Q&A: Newfoundland Via Greenland To The Azores

Question: We plan to sail from St. John’s, Newfoundland mid-June straight to Sisimiut, Greenland direct, if possible. From there spend July and August sailing slowly to Cape Farewell from where we plan to leave bound for the Azores. Any comments?

Answer: The passage to Greenland is perfectly doable in mid-June as long as you don’t go to sea until you can be sure not to tangle with the ice of the Middle Pack half way across the Labrador Sea.

It’s being so late to leave Greenland and heading for the Azores that really worries me. Beth and Evans of S/V Hawk made going to the Arctic ‘on the way’ to South America work by starting very early from Europe and being out of Iceland by, if my memory serves, late July. They also went straight to the Canaries, thereby getting out of harm’s way. Starting from the west you don’t have these options.

You will be crossing storm alley at just about right angles with nowhere to hide right at the worst part of the hurricane season. What happens is that hurricanes go extra tropical as they pass Nova Scotia and then track south of Cape Farewell. These can be some of the largest and most fearsome storms in the world (‘The Perfect Storm’ was one). They are huge; potentially producing storm force winds from Newfoundland to Ireland and Bermuda to Greenland.

In 1995 a series of these went through starting late August and lasting well into October. Willy Ker, author of the cruising guide to Greenland and no shrinking violet, got trapped in Greenland and finally left his boat there and flew home. We were in Labrador (having crossed from Greenland via Baffin) tied to trees and rocks with one storm after another screaming overhead, looking at some of the scariest weather faxes I have ever seen. But at least we could coast hop all the way back to Maine.

If you must do this, make sure you have the charts for Iceland, Faeroe and Scotland (and the Faeroe tide information) so that you can bug out by transiting Prins Christians Sund and crossing in hops to Europe and then on to the Canaries.

However, even with this plan, you should be away from Greenland by August 20th and out of Iceland by the end of August at the latest and only that late if you will island hop east. We left Reykjavik too late on Sept 1st in 1997 bound direct for Scotland. We were lucky, getting in 12 hours before a Force 10 that lasted 4 days. And that after a miserable heavy weather trip with the wind on the nose.

Sorry to throw so much cold water around, but better me than a Force 10 storm!

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Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

2 comments… add one
  • Todd Sep 20, 2014, 2:49 pm

    Hi John,
    I am part of a team designing an autonomous sailboat to complete a north atlantic route from St. Johns to Iceland. What types of obstacles would you say are most prevalent near the shore and in open ocean? We are very interested in hearing about the dangers one would encounter on such a voyage, from a sailors point of view.

    Thanks,
    Todd

    • John Sep 21, 2014, 2:24 pm

      Hi Todd,

      Sorry that’s a huge question that would require a huge answer. More than I can do in the comments.

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