional 700 miles in about 80 days. We were “sailing” across the Gulf. Now we are cruising. Sure we’ve stayed a bit longer than the weather dictated in some places due to repairs or the desire to have additional time to enjoy the area. But even so, we have also spent lots of time waiting for weather windows

A weather window is a forecast that indicates that the wind and seas will be favorable to moving in the direction you want to go. The thing about the Bahamas and tropics in general is that the prevailing winds are from the East. When I say prevailing I’m talking in 58% of the time in Turks and Caicos, in the month of April, the winds blow from due east. If you factor in the NE and SE winds you have now accounted for over 95% of the winds in this area. That means that less one day in twenty does it blow from some other direction. If you are headed east in a sailboat it does tend to slow you down. So you are always on the lookout for a weather window calling for winds from another direction or at least of diminished strength.

We have been waiting here in Provo for 12 days for a weather window to allow us to head east. For the last 12 days the winds have been 20 to 25 knots out of the east or southeast. Thats 23 to 29 mph for all you landsmen and women. Pretty windy, especially if you are “beating to windward” which means sailing as close into the wind as you can.

But the weather does change, even here. Tomorrow the wind is forecast to drop to around 15 knots and then continue to diminish to around 10 knots through the rest of the week. It will still be mostly from the east, but there will be some northerly component later on in the week. So we have a big wonderful weather window that will allow us to take fairly short daily runs and still have good weather to get all the way to Luperon, D.R.

As you might imagine, weather forecasting is an inexact science. In fact, Shirley wouldn’t classify it as a science at all but more like voodoo or some sort of myth or superstition. Sometimes the weather is good but the forecast didn’t see it coming. Other times the weather is bad when the forecast said it would be good. We have been misled by a few weather forecasts in the course of our voyage, beginning with our Gulf crossing and recurring a few times since then. So we are always in search of good, reliable, forecasts. If all forecasts agree, then you can pretty much count on them being pretty decent. It is when there are some outliers that you have tough choices to make. I have seen the NOAA weatherfax disagree with the NOAA text forecast. What are you supposed to do with that? Anyway, here is our normal weather forecast buffet.

  • Weatherfax charts from NOAA. These can be downloaded from the web or received using the computer and SSB radio if the internet isn’t available.
  • Text “Offshore Waters” forecasts from NOAA. These can be downloaded from the web or received over SSB radio if the internet isn’t available.
  • Radio weather guru. Chris Parker of caribwx.com broadcasts his expert opinion every morning on SSB. He is widely regarded in the cruising community in the Caribbean as the final authority. You always hear people saying,” Did you listen to Chris?” or “What did Chris say this morning?”
  • GRIB files from NOAA. These are new to me. A Dutch cruiser named Hugo from the beautiful Van De Stadt sloop “Zeestar” (Starfish) turned me on to this. They are available over the internet  on the web or via email. I have just begun using a program called Ugrib. It is available FREE from www.grib.us. You have to register (free) before you can download the program. It is the bomb, totally. If you have any interest in weather or weather forecasting at all, I highly recommend it. You can customize what info you get and how far in the future you want the forecast. The program then provides a graphical representation of the forecast on a zoomable chart of the world. VERY cool. Did I say FREE and VERY cool?
  • Local weather. This is available from various sources via VHF radio. Marinas and local authorities provide this service.

So there is your primer on weather windows and the reason we have been in Turks and Caicos for 12 days.
We’ll be leaving tomorrow for better or worse. We’ll be back online when we get to the DR.

Later.

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