Is it safe out there?

20 Oct

I was trolling Facebook the other day and saw a comment in one of the sailing forums, can’t remember which one. A lady was asking for some advice. It seems that she and her husband have been saving up for years to retire on their boat and to sail around the world, but they were starting to get cold feet. Their reason was the amount of big storms out there these days and the effect that climate change is having on global weather patterns. They were seriously thinking about not going.

At first I saw her point and almost agreed. But then I thought, how ridiculous. When I did my first circumnavigation we were guided by a tome of a book called Ocean Passages for the World. It detailed the best routes and the best time of year for different ocean voyages. For most cruisers it was a bible. We also bought weather charts that showed the various wind strengths and direction for each month and would use the charts to plan the best route. There were no forecasts for most of the world. Sure around the English coast you could get the shipping forecast but nothing for the mid Atlantic. We were at the mercy of the wind gods.

For the first few years the weather charts were fairly accurate and the weather quite predictable, but then it started to change. I once did a Southern Ocean passage in the 80s where the weather chart claimed that for the month of January there was zero chance of easterlies and a 95% chance of strong westerlies. We beat into easterly headwinds for a week. My point is that things have been changing for the last couple of decades.

Pounding upwind in an area where it should have been a downwind slide
For our cruising couple with cold feet things have never been better. There is so much accurate weather information available and much of it is free. You can compare various forecasts and make a highly educated decision. Once you have set off you can get updated forecasts along the way and plot your course accordingly. Boats are so much safer now than in the past and we are all so much better educated about how to deal with bad weather. Heck thinking about it now we must have been crazy to set sail without on-board real-time weather info, say nothing of tracking that allows those at home to follow every inch of your voyage. And we used a sextant? Madness. 

To the couple with cold feet I say go for it. I think it’s safer now than it has ever been. Take the usual precautions but don’t let the nonstop babble on TV about the state of the world get in the way of what sounds like awesome plans.

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Brian Hancock – Owner Great Circle Sails

This article was syndicated from Great Circle Sails Blog


  1. Debra Perfitt

    SV Coastal Drifter here and I completely agree with you. We started cruising from Vancouver Island Canada where we get some really sneaky weather. We’ve made it to Tahiti in our last 5 years. We are basically cowards and download free weather twice a day and are not shy asking other cruisers in areas we are traveling to about what they are seeing for weather at the moment via SSB cruiser nets. Yes go for it, but arm yourself with the best information you can afford!

  2. Ben

    Can you describe the rigging in the second pic. Appears to be a genny behind it. What are the red, blue and green lines?

  3. Erik Schaefer

    Hear, hear! When my wife and I started looking for a cruising boat suitable for us and our two girls, much of our search was spent hearing stories of broken dreams. Got old, got sick, parents got sick, kids grew up and no longer wished to go… There is always a deeply rational reason not to give it a go, and perceived risks like weather always figure prominently. But most risks can be mitigated with careful planning and constant learning. After six and a half years spent on what we thought would be an eighteen month sabbatical, we don’t regret a moment. If the only barrier remaining is in your mind, by all means go prudently, but go now and go far!

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