What I’m Really Afraid Of?

Just when I thought I had the Plan, I read a story about drug driven crime spreading to the west coast of Mexico. Manzanillo, one of my planed stops, was prominently mentioned.

20180126 Win
dyty Depiction of Surface Winds

Where does that leave me? Besides the obvious, afraid!

Last summer I had a detailed plan to cruise up the coast of Mexico, stopping every night, hitting all the nice spots, with only a couple overnight passages. Let’s call that plan, the Coastal Cruise Plan. This is essentially what we had done 3 years ago in the Baltic.  I had even spent the last month alone, cruising from Stockholm all the way back to Ireland.

Last year, I had my nephew, Micah, with me from Ireland to Costa Rica.  It’s no coincidence that when he left Dauntless in March to go to law school, I lost a lot of my ambition to continue north alone. Cruising alone for me is not fun. It’s what I do when I need to get from A to B or as I did from Stockholm to Waterford.

20180126 NWS P_e_sfc_color

I am hoping that this coming summer, my girlfriend Trinh and her son, Thien, will have visas for Mexico. This is something that I must initiate this April when I return to Huatulco. If that is possible, they, with other friends who have expressed interest in joining Dauntless this summer, would make the Coastal Plan at least feasible. We would enjoy the numerous stops and towns along the coast, plus many eyes make for less stressful cruising.

A visa for the U.S. is another story and it takes forever. I’m hoping for 2019.

The Pacific coast of Mexico is not the Baltic and North Sea. The weather is not necessarily worse, but the predominant winds are from the northwest, the direction Dauntless must go. Adding to that problem, there are numerous fishing boats and nets and other boat traffic near the coast, whereas in the Baltic, there was none of that.

Lastly, safe harbors (protected from weather) on the Pacific coast of Mexico are few and far apart. North from Huatulco to Manzanillo, a distance of almost 600 miles, there are only two safe harbors. In a normal (for me) coastal cruise of 40 to 60 miles per day (6 to 9 hours), that’s 8 out of 10 nights anchored or in some port, at the mercy of the weather.

That’s a no-go.

For those of you who have read my precious comments about weather forecasts, you will know that even in the best circumstances, I don’t trust weather forecasts past three days and even at that I assume they are 50% off. That means, if the forecast is for winds from 270° at 12 knots, I plan for winds 240° to 300° at 8 to 16 knots (50% and 150% of forecast).

Therefore, to cruise an unprotected coast in any but the mildest of conditions is perilous.

I needed a plan B.  The Near Coastal Plan.

In this plan, we will take what the weather gives us. If we get four good days (favorable winds and seas) we’ll cruise until the weather becomes unfavorable. This potentially means we would take chunks of distance, 3 days, 24/7 is 450 nm. Making the entire trip into 4 chunks of 500 miles each, would get the job done and reduce time spent too close to the coast.

It would be far less fun however, but probably safer in many ways and less stressful.

Then came plan C, the Ocean Plan.

But first we talk to talk about hurricanes.

Hurricane season runs from June through October, with the highest frequency, mid-July to mid-September.

I can see an advantage in avoiding the high summer.  Looking at the Windyty depiction of the surface winds over the eastern Pacific today, you can see the big ass high pressure system that keeps the easterly trade winds over Hawaii (far left of picture) as well as the northwest winds over the west coast of California and Mexico.  Now, one of the disruptors of these winds are hurricanes.  The circulation pattern around hurricanes is far smaller than this massive high-pressure system, but a Pacific Ocean hurricane a few hundred west of Mexico, would cause southerly winds off the Mexican coast.

If it moved slowly north, maybe I could tag along??

It all depends on the situation and I’d have to figure out my escape routes, but it’s something for me to think about and plan for. It’s also significant that eastern Pacific hurricanes are weaker than Atlantic ones, with wind patterns not much stronger (if at all) than Northern Atlantic low-pressure systems in August and September (and I’ve certainly had my fun with those!).

Then the Ocean Route would entail an end around, running almost west, then curving slowly northwestward and finally northward, ending up east of Ensenada or southern California. With little winds, it would be an easy 10 to 12-day voyage, just like I did alone from the Azores to Ireland.  I’d only do this though if I saw the possibility of an extended time of light winds.

Also, time of year matters in my decision making. In the scenario just mentioned above, In May or June, I’d have plenty of time to wait or make it happen.  I may have different options later in the summer.

In September 2015, while waiting in Norway to cross the North Sea (I anticipated a 72-hour crossing), my weather windows were getting smaller and smaller. September is simply too late to be doing such a trip. But Sweden was so nice!

There had been strong northerly winds 25+ winds and driving rain, for days. I waited and waited. Finally, I saw a high-pressure ridge building into the North Sea from the English Channel, but this ridge of high pressure was also moving eastward.  But it only gave me a two-day window for a three-day trip.

Dauntless Crosses the North Sea 2015

I had to take it. It meant that I left my little port of Egersund, Norway, with 35+ knot winds from the NNW and rain. If you look at my route I took to Fraserburgh Bay, Scotland, those strong winds caused that dip in my route. Even with the paravane stabilizers, it’s just easier on the boat to put the winds and resultant seas on the starboard stern quarter. After 24 hours, as the winds died, I was able to head more westerly and on the third day, to the northwest. But that little longer route also added 12 hours to the trip and the next frontal system was right on, so my last 8 hours were in the weather again.

