Planning – It Ain’t for the Faint Hearted

As I sit in my 10th floor apartment in Ho Chi Minh City, a.k.a. Saigon, the People’s Republic of Vietnam this balmy January 2018, writing these words, I think back one year.  I was in Martinique, in the Lessor Antilles, luxuriating in having just completed a harder than expected crossing of the Atlantic from North Africa to North America.

Looking north from my apartment in HCMC, Vietnam

Vietnam wasn’t even on the radar and if it was, I thought it was a wave top. Impossible it imagines how different 2017 would end up.

So, how can a person who doesn’t have a clue as to where they will be in 12 months’ time write about planning?

And not only write about, but spend a good portion of every day’s waking hours thinking about The Plan?  So much so that just a while ago, I found myself looking at the noonsite.com information about Taiwan.

Taiwan? wtf, he still hasn’t figured out how to get Dauntless out of Mexico, you’re thinking.

And right you are. So, I thought you would be interested in knowing or better understanding my planning process.

To understand my planning process, let’s look at my goal and some background information:

  • The Goal
    • Long term, cross the North Pacific, return to Northern Europe & complete my circumnavigation.
    • Short term, spend a couple of summers in Southeast Alaska.
    • Near term, get Dauntless to California before next winter.

Dauntless is now in the wonderful little town of Huatulco, Mexico, in the little Bahia Chahue.

  • Background information
    • In 2016, once I made the decision to return to North America, I made an elaborate plan (published in some blog post last year) to transit the Panama Canal and cruise up the west coast of North America to SE Alaska.
    • Looking aback at the plan now, I stayed pretty much on time and on target, only transiting the Panama Canal a couple weeks later than originally planned, until Costa Rica.
    • Arriving in Golfito, Costa Rica in March 2017, the wheels then came off or a more apt description, I was beached.
      • What happened? A perfect storm of: local bureaucracy, my nephew who cruised with me since Ireland, had to go back to school and I met this wonderful woman in faraway Vietnam.
      • Returning to Dauntless in June, I needed to get moving north. Costa Rica is a wonderful country that I had visited in 2004 and had really looked forward to returning. But, it turns out, it is not really cruiser friendly. The few marinas are ridiculously expensive and the paperwork of checking in and out was cumbersome and confusing.
    • My newfound friend, Cliff joined me and we took Dauntless from Costa Rica to Mexico. Mexico, it turns out is everything Coast Rica isn’t. Cliff had to go back to work and hurricane season had arrived, so in reaching the wonderful town of Huatulco in August, I decided that enough was enough.
  • The Task at Hand is to get Dauntless from southern Mexico to California, 1800 miles.

Dauntless cruises at about 6.5 to 6.8 knots. thus a 24-hr. period is 150 nm. That’s the figure I use for planning.  With light winds and small seas, then the planning exercise is about planning stops after a day of cruising.

Two years ago, in the Baltic Cruise, I largely ignored the weather and planned the whole 4,000-mile trip based on cruising days of 5 to 8 hours. Usually we would stay a few days in each town or city stop.  But the pacific coast of North America is a whole different creature.

Climatology tells me that the winds are predominantly from the northwest (the direct I must go) 2/3’s to ¾’s of the time. I use Jimmy Cornell’s Ocean Atlas which has pilot charts for each ocean by month. Jimmy Cornell’s Pilot Charts also tell me the secondary wind direction and currents. June thru September is 4 months, 120 days. I figure that I will have favorable winds about ¼ of those days, or 30 days. I have 1800 nm to go divided by 30 days means 60 miles per day.  No bad, about what I did in the Baltic in September.

But it also means that when the winds are favorable, I must make miles. The reality of seasonal climatology is best looked at and planned for over periods longer than a few weeks. In this situation, I can easily be stuck in port 30 days waiting for the winds. Then if I’m lucky, I’ll have a good period, 5 to 10 days of southerly winds. Depending upon where we are along the coast, it means we may do 48, 72 or even 96 hours to take advantage of our good weather window.

Now in this context, when I say “weather” I really mean winds and seas. I’ve left port on many stormy days. Rain, showers do not bother me, it’s really all about the winds and seas for my little Kadey Krogen.

The effect of head winds and seas vary greatly. 5 to 7 knots are hardly noticeable and may produce small seas, less than 2 feet. Dauntless will lose a few tenths of a knot under such conditions.

Going out into the storm

As winds off the bow become stronger, it all goes down rapidly from there. 12 to 15 knots produce 3 to 5 ft. seas, pitching become unpleasant and we’ll lose more than a knot of speed.  18 + knots are untenable from a comfort level. Too much hobby horsing and probably down to 5 knots, less with any counter current. This is what happened to me off the French coast going up the English Channel to Holland. We were making 2 to 3 knots in pure misery of pitching.  Because of the conditions, I finally decided to abort to Ostend, Belgium. It took another 6 hours to go 15 miles.  Some of the worst 6 hours I have ever experienced. The Kadey Krogen was fine, she takes a beating and keeps on ticking. The humans inside were not as happy.

What I took out of that beating was to more carefully consider winds and seas on the bow. A 20-knot wind from the stern is fine. We had 20 days of that crossing the Atlantic last year. Even 20 knots (and resultant seas) on the beam are ok. The paravanes are most effective with beam seas. Though I tend not to venture out in such seas if I am in port. 20 knot headwinds are untenable. Stay in port. If at sea, options are reduced, but probably a change in direction is warranted.

I use Windyty.com for my forecast winds.  I tend not to look at forecast seas because the accuracy is seldom good enough to use in an effective manner. Though Windyty will give you the first, second and third swells.

Now when it comes to forecast winds, for whatever reason, the forecast winds are almost always understated, though I do realize it’s possible that I only notice the over and not the under. Thus, when winds are forecast to be 12 knots, that usually means 8 to 15 knots. If 8, ok, if 15 it’s a no go.  So, in this case, I will use 8 knots for the Go-No Go decision.

From Huatulco to the Channel Islands, it’s only 1800 nm in three long legs. that’s basically the distance I did between Martinique and the Panama Canal.  But with much more un-favorable winds and currents.

Top speed for Dauntless is about 8.5 knots, but it’s non-factor because it’s impossible to justify the double to treble fuel consumption for 2 knots. So, my effective (long term) hurry up speed is 7.5 knots at 1800 rpms and 2 gallons/hour. Thus, I usually keep it to 1700 rpms, 6.8 to 7.0 knots and 1.6 gal/hr.

In my next post, Planning is the Mother of Anticipation, I’ll discuss the Mexican coast, what options we’ll have, crew and hurricanes.

 

7 thoughts on “Planning – It Ain’t for the Faint Hearted

    • So far, Mexico has been great from a cruising perspective. Costa Rica is great by car, plane, but is terrible by boat.
      Mexico is as bureaucratic, but at our port of Entry, Chiapas Marina, the marina staff drove us to each of the 4 offices we needed to go to and all I had to do was hand over the passports.
      In Costa Rica, it took days, $200 in taxi fare and all sorts of crap to check out. And each of the offices seemed to want to break the balls of the previous office. They consistently gave the wrong directions.
      Night and Day difference.

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