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How we get weather information and plan and execute a North Atlantic passage in the Picton Castle

Heading to North AtlanticA great deal of thought and effort goes into the weather planning prior to a Trans-Atlantic passage in a ship like the Picton Castle.

Well prior to sailing, the approximate departure date/time is established by consulting pilot charts, studying the Sailing Directions and consulting with professional and experienced masters who have significant experience in the passages intended. Capt. Jan Miles of the Topsail Schooner Pride of Baltimore II in particular was consulted on this planned trans-atlantic. He has made many transatlantic passages as master in 100-ton wooden schooners. This part of the process began over a year ago for this voyage.

Ashore, in the office, the master and mates start studying the internet weather information as part of their daily duties in the weeks before sailing. Two weeks out from the planned departure date we begin to closely monitor NOAA weather forecasting National Weather Service/NCEP Ocean Prediction Center, a key tool being the “Atlantic Briefing” on the Internet. The “Atlantic Briefing” is a ready compilation of NOAA radio weatherfax maps including 500mb maps (high altitude – shows jet stream movement), Atlantic surface analysis, wind/wave analysis and sea-state analysis. Another useful tool is www.passageweather.com.

The sailing plan is basically to first get south of the axis of the jet stream by sailing SE from Lunenburg so as to be on the fair-wind side of low-pressure systems and away from the worst excesses of these lows. Also it is good to sail south of the “Tail of the Grand Banks” at about 43 North and 50 West – this routing reduces the probable intensity of fog and icebergs. Once sufficient southing has been achieved, we’ll adjust course to sail along a latitude track (depending on winds) towards just north of the Azores and then make up towards Ireland. If conditions allow, however, perhaps more of a rhumb line course from the “tail” towards the coast of southern Ireland. If this proves desirable it will shave off many miles and shorten this passage by several days.

On board, we rely on the following Weather Information Acquisitions Systems:

  1. Imarsat-C – High Seas weather text forecast and warnings which come automatically to the unit for the entire North Atlantic (whole world actually)
  2. Navtex – Also automatic text weather forecasts and warnings for the entire North Atlantic.
  3. Radio Weather Fax Charts, received automatically
  4. SSB – weather routing advice from “South Bound II” which provides detailed analysis and recommendations to individual vessels by SSB schedule on frequency 12359.0, log on at 1900 UTC, transmit and receive beginning at 2000 UTC
  5. Daily copies of NOAA’s “Atlantic Briefing” sent by iridium e-mail to the ship. This consists of 12, 24, 48 and 96-hour maps and forecasts of the above maps.
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