Q&A: France To Tortola In The Autumn

Question: I have an opportunity to sail from France to the Canaries to Tortola, leaving the end of September through October. What can I expect from a weather perspective based on your experience?

My assumption is we will be in the area of hurricane formation (eastern Atlantic) for the first week then right in the middle of the area where storms build to hurricane force for the last 10 to 14 days. Would that be your assessment? Are there any other things I should know about a trans-Atlantic?

Answer: Our major concern with the plan you have outlined is that you will be sailing during the worst of the hurricane season. A suggestion would be to cross Biscay in early September and then hang out in Spain, Portugal, and the Canaries until mid-November at the earliest before setting out for the Caribbean. With the water in that part of the world as warm as it is these days I would not want to be anywhere near the Caribbean before December 1st at the earliest and would be happier with Christmas. That means not leaving the Canaries until the end of November.

If you do go earlier, you might manage the risk by ducking way south if you see something coming and then making landfall somewhere south of the hurricane belt, e.g. Trinidad. Having said that, Grenada was supposed to be safe and the South Atlantic had its first hurricane last year.

Other than that, enjoy! Our trans-Atlantic passage was wonderful: a following wind, day after day of sunshine—it don’t get no better than that!

See Noonsite for more information on this topic (we’ve only done one southern trans-Atlantic though we have done a number of northern ones).

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Meet the Author


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
  • Bob Aug 21, 2015, 5:56 am

    I am planning on delivering a boat from Baleeira (Southwest tip of Spain) to the Caribbean starting in January. Any thoughts on what to expect from “El-Nino? Suppression of the trades is probable so does that mean more northerly weather might reach the trades? Should I plan on going more southerly? Luckily I will be able to get daily GRIBS to keep track of the fronts.


    • John Aug 21, 2015, 11:43 am

      Hi Bob,

      As a general rule I don’t think there is any point in trying to apply macro trends like El-Nino to a specific passage—just too many variables at work here. For example, an El-Nino means less hurricanes in the Atlantic, but does that mean we should make a crossing in the hurricane season? Obviously not, since it only takes one hurricane to sink us.

      The point I’m trying to make here is that an El-Nino is a macro occurrence that effects averages, a passage is a micro situation where one out of average occurrence can screw things up big time.

      If it were me, I would start monitoring patterns over the expected transit area about 30 days before departure date to look for patterns and then use GRIBs and weather fax to adjust the course to suit condissions once you have left. Or, as we used to say in ocean racing “sail the breeze you got”.

      I would also read our Weather online book and take particular note of the emphasis on maintaining a big picture understanding and not getting fixated on a GRIB of a small area around you.

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