Sailing Living Lab’s Atlantic Crossing: Part 4 – To trade winds or not to trade winds?

We recently saw in the case of Diego de Miguel’s Transatlantic voyage that his optimized route was one that took the route down south to catch the trade winds. TIMEZERO provides an optimal route based on your navigation style (winds and waves maximums), the sailboat polars and the meteorological weather forecast. Based on this varying weather factor, each route will be different. In this article we see that the route proposed by our Ambassador isn’t necessarily the best one. In certain cases we are lead north of the trade winds.

We decided to compare the two cases. We have made a route between the Canary Islands and Martinique. Two separate weather optimized routes for two different time periods. No changes were made to the weather routing settings (available in the TIMEZERO menu> Weather Routing). This basically means that the maximum and minimum wind speeds and wave heights were identical. The same is true for the sailboat polars. That way we are going off the idea that the two routes share the same navigation style and the boat is in the same condition.


1) Transatlantic with the trade winds:

The first scenario and first route was time stamped: April, 14 at 7:02am

Departure date (please note that this test was carried out using an interface in French)

When we launch the Weather Routing Module, TIMEZERO tells us to take the path of the trade winds, heading south along the east coast  of Africa until Cape Verde before turning west towards the Americas:

Route simulation for that passes through the trade winds in TIMEZERO

In the « Route details » table, all the information relative to your crossing are displayed. With this particular case, the optimal route has 77 waypoints. Each one provides details on the speed, distance, ETA, TTG and other pertinent information.

On the last line of the route details, we can see that the total trip time is 15 days and 14 hours and we will arrive on Sunday at: April, 29, 8:52pm

Arrival time in Route Details Window


2) Transatlantic passing north of the trade winds:

In the second scenario, we have time stamped the route at: April, 18, 10:04am

Departure date for the 2nd route in the Route Details Window

Only 4 days separate our two departure times and yet we can see that the route simulations are quite different:

Route simulation north of trade winds in TIMEZERO

Based on the winds, air pressure, waves and currents, the Weather Routing Module tells us to change our heading to the west at the end of the second day of navigation. After 9 days at sea, we have to head south to arrive in Martinique, our destination.

According to the Route Details window, the route contains 57 waypoints. The last row in the table displays an arrival time of: May, 2, 7:13am, making a total time of 13 days and 21 hours.

Arrival date for second route in Route Details Window

In comparison with the first route, this one is quicker by a whole 2 days!

In this example, we clearly see how much of a role weather plays and why having a Weather Routing Module will make a big difference. So such experiments can help to dispel notions that one method of crossing the Atlantic is better than another. In this case, the alternative route happened to be much better by reducing travel time by two days over a two-week voyage.

To provide a historical comparison, Christopher Columbus originally took the route to the north on his first voyage to the Americas in 1492. However, his second trip saw him go south and use the trade winds in 1493. As we can see in the image below, Diego de Miguel took the same route, only 525 years later.

Routes of Christopher Columbus


Route carried out by Diego de Miguel

For more information on how the Weather Routing Module for TIMEZERO software works, check out this video tutorial. More detailed information can be found on our website.

Finally, if you want to follow Diego de Miguel and his project, then visit his website or Facebook page.