CAPTAINS LOG | JANUARY 2012

THE THREE P’s • In November, three rallies left the East Coast bound for Bermuda, the Caribbean and the Bahamas. November is the month boats sail south from the East Coast because October 30th is normally the end of the North Atlantic hurricane season. And, yacht insurance companies won’t insure you if you sail any earlier. But don’t tell Tropical Storm Sean that the season is over. Sean formed around November 10 and proceeded to curve north from the tropics right over a fleet of southbound boats and Bermuda. This is a La Nina year, so weather patterns are altered to the point that Atlantic storms have been unusually frequent and severe this fall.

The NARC Rally left with a small weather window and the hope that the fleet could make it from Newport, RI to Bermuda before the weather deteriorated. They didn’t. Sadly, one sailor—Jan Anderson—lost her life. See our report on page 13.

The new Salty Dog Rally that was scheduled to sail from Hampton, VA to the British Virgins on November 1 employed a weather router—Chris Parker—who saw the storm developing and held the fleet in port for a week before he gave the skippers the go-ahead. Still, the weather out in the Atlantic was boisterous and several boats ended up diverting to Bermuda for repairs.

And, the Caribbean 1500 was scheduled to get away on November 4, but they too were advised by the rally’s weather router to lay low until November 11. The fleet is out there as we go to print and reports have been of a mixed bag of wind.

The North Atlantic in November is no place to trifle with. The threat of tropical storms is less than earlier in the fall. But fast moving cold fronts, extra-tropical lows, and full-on North Atlantic lows are all beasts that you want to avoid. Whether you enter a rally or sail on your own, the assistance of a weather router can make all the difference.

A fall offshore passage in the North Atlantic should not be your first offshore passage or a shakedown cruise for your boat. There are three essential steps leading up to safe and seamanlike passages across oceans. First comes planning. At least six months before taking your boat offshore, lay out a plan that includes the skills everyone needs to master, a list of equipment that has to be acquired and installed, a boat maintenance and upgrade list, and a timeline along which you can realistically chart your progress.

Next comes preparation. Evaluate where you will be sailing, what the weather can bring, what the sea will dish up, and what might go wrong with the crew, the sails, the electronics, the rig and sails, and the boat itself. When you are offshore, you must be entirely self-reliant. Safety and seamanship are built on a reasonable plan and thorough, well executed preparation.

Finally, there’s practice. Only a fool would make his first overnight sail aboard his boat an ocean passage in the North Atlantic in November. Practice with your crew well before sailing offshore by making several overnight trips. You need to see how it all works and learn not to panic at 0200 on an inky black night, which is the hour gremlins schedule close ship encounters, gear breakages and sail tears. Practice makes all the difference to the safety of your boat and your crew.

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