Q&A: UK To Boston Via The North In June

Question: I wondered if I could seek your advice on a trip that has been suggested to me but that I have serious reservations about: Sailing from the UK to Boston, leaving around the end of May, taking the North Atlantic route. The skipper seems to be under the impression that we will have easterly winds en route but my pilot books don’t back this theory up. They say we’ll have it cold and on the nose most of the way. What about the ice? Satellite images show there’s more of it about every year.

Answer: You and the pilot charts are correct. If you head directly across from the UK to the USA you will have head winds most of the way as you will be on the track of low pressure systems crossing the North Atlantic. Most will pass north of you, first giving SW winds and then NW after the frontal passage. At least one or two gales would be par for the course. You will also be in the ice zone as you cross the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. Fog will be likely for the last third of the voyage. All in all, it’s going to be a tough cold passage that only strong boats and crews should attempt.

To get downwind sailing you need to get under the Bermuda/Azores high, getting into the NE trades, by sailing way south past the Canary Islands and the Cape Verde Islands before turning west at about 20N. Once almost at the Eastern Caribbean you can turn north past Bermuda and head for the US northeast coast. This is a MUCH longer, but much nicer, trip. BUT, you will have to be VERY careful of early season hurricanes on this route. Ten years ago, I would not have worried until around 15th July, but with the warmer water we are seeing now, nasty storms are starting in June and even May.

I must be honest here, I would have real reservations about going to sea with someone who is wrong about such basic issues affecting the contemplated voyage. It shows a scary lack of planning that may have manifested itself in other areas such as boat preparation.

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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.

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