March 1, 2009 – We came across the equator into the northeast trade winds, which are the southeastern quadrant of a high pressure system sitting variously in the mid-Atlantic. All the boats ahead followed generally the same route to the NNW until getting to the high, to wrap around the clockwise-rotating high and get favorable winds from behind to sail toward France.
Most of the boats turned to the east in more-or-less the same place, Roxy being earlier, and Safran having to go further north to wrap around. Great American III and I got there and wrapped around to the east just short of where Safran did, but the problem was that the high was dissipating and when we got to the north side, where there should be wind to push us from behind toward France, there was none–the high had dissolved.
An alternative is that sometimes a low pressure system rotating counter-clockwise, will come out of the US and track east and northeast across the Atlantic, and drag its fronts–most powerfully its cold front–across the Atlantic. A sailboat can jump onto this low and get pulled across because the winds behind the front will be from the NW which you can use to get to the NE.
For us there was a front, but the front wasn’t moving, and had no real potency in it. So when we wrapped around, we sailed point to point 350 miles in four days. This is horrible and we lost 650 miles toward France because of this no-wind situation in a dissipating high. So what to do? Ah! Here comes another high! Unfortunately, we encountered another problem.
This high was coming out of Canada and moving east across the northern North Atlantic, so again, it’s generating northeast winds in its southeast quadrant. So we turned north again, cross Safran‘s track to intercept and wrap around this new high. This move required us to sail an extra 600 miles north to get to its path. So we dutifully headed north, into essentially another set of northeast trade winds in the southeast quadrant of this new high. We got clobbered by wind and waves again, sailing with the storm jib and 3 reefs in the main, heading mostly NNW, perpendicular to the course needed to head to France, trying to intercept this new high.
You might wonder why don’t we just look at a weather map and figure all of this out? Well, we do. Every day, we get our weather maps at 00h00 GMT: 48 hour forecast, 96 hour forecast, and our “grib” file (weather graphics) which predicts the movement of weather systems eight days out. Each day, I track where they think the center of the high will be. We are sailing close-hauled on the starboard tack, trying to not lose our easting. We do the best we can, and start getting north. The maps show that the center will track across in front of us and continue to the east and then turn south a bit toward the Azores.
I compare each day’s grib file with the previous day’s file, and notice that the high is forecast each day to be a little slower getting across. So today what does the weather file say? Basically that the high will come across, center itself on our longitude, stop for 24 hours, and expand. It will stop in front of us, and expand into a 1042 millibar (mb) high. Who ever even heard of a 1042 mb high? I didn’t know they could go that high. I’ve heard of 1023, or 1027, maybe even a 1032 mb high, but 1042 mb? There might be no wind for hundreds of miles in every direction.
So what can we do? We have to turn left by 45 degrees to try to go around it to the west, so that is why we’re heading for Newfoundland, again. We can’t get across in front of it, because we won’t be far enough north when it arrives, and then when it eventually does start to move a bit, we would be smothered.
So here we go again, stymied again. It’s laughable if it wasn’t so painful. It will be likely 1 1/2 days to get across to get to the favorable winds, so another couple of days lost. Hopefully after that, we can ride the westerlies to France.