Ocean Passages – Practicing our Navigating skills.

chart az plymGreat Circle Black, Rhumb line Red, Actual track Blue

We have just completed our longest passage of the year 1200 mile as the crow flies from Ponta Delgada in the Azores to Plymouth. It is not often that the weather allows you to go directly from A to B – so this trip we actually logged 1400 miles on the 10 day passage. So if we couldn’t go in a straight line – how did we choose which way to go and how did we find our way?

If you read the pilot charts and ocean passages for the world they suggest that in April first you will encounter light NE winds North of the Azores and then winds from the western sector from about 45N. It would seem logical to head north (even motoring) until you reach the westerly air flow.

Before arriving – Michael, who owns his own boat, had done lots of planning and brought with him his chart with the great circle route (black) and rhumb line (red) already marked on. We were aiming for an average of 5 knots made good or 120 miles per day and the rhumb line was divided accordingly. We mapped our progress on this chart every day at midday.

James, a Coastal Skipper, was interested to see how near you could get with dead reckoning – that is when you draw on a line for course steered and distance run without using the GPS – his dead reckoning track is in blue and over 1300 miles to Ushant he was only 10 miles out when we spotted the land

John, a Yachtmaster, was aiming to use the trip as a qualifying passage for Yachtmaster Ocean, so he wanted to see how accurate you could get with a sextant. He had never used a sextant before and rapidly found out that it is not as easy as it looks – it takes practice and patience when the boat is leaping up and down – however, we had a good amount of opportunities to practice and in the end the sextant positions were with about 5 nautical miles of the good old GPS.

Paul, a Day Skipper, just loved being at sea and was interested in making sense of the ever changing weather patterns – in fact he had sailed this passage with us twice before in the past.

(please note all names have been changed to protect identities)

To make the dead reckoning and the sextant sun run sun positions work accurately it is important to keep good records of the course steered and distance run – hourly entries in the log book ensured this and gave everybody something more to do on watch.

Our course was always dependent on the wind direction. For the first part of the trip we had wind from the ESE and as you can see from the blue line on the map we managed to sail close to the Rhumb line.   The second half of the trip we had winds from the NE (instead of from the west) and ended up beating. It was important for us to keep track of when the wind shifts would come. For this we downloaded twice daily Met Office synoptic charts using weatherfax and worked out that we had to head to the east before heading north we didn’t cross the Rhumb line again before reaching the Lizard!

We had made such good time on this passage we had plenty of time to spare so we made a stop in Falmouth to rest and recoup before our final leg to Plymouth.

So how did the guests find it

My first ocean crossing could not have been in better hands. Great boat, great crew, great company. Thank you for all your knowledge sharing and a fantastic experience

 My dream of a long Atlantic passage fulfilled, many, many unforgettable experience. A gale as usual, sunrises and sunsets, night skies seen from a new angle. Saw and learnt a lot about weather and passage planning. As a skipper of my own boat it has been a master class in ocean sailing

 Thanks for a fantastic 2 weeks I have learnt a lot and had a great time. Hope to be back with you in the future.

 Well that’s four trips and very nearly 5000 miles on Velvet Lady – looking forward to the next 5000!

If you fancy putting your navigation skills into practice coming up soon are 2 more milebuilding passages – The shorter, 500 miles from Plymouth to Oban which has now been reduced to £600 or the longer, 1100 miles North to Norway, Oban to Bodo