Sailing across the northern hemisphere in winter is brutal—ships can be battered by storms and often sail in low visibility conditions over long hours of the night. Common hazards include freezing spray, which can topple ships with accretion, and sea ice, which damages hulls not designed for it. Ship captains often prefer sailing in lower latitudes due to a preconceived notion that lighter weather will be found there. Unfortunately, this is not usually the case.
p>In winter, the low pressure track encircling the Arctic lowers in latitude and strengthens in intensity as temperatures plummet due to the lack of sun. These cold pools of air (generally blowing from the east) clash with warm air masses in low latitudes (generally blowing from the west) and generate atmospheric lift. This eventually creates extratropical cyclones that are pushed east by mid-latitude winds. The storm’s eastward motion and counterclockwise rotation result in heavy conditions out of the northwest.
When vessels sail westbound across the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean basins, they can be exposed to heavy conditions on their bows, which slows down progress and can force them to turn around. Therefore, routing experts aim to position these vessels in higher latitudes—north of the heaviest winds and seas, where winds blowing from the east push vessels along their routes. In the winter of 2018-2019, two vessels transited from east to west; one, across the Atlantic, the other, across the Pacific.
The Master of the Atlantic cape-size had intentions to sail along a rhumbline course from the English Channel to Cabot Strait in mid-December 2018. At this time, the Atlantic basin from the west coast of Ireland and Portugal to the east coast of Newfoundland was dominated by northwesterly swell in excess of 6 meters. Had the vessel sailed along this route, they would have encountered storm force winds and periods of head conditions exceeding 8 meters. StormGeo Route Analysts recommended the vessel sail into the higher latitudes of the Atlantic, from north of the United Kingdom to Belle Isle Strait, which separates Newfoundland from mainland Canada. This route was sailed in easterly winds and seas, topped several storms, and stayed north of the heaviest weather. With StormGeo’s FleetDSS available for onshore staff, the client was able to visualize both the Master’s intended route as well as the route recommended by StormGeo and make an informed decision together with the Master.
This optimized route saved the vessel 142NM, 49 hours, 84.65 MT of fuel and $33,241 when compared to the Master’s originally intended route.