Headwinds and gale force squalls are setting crews up for a month at sea

Can you get too much of a good thing? The 233 yachts taking part in the ARC rally are putting the theory fully to the test in what looks like it will be the slowest, most torturous Atlantic crossing in its 24-year history.

A most unusual weather situation has seen the fleet floundering in calms or encountering headwinds up to gale force. It seems almost certain that this ARC will be the longest ever, with even the fastest yachts taking almost three weeks to cross and most family crews looking at a month or more at sea.

The culprit is the jet stream, which has moved south, displacing the Azores High (and, incidentally, giving us in the UK our current high pressure and Arctic cold). Instead of the gradient that would normally form the tradewinds between the Azores High and the ITCZ there are calms or even headwinds.

This has prompted organisers World Cruising Club to issue advice to the fleet to sail south of the Cape Verde Islands to pick up tradewinds. In fact, the suggestion is to go as far as 12°N – below the latitude of Saint Lucia, at 13°N.

Those who have opted for a more northerly route closer to the rhumb line have paid a punishing price.

“The leading boats had to sail through a front and had very strong winds: two days of headwinds of 35 knots or more,” says Jeremy Wyatt of World Cruising.

Even after most boats get a taster of the tradewinds later this week, they are set to encounter possible strong squalls from a dissipating tropical wave, according to ARC weather expert Chris Tibbs. ‘It is difficult to predict just how strong the squalls will be, however it is likely that there will be gusts in excess of gale force within this area,’ he warns.

Not nice.

I’m not liking the forecast much either, because the serious delays to the fleet are forcing me to put my bikini back in storage for another week and rummage for the thermals. Damn – just when me and my laptop could do with a bit of tropical heat.

One can only have so much sympathy for the ARC sailors. At least it’s nice and warm where they are. I’d swap places, wouldn’t you?