Q&A: Sailing From Halifax To Bermuda In November

Question: I just brought my 34-foot sailboat down the Saint Lawrence to Nova Scotia, and I’m considering making the passage to Bermuda in November and then continuing further south for the winter. I’ve been hearing all kinds of differing opinions about the safety of heading out from Halifax in November, and I thought you could offer an experienced perspective.

The boat is a well looked after double-ender with cutter rig, storm sails, self-steering, etc. My experience with the weather systems in the North Atlantic is minimal, so any advice you have to offer is greatly appreciated.

Answer: This is a hard question to answer without knowing more about your boat, your own offshore experience and the strength and experience of your crew, if any. What I can say is that an autumn trip to Bermuda can be tough. The window is small (and sometimes nonexistent) between the end of the hurricane season and when the winter storms really get going. Add the Gulf Stream to that mix, with its potential to generate mountainous breaking seas and violent squalls, and you have a passage that should not be taken lightly.

We don’t recommend it to crews that don’t have prior ocean crossing experience, either on their own boat or with others. Coastal cruising simply does not adequately prepare you for a November trip to Bermuda. If this would be your first ocean crossing I recommend that you wave it off and cut your teeth on something like a June trip to and from Bermuda—generally a much easier voyage than one in November. Or you could go down the waterway and then get valuable offshore experience along the ‘Thorny Path’ heading east down the island chain from Florida. If you feel good about how that works out, you could then return north via Bermuda in the spring.

I know that the above opinion will not be a popular one, particularly since it is true that many new cruisers start off their voyages with this autumn passage to Bermuda and most make it just fine. However, be aware that I would guess that on average at least one boat is lost every year on the fall trip to Bermuda. Coincidentally, last year it was a boat that left from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia that was abandoned after a roll over with one of the crew quite badly injured.

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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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