Bermuda to the Chesapeake
Crossing the Gulf Stream
Preparing for the next wave and gust, Victor DuPont at the helm of Nicole
passing through the Gulf Stream on the way from Bermuda to the Chesapeake Bay.
I was on board the DuPont's Nicole, helping to sail her home to St. Michaels, Maryland after the 1996 Bermuda Race. Returning to the Chesapeake Bay with the help of favorable southerly breezes, Nicole completed the 800 +/- miles in about four and half days. With about 50 miles of Gulf Stream current to cross, we experienced one day of rocking, rolling, stormy sailing conditions. If you have never experienced the Gulf Stream, it can rattle you as you feel the tremendous power of the tropical air and water's influence on your vessel. I have added some links like Crossing the Gulf Stream you might find interesting.
At right - Nicole's mast in the foreground with a large schooner arriving in Bermuda in the background.
Bill Lane, Jr. (white hat on Nicole), Tad DuPont holding red jacket, Julie Cox to David Cox's right (scratching his head).
Ready to depart Bermuda on Nicole From L-R: Bill Lane, Victor DuPont, Henry Lane, Jane Kinnamon, Unidentified, Unidentified
Nicole's route back to the Chesapeake in white above.
When preparing to cross the Gulf Stream, certain steps should be taken. These steps should include the following:
Study the weather:
- Download and interpret weather chart information. Seek routing assistance from professional services. Concentrate on present forecast wind directions at the time you cross the stream.
- Download the latest positions of the Gulf Stream and associated eddies.
- Jenifer Clark’s Gulfstream (http://users.erols.com/gulfstrm)
- NOAA (http://polar.ncep.noaa.gov/ofs).
- Positions of the Gulf Stream proper and eddies change on a daily basis. Eddies generally drift toward the south or southwest, and their positions are only accurate for about three days from when they’re issued.
- After departure, monitor the weather closely, use electronic chart downloads, sea buoy data, pay attention to local conditions. Do not entrust your forecasts solely to downloaded charts; what you actually experience can differ from those predictions.
Manage your course:
- Allow for the expected set of the current. If the area you intend to cross is approximately 60 miles wide, consider flow in the innermost 20 miles of the current to be the fastest. I usually allot 1 knot per hour of set from my course line, and compensate before entering the current. Calculate the stream width and number of hours expected to cross it, and then enter the stream up current appropriately.
- Set a waypoint where you’d like to enter the stream to account for current set.
Monitor the crossing:
- Watch the track line as you cross. Don’t be surprised if you make 30 or even 40 degrees off your course line as the current exerts its presence. Do not steer to counter the current set; maintain a course directly across its flow.
- Monitor the water temperature when approaching, traversing and leaving the Gulf Stream. For example, the sea temperature may be 76.9 degrees F, then suddenly increase to 79.8 as you enter the fringes of the stream. It will climb to temperatures of up to 85 degrees in the middle sections, and then gradually fall as you near the other side.
Witness the Gulf Stream:
- Cumulus clouds above the warm waters
- A distinct line of sargasso weed or difference in appearance separates the stream from the quieter ocean waters
- Deeper blue hue to the water
- Fog can develop if the warm water flows beneath cooler air
- Localized squally weather
- Dolphins often follow the stream in search of food; they may contact and play with boats more often near the stream
Any boat crossing the Gulf Stream should be well-fitted out with storm sails and adequate safety equipment and those on board should know how to cope with heavy weather situations. Under moderate weather conditions, Gulf Stream crossings are not dramatic events.
During the 20 +/- times I’ve crossed the Gulf Stream, I have encountered storm conditions on only a few occasions. However that week riding 30-40 foot waves and Force 9 winds provided a lifetime of memories while teaching me unforgettable lessons about ocean sailing. Forethought and planning have always helped me face adverse conditions.
Brothers Bill and Henry
Arriving home: The Miles River and St. Michaels, Maryland in the distance.