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Friday, 14 June 2013

Weather Routing

As we finished our departure preparations in Stornoway, forecasts indicated that the gentle southeast winds that had been blowing for days were about to be replaced by strong westerlies along our route toward Greenland. Sailing into strong winds is slow, exceedingly uncomfortable and to be avoided.

Given that sailing downwind in strong winds is fast (as sailboats go) and merely uncomfortable without additional qualifying adverbs, we used the last of the southeasterlies to shape a course well to the north of the direct route - passing close to the Faroes and Iceland. By passing to the north of various low pressure weather systems we could take advantage of the counterclockwise circulation around them.

Now as we rapidly approach Iceland, it is becoming clear that there will be a number of days of very light contrary winds involving many hours of motoring. This would be followed by a gale or possibly storm-force winds as we approach Kap Farvel [Cape Farewell] on the southern tip of Greenland. These gale-force winds, though perhaps not the NEXT spell of inclement weather, can be avoided by a short detour and a few days sightseeing around the Icelandic capital!

The above described process, combined with access to modern weather forecasting and to GPS goes a long way towards making seasonal high-latitude small boat voyages acceptably safe. As a matter of interest, airlines adjust their long-haul flight-paths daily to account for changing winds, rarely using the same route on successive days. This is more a matter of saving flight minutes and money, along with giving passengers a pleasant ride, rather than of safety. Nonetheless the principles are similar.

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Surtsey at 2 am
In 1963, a new island emerged from the sea south of Iceland. Surtsey, named after Surtur - an evil spirit, is now 50 years old and has been kept almost free of human contact to be used for research into how life populates an initially sterile volcanic island. Near midnight tonight, we may pass close enough for a binocular look. Midnight is not very dark at 63 north latitude in midsummer!


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At 14/06/2013 06:24 (utc) our position was 62°34.20'N 016°10.78'W

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