Bermuda to Chesapeake: Racing the Front

Awaiting the wind shift, and racing with the front.

0200 EST. 33’33″N 67’15″W. It is quiet now aboard Beowulf. Just the hum of the diesel as she motorsails towards her destination. There’s a slight heel from the main, which is still board-flat to reduce drag. The seas have gone about as smooth as they get in this part of the world.

The pilot house is barely illuminated by the glow of the sailing instruments, radar, and GPS. One of Beowulf’s crew is asleep in the main saloon – the most comfortable spot onboard – while the other keeps watch and enjoys the quiet night.

The breeze has backed to the WSW a few hours ago, a bit ahead of schedule. This is helpful as it has allowed us to tack over onto port, and right now, at least, we’re headed right at our objective. Once the breeze picks up a bit – hopefully by morning – we’ll start to “sag” off to leeward, to the north, in preparation for the N quadrant winds we expect Sunday AM.

The GRIB file shows the same data as the most recent weather faxes. As a result it is suggesting we continue on starboard tack awhile longer. But as the wind is a bit ahead of its “schedule” we’ve modified the computer proposal somewhat. Be interesting to see what the AM GRIB and fax forecasts look like.

The only negative in this lovely quiet evening is the current, which is running against us at about 1.5 knots. So our speed through the water of 11 knots has slowed to a speed over the ground of 9.5 knots.

0800 EST – 34’07″N – 68’01″W

First batch of weather faxes for the AM plus today’s GRIB file have been reviewed. Things look much the same as yesterday afternoon. The W wind should swing to the SW any time now and we should start to roll.

The current is still hurting – but we’re down to losing just a knot. However, as it is on our leeward (starboard) bow, we are picking up about 13 degrees of angle (i.e. we’re steering 330 magnetic and making 317).

We’d shut the engine down and sail, but it seems we are in a race with the front. We want to cross the Gulf Stream before it does. If we can achieve this, we’ll carry fair winds perhaps right to Norfolk. If we think we’re going to miss, we’ll probably slow down or heave to so as to allow the front to pass before we enter the Gulf Stream. No sense in taking chances with what the Gulf Stream will do to that cold, continental air mass! (For those of you interested in a more detailed explanation of this phenomenon see the section starting on page 530 in Mariner’s Weather Handbook.)

1045 EST – 34’32″N 68’22″W

Wind now firmly backing to W and blowing at 12-14kts. Mizzen and jib set, engine off, and we’ll see how we do with sail and our scheduled meeting with the cold front.

Posted by Steve Dashew  (May 12, 2001)

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