Santa Maria did the trade wind crossing from the
Canaries starting out December 25. We left Tenerife in wonderful weather
and gained self-confidence with every hour. By sunset that all changed.
The wind picked up and by 11 PM it was pitch black, wind at 15 – 20 m/s
and huge waves were rolling in from aft. There were all kinds of
horrifying sounds coming from every part of the boat. It continued for
Well, what doesn’t kill us strengthens us, and Santa
Maria finally convinced us that she could take it. There after we
actually enjoyed the fast ride!
Squalls and how to deal with them
On any crossing (and in the Caribbean) you will encounter squalls. They
are big gray or black clouds that often carry rain and heavy wind.
Daytime you just look out for them and at night they will show up on a
decent radar. It is possible to avoid them by changing the course, but
we didn´t bother. They arrive fast and usually end quickly.
To prepare, you should take down some sail before the
squall hits. Since we didn’t use the main much, we took to the habit of
being prepared and lessen the genoa, thus never had any problems.
However, if you go lazy and fail to adjust the sails before they hit,
you could easily end up with a situation and potentially lose a sail.
Note that the wind will reach you before the actual
cloud does, since the wind usually beam down from the cloud in 20º-40º.
Hurricanes and storms at sea
If you plan your route well, your chance to encounter a
hurricane should be close to zero. If you do sail into extreme winds,
there are a few things to consider.
In 1999, on Everest, we climbed to 8600 meter (28000
feet) in hurricane force wind. It was cold and very exhausting, but
strangely enough not too hard to stand erect. Contrary to believe, it is
not the wind that causes the problem but the waves and stuff flying
first rule of high wind is to stay with your boat. Stay cool, minimize
the sails and try to sail with the wind. A boat under sail will behave
much better than without. If the wind is too high for any sails – go
with bare rigging, but try to steer anyway.
A drift anchor is great for slowing down the speed and
riding out the storm. In real bad situations, you might have to turn the
boat toward the waves and battle the ocean. There are some great books
written about the different techniques used (incl. "Heavy weather").
Again though, this kind of weather is almost unheard of on the Atlantic
in the calm season.
Heavy weather when in harbor
Most sailors take their boats southwards during the hurricane season in
the Caribbean. Below Sant Lucia, there should not be a many hurricanes
around. However, we left our boat in Bequia once, this island usually
considered a safe "hurricane hole".
Well, without a warning, a hurricane further north sent some huge waves
- up to 18 feet - rolling into the harbor (no wind!). Fortunately we had
a caretaker (thank´s Fixman!) who defied the waves and motored Santa
Maria to the leeward side of the island
(this normally being the windward side).
Lightning is always scary. Luckily (for sailors at
least) most fatal accidents seem to strike at golf courses, so don’t let
thunder stop you from cruising. We’ve never been hit, but have taken
some precautions with Santa Maria (read more under "dangers").
The waves on your crossing will sometimes be big, often
10-15 feet, but also long. On the "trade-wind" crossing they will come
from behind and seldom break over the boat.