I am FREAKING Out Here People!

Tuesday May 20, 2014

waves b&w

Do you know what I was doing this morning at 4 am? I was lying awake in bed, thinking off all the terrible things that could happen to us as we cross the Atlantic in a few weeks. Here’s another fun question for you. Do you know how many boats were abandoned just last week while taking the same route that we are? Two!! That’s right. Two boats with a larger number and more experienced crew than the two of us had to leave their boats behind while making the same trip we’re about to do. I am FREAKING out here people! Granted, both of those boats appeared to be passing through a very nasty low pressure system a few hundred miles east of the United States around the 40th degree latitude, but all I could think of through the whole night was ‘That could be us!’. One of the two crews was picked up by the USCG, but the other crew, as I currently write this, are still missing; their boat believed to be abandoned in the Northern Atlantic.* Pardon my French, but that is some scary shit!

For the weeks and month leading up to our departure from Miami and across the Atlantic to the Azores and then through Gibraltar, I’ve tried to mentally prepare myself as much as possible. Prepare for the monotony of being at sea for 30 straight days, and prepare for the onset of at least 2-3 fairly rough storms during our crossing. In my mind, and according to most of the books I’m reading, the worst part of these storms usually pass you in a few hours and all you’re left with after is maybe a day or two of overcast skies with some rain and the drudgery of waiting for the seas to settle back to their original state. The weather systems that we’ve been tracking for the past few weeks though to get a feel for what’s going on out on these waters, is showing a completely different story.

I will admit to you now that we have never once listened to a Chris Parker forecast. We have taken his information while cruising with friends that do get up at the ungodly hour of 6 am to listen, but personally we’ve always been fans of Passage Weather and have used that to prepare for any passage we’ve taken. This does require internet, of which we will not have once we leave on our crossing, but at that point we’ll be relying on downloading forecasts from our SSB twice daily, something that should give us a four day outlook that will be very similar to what we’ve always viewed on Passage Weather. While keeping an eye on it at the moment though, these are the kind of images that we keep seeing pop up.

front over Bermuda

front over Azores

You can see where I’ve labeled Bermuda and the Azores, and our approximate intended route (terrible job with the paint brush, I know). You can also see all that yellow and orange showing up in areas close to where we’ll be, and that’s very, very bad. If you follow the wind indicator at the bottom, you’ll see that yellow represents winds of 30-35 knots, and orange represents 35-40 knots. That would be bad enough on it’s own, but I may have mentioned to you before of our learning of reading Passage Weather, and have pretty much found it to be true. Always expect 5-10 knots higher than it shows. If it’s reading 30-35 knots, expect 35-45. If it’s reading 35-40, well, you’re S.O.L. It’s why we never go anywhere when a forecast is reading over 20 knots. Even though we always travel in weather that shows 15-20, we experience at least 30 knots sometime during the trip. Every.Single.Time.

So you can imagine why these images are getting under my skin. They never end. There might be two days of calm in those areas before another front develops. This is not normal, not for this late in the season, and it has me terrified that nothing will change before our intended June 1st departure date.

So as I laid there wide awake, waiting for the sun to come up, my mind was filled with alternative routes. I was thinking to myself, ‘You know, since we were about to take on a 30 day passage anyway, we could make it to Panama in 10-12. And you know who’s in Panama? Brian and Stephanie on Rode Trip. That would be so fun!!’. I actually lulled myself to sleep with false promises that we would stick to the Caribbean where we would never be more than 200 miles from some form of land.

Reality did set in this morning though as I realized the light of a few very important things. 1. We don’t have to go if everything is showing the same in a week and a half. Have those fronts not showed any sign of leaving, we will wait for them to do so. Or, hightail it to Panama. 2. Based on years and years of data, they should be changing any day now. The Bermuda/Azores high should be settling in, and things should start to look much calmer on those waters. And 3. Downloading a 96 hour forecast twice a day should keep us on top of any fronts that could arise. If we see anything that looks like it’s coming up, we have no problem backtracking or adding extra miles to avoid it. We are going to be very cautious cruisers on this trip, and that is fine by me. I would much rather arrive even a week later than anticipated if it means we’re not surfing down 20 ft waves in 40 knot winds. Ever.

preferred weather

Now this is the kind of weather I’m looking for!


