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How to plan long distance cruises or circumnavigations

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What is the issue?
Long distance sailing is unlike any other form of transport because you typically cannot plan to simply go from A to B. In fact a sailing passage from A to B can often turn out to be a voyage from A to E to G to C to get to B. This is due to the cyclical patterns of oceanic winds, currents, regional and seasonal weather that are at play at all times. It may even be the case that the scheduled arrival at a destination B would be imprudent and could place the crew and vessel in jeopardy. On the other hand, a much more attractive alternative destination may make perfect sense but is not considered. In short, long distance sailing is complicated and requires knowledge, careful consideration and planning.

Why address this?
You need to base your cruising plans upon the patterns of oceanic winds, currents, and regional weather conditions. Work with the flow of the world’s ocean systems and your voyaging will be a pleasure. Go against it and you will, at best, have an absolutely miserable time.

How to address this?
Fortunately, since Columbus discovered the Atlantic conveyor belt, the wind patterns and ocean currents have been detailed. Having to manage a square-rigged fleet and dispatch them to every part of the world, the Royal Navy used the oceans the most and knew them better than anyone . They first documented this knowledge in the 1895 ‘Admiralty Ocean Passages for the World’.

This slim volume grew through editions to the present comprehensive 'NP136 Ocean Passages for the World, 6th Edition 2014'. But the development of powered ships and commercial weather routeing has to the largest part made this book obselete for modern merchant ships. Today for all practical purposes it is a yachtsman's book.

However, about 25 years ago Jimmy Cornell adapted the original Admiralty work specifically for cruisers calling it the ’World Cruising Routes', as pictured. This book is aimed specifically to the requirements of cruising sailors and has everything you need to work from.

2014 version of World Cruising Routes
Photo: Courtesy of Bloomsbury
It features many hundreds of individual sailing routes, winds, currents, regional and seasonal weather conditions that you can expect in almost every part of the world. As well as the routes, he lays out logical schemes to work your way through extended multi-leg passages or circumnavigations. This enables you to simply schedule optimum arrivals and departures with all the details you need to hand.

Of course, with such a large and global scope some routes are missed out, but I would say these would be very few and most cruisers would be hard pressed to discover them. More importantly, you have to appreciate the book details the expected, or average conditions recorded, over many centuries of experience. You can never guarantee the weather you will actually experience, just what it is most likely to be. An extreme example of this was during our circumnavigation, we were subjected to the force of El Nino. Aboard our boat, Jimmy Cornell was an excellent target for our rage and fury when things were not working out as we would have liked.

The book is a must for cruisers and will be a daily companion. Preferably buy it long before you depart and from the outset schedule your cruising plans the schemes provide. However, having said that, 'NP136 Ocean Passages for the World, 6th Edition 2014' is not to be overlooked. Prepared and edited to UKHO standards it is much easier to interprate than yachtsman's versions, like Jimmy Cornell's, which tend to be discursive.

With thanks to:
Michael Harpur, Yacht Obsession.
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