The Straits Of Belle Isle—Enough With The Northeast Wind

map-NS-to-NLOver the last 20 years I have sailed north toward Newfoundland from Maine or Nova Scotia more years than not and I thought I knew how to get it done.

Our Normal Way North

Ideally, we left on the back of a cold front, reaching in a cold clear northwest wind that veered and then went calm for 24-48 hours. Time for the engine. Next came a warm front with fog and southeast winds that then strengthened and veered southwest with more fog as the next cold front approached. We fired up the radar, donned the foul weather gear and kept on trucking.

We repeated as necessary, and in about a week or so, we were in north Newfoundland or south Labrador.

About once a week, a low driving a cold front attained gale force, or occasionally storm force, and we hunkered down for two or three days in one of the many great harbours and anchorages this coast abounds with.

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But Not This Year

This year the jet stream is generally further south than it used to be, weaker and spawning a series of upper level cut-off lows, which in turn breed stationary lows just south of Nova Scotia and/or Newfoundland. And these generate steady winds from just the way we want to go…northeast.

Still on Schedule

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We are a week out of base camp and still on schedule thanks to a couple of fortuitous calms—I never was too proud to motor and as I get older I get less proud—but there has been way too much time with the wind forward of the beam, a condition that we respond to, more often than not, by motor sailing—get it done we say.

Our Future…More Beating

As I write (Thursday 16 June), we are alongside at Port Au Choix, Newfoundland, awaiting two crew joining on Saturday, and the wind is blowing from the…yes, you guessed it…northeast, where it is supposed to stay for a week at least.  And the next leg is the Straits of Belle Isle. Just 120 miles long but capable of being truly nasty: If the tide is ebbing against the wind the waves will get square; if the tide is flooding against us, we won’t get anywhere. And we can’t sail at night, when the wind speed is generally lower, because of the ice bergs.

Oh well, as they say in the Royal Navy, “You shouldn’t have joined if you can’t take a joke.” Hope our new crew can take a joke. Hope Phyllis and I can still take a joke.

A New Normal?

This is the fourth summer in a row that the jet stream has behaved differently than normal and the fishermen that I was talking to on the wharf this morning confirmed that they are seeing far more east wind than they used to.

I wonder, will heading for Labrador no longer be “heading down-north” as generations of Newfoundland fishermen have called it? Climate change, or just the vagaries of the weather? Who knows, but it is a pain in the neck. Now if it swings back into the southwest in September when, all going well, we will be heading south, I’m going to be seriously pissed off!

A Bright Side?

A possible bright side in all of this is that the jet stream being further to the south may give us an easier crossing of the Labrador Sea to Greenland than normal—we shall see.

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Meet the Author

John Harries

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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