Would a longer, better weather window has come eventually? Sure. In the winter, under very cold air and high pressure. I couldn’t wait that long.

Dauntless in Ireland, next to a fishing boat with almost the exact same lines. There is a reason she handles the North Atlantic like she was born there.

When we decided to cruise the world or at least get away from the coast, we knew we wanted, needed a boat that that could all that and more. All the readings I did about boats and people cruising in boats all over the world, led me to Kadey Krogen.

Our little 42-foot boat was well built, extremely well designed for the worst of the worst and affordable.

Having Dauntless under my feet gives me confidence that she can handle any stupid situation I put her in.

Now, people are another matter.

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Keys:

 

Waiting for Weather

Monday 21Z Update

I keep on looking for excuses not to leave, but Mother Nature, continues to send warning signals that I best be on my way.  Right now, the best 42 hour window is from the 13th at 0300L, putting us just off of Brest on the 14th at 22L.

A night time entry, but what else is new!

It’s the only way I can maiximize the good wind conditions as the ridge moves east .

By the way, windyty.com provides the same data as Earth Null School below: windyty.com for Irish Sea nad English Channel

I do like their format, but sometimes windyty has too much data for my liking, especially as it changes.

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So, in our last days in Waterford, saying goodbye to some really dear people, having to wait for weather is not so bad.

THe circle is just south of our current location. The arrow is near our destination just west of Brest.
THe circle is just south of our current location. The arrow is near our destination just west of Brest.

Presently the winds are gusting to 30 and we are snug as a bug in a rug. Nothing as sweet as riding out a storm in port, tied to a dock.

As I have mentioned many times, for short term planning, I’ll usually just look at the Null School data set, whose link is:

Current Surface Winds

And here is the current surface map to help you understand the wind pattern better:

Atlantic Sfc Analysis

I’ve been watching this for the last few weeks, at first just to get an idea of the timing of the systems and the strength of the winds.

Until yesterday, the prognosis (progs) seemed to indicate a thin ridge of high pressure passing eastward mid-week. Then yesterday, it showed a nice ridge (indicative of fair weather and weaker winds) on Thursday and Friday, with the high pressure area centered just west of Brest.

Now this afternoon, after the 12Z run of weather models, my ridge of high pressure has been squeezed to almost nothing. So for my 2 day trip, this now looks like a 24 hour weather window:

WNW winds down to 15 knots (map shows km/hr)

It’s for this reason, (that the progs can change significantly) I pretty much do not look at any other weather products routinely.  There are a number of reasons for this, in short, they all get their weather from the same source and more importantly, the different forecast models may differ in terms of space and time; but for someone not looking at them constantly, as in a full time job, forget it.  There is simply too much information to digest fine tune a forecast that much.  In addition, there is no point in looking at more detailed forecasts because by now, I know what to look for.

Though if I was travelling locally, like north along the coast, then I would check the marine forecast for that area. But if was just saying what I already could deduce myself, in other words no real local conditions to consider, then I don’t bother looking at it again.

Dauntless needs a little less than two full days. 42 hours, to get from Waterford to Brest, France.  So I’ve been watching for the last few weeks, whenever I have internet, to see how often a two-day window appears.

Not very often.  There may have been one a few weeks ago, but since that, I’ve only seen good weather windows of about a day.  Now, when I say good weather, originally I was looking only for winds on our stern at 15 knots or less. The Krogen runs really well in such conditions, rolling as she is wont to do, but the paravanes reduce most of that.

As I was watching, I had even settled for 20 knots astern, since I saw so few periods with less than 15.  Also, since our course to Brest will be 160 True, winds from dead astern would be 160 +180 = 340 or northwesterlies.  NW winds occur after a cold frontal passage.

So it’s easy, just wait for the front to pass and head out.

But it’s not so easy, as I learned 30 years ago while forecasting the weather for northern Europe and Germany in particular.  The North Atlantic is a true spawning ground for low pressure systems.  They line up like freight trains, from North America to Northern Europe. And they are moving quickly, averaging 4 times the speed of Dauntless or about 600 nm a day.

But as the fronts approach Europe, they start to weaken as they lose the upper air support that is centered over the North Atlantic.  Then with the passage of the cold front, instead of the usual 2 to 3 days of high pressure with NW winds and cold temperatures that one gets in the mid-west, one gets a reprieve of only 6 hours, before the winds jump around to the south or southwest in from the of the next cold front due to arrive in about 18 hours.

It was exactly the pattern I got into in the last three days of my Atlantic Passage two years ago.  But then, I wasn’t thinking of the overall pattern, but instead was just so glad to see a few rays of sunshine as the winds dropped to 15 to 18 knots.

Halleluiah

I remember making a snack thinking the worst was over.  I was able to find the banging wine bottle.  So as the winds picked up again in the next few hours, I hardly noticed.  I was like the lobster in the pot of cold water wholeheartedly noticed the water getting hotter and hotter until it’s too late.

But unlike the lobster, I know I’ll be safe no matter what, though I may be miserable.  That’s because the first step is to find and have a boat that can do what you want it to do.