Crossing the North Atlantic means a whole change in the way of looking at the navigation. Instead of little stretches between ports, where you have to go weather or no weather; the vast expanse of an open ocean gives more options. Decision number one to make, how will I cross the ocean? There are basically two options. Via a straight line, called a rhumb line, or via a curved line, called a great circle line. The last line is the shortest route as it carefully follows the curvature of the earth. The rhumb line is the longest route but can have the advantage that you stay at a lower latitude and thus a larger distance away from bad weather. When we crossed with the Prinsendam in spring 2009 from the USA to Europe, I used the Great Circle route as Cape Hatteras was fairly quiet and there would be only following winds if something would happen. Now it is November and we are going the other way. Thus I opted for the Rhumb line as it would bring the ship as far to the South as possible; as far away from the bad weather generated near Cape Hatteras as possible. That does not mean that I will escape it if it comes my way but at least I have then put as much distance between Cape Hatteras and the ship as possible. In this case we will have to cover an additional 39 miles, caused by the longer Rhumb line route. That we can absorb in the six day crossing without much problem as the total crossing distance is 3357 from Funchal to Port Everglades Sea buoy.
Once that decision is made, the next factor comes along. If there is bad weather, an almost given in the last week of November, will it slow me down. Most likely yes, so the idea is then to make as much distance as possible during the days when the seas are calm. If the average speed to maintain is 18 knots, you still race away with 20 knots to build up a bit of surplus in case later on the weather (wind and swell) causes the ship to loose speed or forces the ship to reduce speed for a safer and more comfortable ride. Based on that philosophy we raced away full speed from Funchal as the waves were smooth and there was only a very low swell running.
During the past night and today we made good mileage and the ship was riding in a nice and steady way. Looking at the weather and wave charts, there was no reason to believe that things would change in the next 36 hours. But it did. By 10.30 in the evening the ship suddenly started to pitch significantly and then slammed a few times on the waves. Out of nowhere was a long swell running towards the ship that mixed with the small swell we had all day and that mixture resulted in some very high waves and deep troughs. Nothing in the wave charts, when I went to my computer to check if I had missed something. Most peculiar.
I will have to wait until tomorrow it find out what is suddenly happening in the North Atlantic that is causing this. The next reliable update is coming in tomorrow morning at 0600 GMT and then we will see.
In the meantime I stayed on the bridge for awhile to see, how this wave field would affect the Prinsendam. However when we got deeper into it, the old swell disappeared and thus also the mixture of swells that created those extra high waves and extra deep trough it made the ship ride the waves a bit better, but we still pitched considerably on occasion. By 7 am tomorrow I will know more.