Caribbean 1500: We’re Off!

We’re off!


At the start.

Believe it or not there’s nothing on the horizon but ocean and sky! What a wonderful view. The start was “interesting”. Light winds, right on the nose, with a foul current. Half the fleet started under sail and the other half (the realists) started under power. Being semi-purists ourselves, we crossed the line under sail, heading out on starboard tack, and then when clear of the fleet, bowed to the inevitable and cranked up the iron genoa.

There are two ways to look at the weather situation: First, it sucks because the winds are going to be light for at least half the trip, requiring at a day or maybe two of motoring. Second, maybe the situation is optimal the way things are set up for with a very comfortable trip in the offing for at least the first four days-relatively calm seas, and light reaching conditions.


On this section of chart you can see the winds that are forecast for early Friday morning. The blue line represents the direct route to the British Virgin Islands. The green line takes us around a couple of “cold eddies” on the edge of the Gulf Stream to minimize adverse current. The light red line is the course which SetSail-MaxSea says will be fastest given the current 4.5-day forecast (we’ll update this tonight at midnight when we download another forecast from SetSail).

As part of our morning calculations we ran two “routing” scenarios with the SetSail-MaxSea software. The first was with using just sails and no engine. The result is a passage of about 6.3 days. Not too bad, but then, we’d be spending a couple of days in four to six knots of breeze, and with a bit of swell this would be hard on sails and rig. We then ran a second “routing” using our motorsailing approach-where the engine is used for dead upwind work, and any time boat speed is below 8.5 knots under sail. This shows a passage of about 4.4 days-not only faster, but easier on sails and rig as the slatting would be mostly eliminated.

By going into one of the SetSail-MaxSea menus (“route lists”) we are able to look at the projected position for the boat every three hours, along with wind data and boat speed. This tells us we need fuel to power at least 41 hours (about 170 gallons at worst). However, there is a possibility that the winds will be lighter than forecast, so we’ve decided to carry 300 gallons-this leaves us a reasonable amount of reserve.

Right now we’re powering straight upwind, burning four gallons an hour. The SetSail-MaxSea software shows us picking up 10-15 knots of breeze from the southwest around midnight-which agrees with the local forecasts. This should allow us to make reasonable progress towards the BVI. In fact, if we can fly the two big reachers it will be a fast and comfortable ride.

Meanwhile, the opposition is hull down on the horizon. “Races” where you can use your engine when the winds are light are definitely the way to go (we do get penalized an extra hour of corrected time for every hour the engine is on).


Speaking of the opposition, there are three boats in particular which look to be fast. First is ALACRITY-a 51-foot lightweight cruising cat, with dagger boards, and an owner who obsesses about weight (like someone else we know!). His crew has told us his goal is to beat poor old BEOWULF and her geriatric crew (one of whom is already napping). The next interesting boat is BREAKING WIND-a semi-custom Hunter to a design from the late Lars Bergstrom. This is an cool-looking monohull, and should be very quick. The third boat which has caught our eye is a 55-foot aluminum monohull with a lifting keel. She is designed by her owner and has lots of interesting features. She’s got a very narrow waterline beam which should make her a match for the Hunter in lighter winds. I suspect she’ll be much faster in a breeze.

We’re not sure how the handicaps were worked up, but BEOWULF owes ALACRITY 14.5 hours of time. We owe BREAKING WIND almost 20 hours, and SILVER BULLET 29 hours. And the smaller boats get 2.5 or more days from us.

It is going to be interesting to see how this all works out…

Posted by Steve Dashew  (November 8, 2001)

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