Sailing to Bermuda: Weather Planning

Ben Eriksen Carey Words 4 Comments

We left Fishing Bay at around 1500. A few hours after we planned, but for good reason. There were some last minute projects to take care of… final installation of the Monitor control lines, pad eyes for better dinghy lashing angles as well as going over sea-cock locations and our new Viking 8 Person Liferaft deployment procedures with our crew. Plus there were a few packages waiting in the marina office, and some diesel fuel and water to be taken aboard. The Fishing Bay Marina is a good spot for that… they graciously held our packages until we arrived.

Here’s a look at the actual weather forecasts we had as we planned to head for Bermuda. Everything looked good for a calm Gulf Stream crossing. It’s all about the Gulf Stream when you make this passage. Guidelines we like to follow for Gulf Stream crossings:

  1. Don’t cross Gulf Stream with winds that have any Northerly + Easterly component greater than 15 knots, and we prefer 10 kts!
  2. Autumn fronts come fast and furious as November rolls in. Take windows (even if small) when you get them, otherwise you could be waiting weeks for next available window.

Looking at the GRIB files, you can see that Sunday is very calm but by Monday 06 UTC, it begins to blow NNE’ly at 20kts….and picks up to 25kts by afternoon. Our timing was tight to get to the stream and cross it by Monday AM, a distance of approx. 200nm. 200nm at 5.5 knots is 36 hours. No margin for error. Sat 1500 – Monday 0300 = 36 hrs.

These images are from Passage Weather. We also looked at the wave forecasts, but I won’t include those here, they followed as you would expect with the wind. As the NE’ly increased, so did the wave heights.

(Wind comes from the tail. Each full barb = 10kts, half barb = 5kts.)

012 018 024 030 036 042 048 054 060


For information on the Gulf Stream location we looked at the Ocean Prediction Center’s NCOM Hi-Res U.S. East Coast and Gulf Stream Regions. The graphic is fairly low resolution, but it is possible to determine with some accuracy the edges of the swift Gulf Stream. Our goal was to exit the stream at approx. 35º N x 74º W and continue on a SE’ly course vowing never to sail any higher than a beam reach! We planned to cross the stream at a right angle to minimize our time in it – the same way you cross a shipping channel. Note that the stream flows NE off the coast of North Carolina.

The image below is from today, not the day we left, but the stream position is fairly consistent, at least for the level of planning we were doing. Note that the stream is fairly wide if you include the 1 – 1.5 kt greenish color. Also notice that eddy centered around 35º N x 73º W… We wanted to be on the south side of that for sure.

Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 9.37.32 PM


We motor-sailed the first 36 hours of the passage. The winds were light, and our goal was to beat the NE’lies across the Gulf Stream at it’s narrowest location… so we made ‘best possible speed’! Entering the stream was unbelievably obvious. Pilot Whales, Tuna boats, Blue water and increased water temps. We use a laser temperature gun for down and dirty measuring… it read 80.5º. The best part about the Gulf Stream, was dropping the line over the side and within 3 minutes having a bite… a tiny Yellowfin Tuna. The weather remained calm during our stream crossing, so much so that I was able to sleep in the V-berth with the skylight open, and relax with a cool breeze blowing in on me. Dory found it to be a comfortable place as well. He snuggled in with me.

vberthNow tinyTuna

But when I awoke for my next watch, things were changing. The winds and waves were building and life was beginning to get uncomfortable.



Comments 4

  1. Dannie

    I now live in Florida and do much more fishing than sailing. Your advice to others about the Gulf Stream in very accurate! Most sailors– boaters– don’t realize that the Gulf Stream is one of the most dangerous of the ocean currents. I advise boater that any wind with a N, ie. NE. ENE, N great caution should be used when entering the stream. Within a few mile your world can go from good to bad while crossing or fishing the Gulf Stream. A strong East wind can turn the stream into maelstrom also.

    Great article

  2. Dick

    If I ever cross the GS your advice and experience will uppermost in planning.
    Your email was forwarded to me so please add me to your followers.

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