While in Florida earlier this year, we considered a variety of routes for our upcoming Atlantic passage. Some of the possibilities are shown in the screenshot above (click image for larger view). The waypoint east of South Carolina is Bermuda, and the one labeled Terceira Sao Miguel is the Azores. The other waypoints are mostly from Jimmy Cornell’s World Cruising Routes and are for avoiding hazards or picking up favorable conditions:
- The one closest to New York is to clear Nantucket Shoals and the one south of Newfoundland is to clear the Grand Banks.
- The two waypoints just east of Nova Scotia and the one south of the horizontal yellow line are for ice avoidance. And the yellow lines near Newfoundland are the ice pack extent in May of 2016 using the International Ice Patrol iceberg charts (the most current chart is here). If we were departing from Nova Scotia with no ice, we could continue from the Nova Scotia waypoint to the Grand Banks waypoint. Otherwise we should proceed to waypoint below the yellow line before turning eastward.
- The waypoint about 350 miles north of the Azores is from Cornell’s Ocean Atlas and is for avoiding low pressure systems coming off Nova Scotia. Cornell’s recommendation there is stay south of 45N until east of 30W.
- The waypoint 350 miles northeast of Bermuda is for getting into the prevailing winds as quickly as possible on a departure from Bermuda to Northern Europe.
- The yellow bar down by Florida is the hurricane restriction line for our boat insurance. We’re not covered for named storms south of that line between July 1st and October 31st.
Ideally we’d run the northernmost route, 1,700nm from Newfoundland to Ireland, but would have to wait until at least July if not August for the icebergs around Newfoundland to clear. For a direct run between the US and Ireland that avoids the ice risk, Newport RI and area is the closest point of departure. But the 2,950nm run will put us in the North Atlantic for three weeks, a long time to go without seeing a major low pressure system, so we’d need a backup plan in case a major system develops during the crossing.
We ended up deciding to depart from Newport, and the screenshot below shows our updated potential routes now that we’re there. Our current plan is to leave in early May with the needed fuel for the 2,950 miles. We’ll make a decision to proceed to Cork directly, or to the Azores, based on the weather report a week or ten days in.
On the screenshot below, the new turquoise boundary line is the ice extent as of April 6th, and we’ve drawn two new routes that run just south of that line. Ideally we’d take one of them, but this year is unusually bad for ice (link via Steve Dashew), so likely by May the ice extent will be even further south and we’ll need to run at least below the horiontal yellow line, if not as far south as Cornell’s ice-avoidance waypoint.
The alternate routes shown are suprisingly similar in distance. The first part of the route from Newport, via the ice-avoidance waypoint, is nearly identical whether going to Cork directly, or via the Azores. The direct Great Circle route to the Azores from Newport is 2,000nm compared to 2,010nm via the ice-avoidance waypoint.
Beyond that point, the routes don’t differ that much. The 1,940nm run from the ice-limit waypoint to Cork via the storm-avoidance waypoint takes us only 400 miles north of the Azores for a total passage distance of 2,950nm. Between those two waypoints we can divert to the Azores should a large weather system appear to be developing. The northernmost route shown below is the great circle route directly from the April 6th ice limit to Cork. This route is 2,835 miles, saving only about 115 miles over the route via the ice- and storm-avoidance waypoints.
We’ve been told the Azores are beautiful and not to be missed, so why even consider a direct passage and not just plan to stop in the Azores? Part of the reason is we want to spend as much time as possible cruising the west coast of Ireland in May and June. We also prefer not to stop mid-passage if we don’t need to. Stopping takes time and has the additional overhead of clearing in and out of the country. And the direct run to Cork via the ice- and storm-avoidance waypoints is more direct: 2,950 miles versus 3,190 via the Azores, a difference of 240 miles, or more than a day at sea.