WX Rules: Avoiding the Azores High

This year as the ARC Europe fleet departed Bermuda, the Azores high was centered abnormally far north, near 46 degrees, blanketing the middle latitudes with light and variable winds...
Author:
Updated:
Original:

The primary weather feature in any west-to-east Atlantic crossing is the Azores high, which in spring and summer is normally established near 40 degrees north latitude. The traditional sailing instructions are to route north over the top of the high, without going so far north as to get caught in the low-pressure systems marching across the Atlantic to Europe.

This year as the ARC Europe fleet departed Bermuda, the Azores high was centered abnormally far north, near 46 degrees, blanketing the middle latitudes with light and variable winds. But the long-range forecast was for the high to quickly drift south. On Kinship, the Saga 43 that I skippered, we aimed north, looking to route round the top of the high as it moved south. By the fifth day out we’d already reached the latitude of the Azores, 38 degrees 30 minutes, but continued ENE, aiming for 40 degrees. We were well positioned in the slot between the high to our east and lows moving off Nova Scotia.

The first low passed us to the north, and with it we experienced the strongest winds of the crossing, from the west gusting into the upper 30s. As the cold front trailing below the low went through, the wind abruptly shifted to the west-northwest and eased. The front brought rain, but with the wind shift the sky cleared and the stars came out. The air was noticeably drier.

This pattern continued for the duration of the crossing. We sailed along the top of the high with the wind oscillating between southwest and northwest as the lows passed to the north. Only once, for perhaps half a day, was the wind forward of the beam.

The boats to the south of us and slightly west had lighter air and recorded more engine hours. Talisman II, another Saga 43, sailed the southerly rhumbline route and finished over a day behind Kinship, recording 50 engine hours to our 22. Conversely, the bigger yachts south and farther east were able to stay ahead of the high as it moved south and made very fast passages.

The boats toward the back of the fleet experienced the worst weather. Despite the northerly position of the Azores high as the fleet left Bermuda, it ended up farther south than normal, as had been the pattern over the spring. The last low to overtake the fleet also tracked south and caught the slower boats as they approached Horta. Chiscos, a Warrior 40, saw sustained winds over 40 knots, and First Edition III, a Catalina 42, was knocked down by a rogue wave.

In the end the boats that made the fastest passages were not the ones that went north or south, but the ones that committed to either route and sailed a steady course. It was the boats

that never made up their minds as to which way to head that took the longest time to cross.

Read about the 2012 ARC Europe rally here.

Image courtesy of Andy Schell

Related

m123728_13_01_171012_PMA_02901_9999

Alicante Announced as an Ocean Race Europe Stop

The Ocean Race Europe, a new event in offshore sailing, will include Alicante as one of four stopover cities. This European offshoot of the former Volvo Ocean Race will include the biggest change to the racing rules under the new title—fully crewed IMOCA 60s will join the ...read more

01-LEAD-doublehanded2

Preparing for a Doublehanded Race

A few months ago we took a look at the development and attraction of doublehanded racing (Two to Tango, June/July 2020). Hopefully, that served to whet your appetite. If so, the question becomes: “How do I get started? The good news, as we explained in Part 1, is that if you are ...read more

01-LEAD-Day-three---dolphins.-300-dpi

A Key Approach to Passagemaking

How you approach offshore sailing is key to the success of each passage. In addition, some of the most valuable, even crucial attitudes and skills may not be either learned or valued in everyday life on shore and may even fly in the face of talents that are greatly admired and ...read more

OceanVoyagesInstitute-2048

Point of SAIL: Mary Crowley of the Ocean Voyages Institute

In this episode of Point of SAIL, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with Mary Crowley, founder and executive director of the Ocean Voyages Institute, a not-for-profit based in California that has been both educating sailors and working to preserve the health of the world’s ocean ...read more

01-Ocean-Voyages-Institute_PHOTO-READY_1_pg

Tracking and Catching Plastic Waste

Plastic waste—in the form of everything from plastic soda bottles to abandoned fishing nets—constitutes a major threat to the health of the world’s oceans. Giving the immense size of an ocean, though, actually finding all the plastic floating around out there in a time-efficient ...read more

Dreramcatcher -Cate Brown

Marblehead to Halifax Canceled; Alternative Races Planned

The Marblehead to Halifax race that was scheduled for this summer has been canceled due to continuing Covid concerns. Organizers at the Boston Yacht Club and Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron who co-sponsor the event have made the decision because of uncertainty about when the ...read more

SailGP-Team

SailGP Announces Roster and Coach Additions

Athletes Daniela Moroz, CJ Perez and Paul Campbell-James have been added to The United States’ SailGP lineup. Also joining the team will be head coach Philippe Presti. Moroz is a four-time Formula Kite World Champion and two-time U.S. Sailing Rolex Yachtswoman-of-the-Year. ...read more

NEW-westcoastmultihullsmob

Chartering the West Coast

Although two-thirds of the U.S. boating population lives along the Eastern Seaboard, there are many hardy and enthusiastic cruising sailors on the “left coast” as well. Better still, if you’re looking to charter on the Pacific side, there’s plenty of great sailing and many clubs ...read more