by Scott Leonard with Zoe Alexander
You know when you’re trying to get the family out the door to go to a birthday party…you’re in the car with the motor running but perhaps your wife forgot her cell phone and she has to run back inside. Then, one of the kids needs to change a shirt because his brother spilled his juice box. And then, finally (ten minutes later) as you’re pulling out of the driveway, someone has to run back inside and get the gift, which is (naturally) never where you left it…that’s what it’s been like navigating our trip, except the delays aren’t as simple as grabbing a cell phone or a birthday present- we’ve been waiting out tropical storms and hurricanes. Even though you’re ready to go, all you can really do is muster patience and wait for the right conditions to get on your journey.
I knew there would be lots of unforeseen variables when we planned to sail around the world. So far, the biggest variable is the weather; and not only because we’re ship-bound, but because every time we wait for a storm to pass, we’re delayed in our route. I made some assumptions about how quickly we could sail from place to place. The goal was to be in the southern Caribbean by September, possibly Aruba. This location is out of the main hurricane tracks. However, we’ve been in Salinas, Puerto Rico, which is right in the midst of those very hurricane tracks. The area has had two close calls already. We spent them in a “hurricane hole” – a supposedly safe place to ride out a hurricane, if there is such a thing.
What I’ve truly learned to appreciate is that even when you have ideal conditions, the weather is always shifting. The rule is that you never “need” to be someplace, so if the weather is not good enough to sail through, then you wait. Similarly, you never need to “stay” someplace either, so if you have an opportunity to make a passage, you take it. As a southern California native, I am used to the weather being fine or stormy. When sailing, we actually need some storms to change the general trade winds and current. And when the trade winds come through, it is NOT good sailing weather. You need to adapt to the fact that the weather is always a work-in-progress and factor this into your route.
What I also learned is that while I can accurately plot the time it will take us to get from point A to point B, I was ignorant of the downtime we’d encounter as we waited for decent weather to depart from point A. Initially, we planned to sail from Florida toward Puerto Rico, and from there we would make a big jump south. However, as that track is mainly east, it places us right against the trade winds. So not only did we sail slower than I’d hoped, we had to wait out for little lulls in the prevailing conditions in order to move on. The wait was usually only 1 to 4 days, but that adds up. Also, since we were anxious to “stay on track,” we didn’t really enjoy the locations as we could have, since we were always waiting to leave.
In addition to Mother Nature, the other issue is timing. We either started too late, or too early- depending on your navigational perspective. So now we’ll wait out the rest of hurricane season where we are. And in November we will be on track with the more “typical” cruising plan. While I always knew the trip would be dictated by weather, I was not aware how much it would affect our day-by-day sailing. This is a factor especially when heading east (which will be seldom from this point on).
If you’d like to track our progress to date, click on this link to our website and note that the right-bottom side contains a map of our ports-of-call, with tracking provided by our partner GOST.