Trop­i­cal weather

Yachting World - - Cruising -

shel­tered from the sea are great for power from wind gen­er­a­tors and keep­ing cool, but do tend to de­feat the ob­ject of a ‘shel­tered’ an­chor­age. Tradewinds can vary greatly in strength not only on the pas­sage, but when cruis­ing in the trop­ics. It is not un­usual to have in ex­cess of 25 knots be­tween Caribbean is­lands, along with a big sea. Squalls are a fact of life and you can get some strong to gale force gusts on their lead­ing edge. Be­ing able to reef quickly is there­fore es­sen­tial.

Be­tween the is­lands of the Caribbean, par­tic­u­larly when head­ing north, it is of­ten quite hard on the wind and a small work­ing head­sail is use­ful. Last win­ter we had long pe­ri­ods of strong tradewinds, which for some crews were more test­ing than they wanted. There is a stand­ing joke for weather fore­cast­ing through the is­lands: that we can put up the fore­cast in Novem­ber and take it down again in April – NE-SE 15-20 knots with oc­ca­sional squalls.

We gen­er­ally sail in the trop­ics dur­ing the win­ter months, which is the dry sea­son. Dur­ing the summer it can be­come very hot and hu­mid, and of course there is a chance of hur­ri­canes, which peak in the Caribbean dur­ing Au­gust and Septem­ber, al­though the hur­ri­cane sea­son ex­tends from early June to the end of Novem­ber.

An in­creas­ing num­ber of yachts stay in the hur­ri­cane belt re­ly­ing on fore­casts and the fact that hur­ri­canes are slow-mov­ing so can be avoided. Oth­ers may leave their yachts on land, stripped of deck gear with lorry straps to the ground, re­ly­ing on prepa­ra­tion (and luck) to keep safe.

This we have done with our yacht at Clarke Court in Gre­nada where a mas­sive stor­age fa­cil­ity has been de­vel­oped. Al­though Gre­nada is in the hur­ri­cane belt, sta­tis­ti­cally the is­land is hard hit only about once in 50 years, so fin­gers crossed!

Be­tween the tradewinds of the north­ern and south­ern hemi­spheres is the ITCZ, which is a band of squalls and thun­der­storms. Where you pass through this band is ex­tremely im­por­tant when rac­ing, but as long as you have fuel the pain of pass­ing can be min­imised by the use of the en­gine when cruis­ing.

“SQUALLS ARE A FACT OF LIFE. YOU CAN GET GALE FORCE GUSTS ON THE LEAD­ING EDGE”

Cross­ing the Dol­drums

Boats on a tradewind cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion will usu­ally cross the Dol­drums be­tween Panama and the Gala­pa­gos Is­lands and when we last did this pas­sage it took four days; two days’ sail­ing and two mo­tor­ing. How­ever a yacht that did not want to mo­tor took 16 days over the same pas­sage.

In the At­lantic, cross­ing is best done on the western side – as far west as pos­si­ble, as long as it does not mean beat­ing to round the cor­ner of north-eastern Brazil.

Away from the ITCZ the trop­ics can gen­er­ate some im­pres­sive thun­der­storms, al­though these are most fre­quent when sail­ing close to large land masses. When cross­ing oceans in the tradewinds away from the land or the ITCZ, light­ning strikes are thank­fully quite rare.

Large squalls do oc­ca­sion­ally grow enough to pro­duce thun­der and if a thun­dery trough de­vel­ops (usu­ally when close to the ITCZ) you can get a pe­riod of in­tense squalls and thun­der with the wind jump­ing to gale force on the lead­ing edge of the squall.

Gen­er­ally trop­i­cal sail­ing is great: sun­shine, warm wa­ter and good winds. How­ever it does get a bit more com­pli­cated around large land masses and in squalls. The win­ter sun we seek is also the en­emy, as it is very in­tense and can quickly burn. Hav­ing suf­fered from ‘surfer’s eye’, I al­ways keep a good pair of sun­glasses close at hand, along with sun­screen and a hat.

Deal­ing with squalls As a rule, the higher the cloud, the heav­ier the rain in a squall and the stronger the wind will be as it ar­rives. A large squall car­ried along with a brisk tradewind can give a gale force gust on the lead­ing edge as the wind and rain ar­rive close to­gether.

This gust front will nor­mally pass through quite quickly, leav­ing you with tor­ren­tial rain. At times groups of squalls oc­cur when one is quickly fol­lowed by an­other. They can be best mon­i­tored by radar, al­though a hand-bear­ing com­pass will give you a good idea if you will be hit or not.

For more on squalls, tactics for deal­ing with them and a video brief­ing see www.yacht­ing­world.com/squalls

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