* On Friday May 23rd, the USCG found the hull of this second boat, the Cheeki Rafiki, but with no sign of the crew.  The life raft was still on board and never inflated.

12 thoughts on “I am FREAKING Out Here People!

  1. For a little extra piece of mind Hire the services of a weather router and rent/purchase a sat phone.
    If it’s just the two of you get extra crew. That’s a lot of days to be short handed. Have you heard of OPO? You can try find crew there.
    You can also hire a pro skipper but that would be big bucks-$500. A day or more.

  2. I sure wish I had not read this post! You have no idea how much sleep I am also losing due to your upcoming Atlantic crossing. We all trust your competence and know you won’t do anything foolish, but the natural dangers our there have me more than a little freaked out. Don’t ever forget — another option is to sell your sailboat and come home. Our spare bedroom is still available……..

  3. Jorge, Thanks for the tips on weather info. We do actually have a sat phone and plan on using it as a back up for weather information downloads if we need/want to. As far as extra crew, we don’t really want to have anyone besides the two of us. We’ve actually had multiple people offer and have turned them all down. It all comes down to what the weather decides to do these next few weeks. If it calms down into it’s natural rhythm, we have no worries. If it still looks like we’ll get caught in nasty stuff out there, we won’t go.
    And Crystal, don’t lose any sleep! You know how neurotic your son is about planning this king of stuff! 🙂

  4. I know that anxiety and I get it just thinking about crossing Lake Michigan! You have to have faith that the sun will come up every morning and you have to talk to the weather. If you ask the weather (she) whats she’s doing, you will always get an answer.

  5. OMG! between you and Rode Trip….I am on my knees begging protection for all of you!!! I love you both and glad we can be together this way but sure did miss my HUG this winter! So will you be able to let someone know how you are doing during that 30 days?

  6. For the two boats your are talking about, thousands of others crossed safely. If we actually sit down and do the math, you are as safe as driving across country and few people ever give that a second thought. The sea is a lovely woman, but never turn your back on her. Just continue to be prudent and you know your keel, rudder and your boat in general is very much up to the task of that crossing.

    We are all going to go when our time is up, the question is whether that happens with our boots on living it, or sitting in an armchair watching it on TV.

    You and Matt are going at the right time. You have enough experience to know what to do and expect. We get complacent over time and experience unless we keep that fear in us. Keep the fear and enjoy the ride.

  7. I am with Todd. There are a bunch of boats that have had trouble free crossings during that same period. The two you are talking about are the outliers. Tough to ignore thanks to how the media covers it. But not something to be too worried about in my opinion.

    I can’t wait to read the posts you write after the crossing. I don’t think it’s in our cards but I would love to spend a month just sailing across the ocean.

    You guys have taken the time to prepare your boat right (hell the Benny you are talking about was a charter that wasn’t even inspected prior to the offshore race). You have gained tons of experience since you set out cruising so you have prepared yourselves. And you are taking the correct steps to pick the right weather window.

    Good luck and fair winds,


  8. Kia Ora
    I really enjoy your blog but haven’t left any comments before- you guys are totally inspiring to newbie sailors like my partner and I.
    Have a wonderful time sailing across the Atlantic and enjoy Europe and the Med 🙂
    You’re living your dream and that’s all that matters! I’m really looking forward to reading your blog when you reach Europe.
    Wishing you a safe journey and perfect sailing weather.

  9. Hey guys. First of all, good luck on your passage! Secondly, I know it was a while back, but you mentioned your frustration about not getting Pandora outside the states. I’m down in Belize now and use a VPN called Witopia. You can set your IP to be almost anywhere in the states and therefore get access to things like Pandora and anything else not usually covered outside the US (hulu, etc). I think it’s like 60 bucks for the year, so basically the price of Pandora One. Anyways, once again, good luck on your passage. Get stoked!

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