Sea Science: by Jordanna Sheermohamed
Once upon a time, the ideal yachting expedition would involve calm seas, warm breezes and smooth sailing. The yachting season would follow the global circuit of chasing the sun and festivals, with promises of balmy nights and sun-soaked days. Now, however, extreme destinations are becoming a popular alternative for those who want their morning coffee served with a side of adrenaline. While the treacherous conditions may require the heartiest of captains and crew, the rewards of exciting adventure and exquisite landscapes are drawing many to the rugged ends of the Earth.
Some of the most obvious and immediate dangers of yachting through such high-latitude regions are the screaming winds and high seas associated with passing low pressure systems, but this does not discount other difficulties such as frigid temperatures, little or no available assistance in the event of emergency, drifting ice and thick, blinding fog.
When it comes to the volatile weather in the North polar regions, storm systems piggy back on the eastern-racing jet stream. When these systems reach the Eastern Seaboard and move offshore into the open Atlantic, they are often energized by the warm tropical waters hitchhiking along the Gulf Stream. These systems can often produce conditions in excess of 40-knot winds and 20-foot seas, with one storm after the next for months on end. The summer months are the best bet for lengthier breaks between storm systems, but no season is immune to nature’s fury. Taking into consideration a yacht’s top speed, maneuvering around the rapidly deteriorating sea state may prove to be challenging, and obtaining weather intelligence prior to departing is well-advised.
The infamous Northwest Passage, which connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Arctic waters around Greenland and through Canada, offers an alternative route that shaves off a considerable amount of time from the normal route. With diminishing ice volume in the region, the waters have become more navigable, and were most recently crossed in 2016 by the cruise ship Crystal Serenity, which took 28 days.
Looking toward extreme destinations in the Southern Hemisphere, the subantarctic islands to the south of New Zealand and South America can be the destination or merely a stop along the way to the actual Antarctic continent itself. The conditions in this region of the world tend to remain hostile year-round. Minimal land mass in the Southern Hemisphere allows for storm systems to travel thousands of miles uninterrupted. With little to no frictional effects of land to slow these winds, storms are able to maintain their edge, giving way to the nicknames associated with their line of latitude, such as the “Roaring Forties,” “Furious Fifties,” and “Screaming Sixties.” Long-range swells associated with these winds make the higher latitude Southern Hemisphere seas very tumultuous.
Whether it’s the promise of isolation that draws the visitor, as the more common yachting circuit may yield congested harbors and ports, or the promise of nightly auroras and glowing, moonlit glaciers, extreme destinations are on the rise. Seafarer, beware – it is not for the faint of heart.
Jordanna Sheermohamed is president and lead meteorologist of Weather Forecast Solutions, a private weather-forecasting company ( www.WeatherForecastSolutions.com). Comments are welcome below.