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Old 12-24-2011, 05:57 AM   #1
whedlesky's Avatar
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Default Raiatea to New Caledonia: Where was the wind, and could we have found it?

My boyfriend and I have a very mellow relationship with little conflict—except when it comes to one issue, which always leads to heated debate and crankiness for the rest of the day. The question is this: if you are sailing through a region where you know that the winds will be unpredictable and potentially non-existent, what should you do?

My boyfriend and I were recently crew on a catamaran sailing from Raiatea, in French Polynesia, to New Caledonia. With favorable winds, we were told, this trip usually takes about two weeks. We didn’t start the voyage until late in the season, around mid September, when we were told the winds in the western South Pacific become fickle, potentially weak and variable, potentially stormy. We were at sea for 31 days, and encountered a couple significant storms.

My boyfriend argues that, rather than sit completely becalmed, we had two options (neither of which our captain choose to do): First, we could have motored through the calm patches into windy patches. He argues that weather systems didn’t move quickly in that region at that time, and basically all we had to do was motor out of the area with no wind, into a system with wind.

Second, he argues, we could have taken a completely different route. Instead of trying to take the shortest path from Raiatea to Noumea, we could have headed further south, where, he claims (on what grounds I’m not certain), there would have been more wind. After making our distance west, we could have then headed back north to New Caledonia. Though the distance of our voyage would have been far greater, he argues the time would have been shorter.

I my opinion, there wasn’t much we could do about the situation unless we wanted to burn bucket loads of fuel and basically motor the whole way there. The best idea, perhaps, would have been to not try to sail in that region in late September.

To those of you who have more experience with sailing in the South Pacific, or with dealing with these sorts of quandaries, I ask whether either of my boyfriend’s ideas sounds realistic. If so, we can let this over-flogged horse die once and for all. If not, I can say “I told you so.” This ongoing debate is an annoying glitch in our otherwise tranquil domestic life. But I guess we're doing pretty well if this is the worst of our problems.

Thanks a bunch,



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Old 12-24-2011, 06:58 PM   #2
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I agree with your boyfriend but with some qualifications. If you have a reliable forecast that after a few days motoring you will have a favorable wind, then by all means do so but never exhaust more then half of your fuel.

As far a choosing a different route then the shortest, that is a time honored approach of long distance sailing. But, once again it depends very much on long and short term wind prediction and on the prevailing currents.

Happy holodays


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Old 12-24-2011, 09:02 PM   #3
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I agree with Istioploos on this one. In general "finding the wind" is what folks do--either by strategic use of motor or by strategic planning before the passage is undertaken.

Our own "there's no wind" philosophy is to not use the engine even if we've made a very poor decision regarding when/where we sail. Exceptions are made if we're trying to meet the requirements of an external boundary condition (e.g. must arrive by x-date) but we also have a philosophy of not subjecting ourselves to such boundary conditions to avoid the conflict.

A wave condition (with no wind) that subjects the boat and sails to excessive wear when there's no wind is the thing that can drive me batty and make me want to turn on the engine to save wear on the boat.

We believe that we're sailing (not motoring) and that if we are able to remove external conditions which require us to show up at a certain time (and have enough aboard in the way of food and water) we have the opportunity to sail or lay becalmed without getting too freaked out about it. Other than getting into very uncomfortable waves and having excessive wear on the boat with no wind--really--what difference does it make if you show up in 2 weeks or 5 weeks?

A tool for the strategic planning:

You can research your expected weather (long range) by studying the appropriate Atlas of Pilot Charts for the ocean(s) you will cruise.

Pilot charts depict in some detail the prevailing weather patterns including: wind directions and speeds, wave heights, ocean currents, visibility, barometric pressures, sea surface temperatures, and ice limits to be found in the areas covered for each month of the year.

Pilot charts are issued in 5 volumes: North Atlantic Ocean, South Atlantic Ocean, North Pacific Ocean, South Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. All information is presented graphically for each 5° section of the chart and describes the averages from meteorological and oceanographic observations made over hundreds of years for each month of the year.

Some can be obtained online for free download or you can purchase these at a chart store. If you study these, you'll know more about the probabilities of having appropriate weather and sea conditions for your passage during the time of your passage.

Fair winds,
"Do or do not. There is no try." - Yoda

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Old 12-25-2011, 12:10 AM   #4
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Thank you all so much. Your responses have been very helpful. We are relatively new to long-distance cruising, and we are sailing as volunteer crew. It can sometimes be difficult to understand your captain's decisions, and whether they were wrong or right. This advice, and the resources Redbopeep suggested, will help us be more involved, or at least understand, the decisions our captains make as navigators, and of course will help us when we one day own our own vessel!

Thanks again!
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