Q&A: Picking A Weather Window For A West To East Atlantic Crossing

Question: I’m planning an Atlantic Crossing from Boston to Scotland. How can I recognize the best moment weather wise to leave for the safest crossing?

Answer: Since weather forecasts are only accurate for about four days, at best, there is no way to manage the weather for an entire crossing of that length by picking a given day to leave. This means that you and your boat should be capable of withstanding at least one multi-day gale and on that route there is the possibility, albeit small, of a full blown North Atlantic storm, even in summer. (For more details on the best months to leave, see Best Time for West to East Atlantic Crossing.)

Having said that, you do want to try and pick a leaving date that will give you several days of good weather and fair winds so that the crew can settle down and get their sea legs. (See this article for more on our thinking about managing crew comfort.)

Generally the best departure days from the US east coast are immediately, and I do mean immediately, after a cold front goes through. This will normally give you clear weather and northwest winds as the following high pressure moves in. Of course this is based on averages and should not be taken as gospel.

You can also get a feel for how the systems are moving by analyzing the 500mb (jet steam) reports for several weeks before you leave; but to do this you will require an in-depth knowledge of weather theory and forecasting. A good idea anyway since you will have a much more comfortable, and probably safer, trip if someone on the boat has this level of knowledge and you install the necessary equipment to receive GRIB files and weather maps.

To gain a good grounding in weather theory, we recommend the Starpath Weather Trainer, an excellent computer based program learning package.

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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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