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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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.

9 comments… add one
  • Bob Groves Mar 18, 2012, 8:08 am

    Hi John

    I totally agree with the advise given in this article. Our passage south in November 2011 from River Bourgeois, Cape Breton Island to Antigua, direct, was one of the toughest passages we have made in Easy Go. Two gales, a storm and late season Hurricane Sean turned an expected three week trip into a 40 day endurance test. Our sails were heavily damaged, but Easy Go excelled in the conditions. Go to http://sveasygo.blogspot.com/2011/12/sailing-to-caribbean-2011.html for the full story.

  • David Lyman Sep 22, 2014, 4:04 pm

    South into the Atlantic in November in a 34-foot boat? Not wise. Boat’s too short and too slow to keep out of the way of fronts, gales and tall seas.
    Creep down to Maine, through the CC and into Long Island Sound, then to Cape May and the ICW all the way to Florida, then hop over to the Bahamas, and if the weather permits in January, off to the Caribbean. But the Bahamas may provide all the sun and warm, water your Canadian blood desires.
    DHLyman.com / KidsOnBoats.net

  • Bob Groves Sep 24, 2014, 6:37 pm

    Hi John

    My previous comment about taking a beating in 2011 was nothing in comparison to the storm that ultimately led to the loss of Easy Go in November 2013. I was sailing solo. I would still do a November trip south in a well found fully crewed boat. I would expect to see some serious weather and experience damage to the boat that would need repairs underway. This is not a passage for a novice. Take the inshore route offered by the ICW and work up to longer passages over time.

    • John Sep 25, 2014, 9:00 am

      Hi Bob,

      Thanks very much for the great advice from someone who really knows of what he speaks. As you say, I think such a passage is still perfectly doable, but only in a really good boat crewed by experienced offshore sailors.

  • LouiseandChris Feb 13, 2017, 1:31 pm

    We are planning Yarmouth to Bermuda, then on to the Caribbean, in May, before the hurricane season. In a 40′ Bristol yawl. Any problems with this that anyone can see?

    • John Feb 14, 2017, 8:55 am

      Hi LouiseandChris,

      That should work, that said, I would go in very early May. You will have a long way to go and these days June hurricanes seem to be much more frequent than they once were. And for the same reasons, don’t tarry too long in Bermuda. In fact if it were me, and the passage was going well, I would bypass Bermuda and keep going. My goal would be to be south of the hurricane area by the end of June at the very latest.

      Of course, you also need to think about where to be for the hurricane season once you get to the Caribbean. I assume you are thinking of somewhere like Trinidad?

      In summary, 20 years ago I would not think twice about undertaking this trip. In fact, I used to stay in Bermuda (after the race) until late July. But these days we need to be a lot more careful. Also, the chances of getting hit by an early season hurricane go up substantially as you get south of Bermuda where the water is warmer at that time of year.

      One caution, if you get stuck in Bermuda—early season hurricane down south, mechanical problem, whatever—be mentally prepared to blow the whole thing off and return home.

      • LouiseandChris Feb 15, 2017, 4:21 pm

        Thank you John, useful points. We are familiar with Trinidad, Curaçao and Guatemala’s Rio Dulce as hurricane storage facilities so we’ll make for one of them, depending on where we come in to the Caribbean.

        • Kaz Apr 29, 2017, 10:53 am

          Hi John,
          I’m testing my sea legs from Bermuda to Halifax (delivery), end of May, as an inexperienced (to blue water sailing) crew member on a 60′ race yacht.
          I’m trying to complete to contents of my seabag.
          What am I to expect weather-like on that route, in that time of the season?
          Any relevant (above the my direct question) tips would be very welcomed.
          Thanks,

          Kaz Osuchowski

          • John Apr 30, 2017, 7:58 am

            Hi Kaz,

            I’m afraid a full sea-bag contents recommendation is rather beyond what I can do in a comment, but by the end of May the temperatures should be reasonably mild so special clothes should not be required. That said I would take one set of good smart wool long underwear, warm gloves and a toque, since the first couple of nights may be chilly.

            As always on that passage, heavy weather is probable for at least a day or so, so good quality foul weather gear is a must.

            Other than that, have a look at this category for more tips: https://www.morganscloud.com/category/health-comfort/page/2/

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