A January hurricane?! It may not be big news back in the U.S., although you can read about it here: Atlantic Hurricane Forms in January. I mean, who really cares about a hurricane that is moving west to east (rather than east to west) and away from the Americas?
Well, boats like us trying to sail across the Atlantic to the Americas, that’s who.
The Atlantic hurricane season starts in June and ends in November. Those are rough dates for the applicable weather window, but, in general, they apply from year to year. (As a comparison, it might snow on any day in Boston between October and April, but not before or after that window.)
Atlantic hurricanes usually form off the coast of Africa, and then move west across the Atlantic. They pick up strength in the warm water as the approach the Caribbean, and then turn north up the U.S. east coast.
That’s the typical path. What’s up with this system, then? It has instead formed off the coast of the Americas, and is moving the other way, east, towards Africa, before turning north up towards northern Europe.
(If you look at the photo above, the Canary Islands, where Leander is located now, are the tan colored arc of islands to the right of the screen, just off the grey-colored coast of Africa.)
When hurricane season ends, in November, sailboats by the hundreds pour across the Atlantic, catching the trade winds to the Caribbean. You can bank on there being no hurricanes, right? Sure you can. In the last eighty years, there have been a total of zero (0) hurricanes that have formed in the Atlantic in January. But now, there is one. (Don’t worry — it’s not climate change. It’s just one of those “things,” you know? Nothing to look at here. Move along.)
We’re glad we’re still in port. After this system passes, things will calm down a bit, and we’ll start looking at windows to start our crossing.
But there are a lot of boats out there just now, including a score belonging to one of the several Atlantic “rallies.”
A note about these rallies. Jimmy Cornell is a fellow who writes some wonderful books that help sailboats plan their world passages. About thirty years ago, he noted that there were a lot of boats crossing the Atlantic around this time of year, and had the great idea to organize them into a “rally.” For a moderate joining fee, participants would get safety checks on the boats, preparation lectures, and weather forecasting enroute, among other amenities. And traveling en masse allows some degree of added safety, as one can talk through a problem with a nearby boat, or perhaps even get assistance if trouble arises. There are some good things about rallies, both these ones in the Atlantic and others that we’ve come across in during our trip around the world.
Nonetheless, Sima and I have chosen not to join them. I think that our biggest sticking point has been that the rally allows you to meet and hang out with lots of rally participants, but not, as easily, with people outside of the group. As much as we enjoy getting to know other sailors — and some of our most enduring relationships have been with other boaties — we often prefer meeting locals and spending time with them. After all, there are plenty of other Americans where we come from, but not as many Canarios, or Vanuatuans, or Orcadians, or Bohuslaners.
But there is another problem, too. Rallies have fixed departure dates. When a rally starts to grow in numbers, to 200, 300, or more boats, crew arrival and departures become an issue. People have flights to catch. We have been steadfast about not making plans to be at place “x” by date “y,” because, as we say, “nothing good can come of that.” If the weather doesn’t look just right, we want to wait, and we often do.
The Atlantic rallies have grown so much in size that they can’t all leave at once. So there are at least three now, with names like “Atlantic Odyssey I” and “II” and the “Atlantic Rally for Cruisers,” (cleverly shortened to “The ARC”) The departure date for Odyssey II was January 9 from Tenerife, in the Canaries.
The problem with the fixed January 9 departure date was this pesky low/hurricane that was ambling across the Atlantic. Best case scenario, the boats would be able to miss it by sailing due south, having to endure only some bumpy seas. All of the models called for the hurricane to turn up north before they reached that point. That would be followed by the need to motor for some period of time, because the depth of the low would suck the air out of the trade winds.
But worst case scenario? Well, it would seem that this could be a whole lot worse. We’ve been following the boats for several days, and they are all just fine. But maybe there is an inherent problem with rallies that have fixed departure dates. Goodness knows, we’ve made weather mistakes too. But it is good to have the choice.