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Current position of the SSV Corwith Cramer. Click on the vessel to view position history. Use the layer tools, top right, to change the map style or to view data layers. Dates and times use GMT (Greenwich Mean Time).

SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer

July 24, 2014

Sailing Downwind

Marty Jelin Schwarz, Carleton College graduate


Above: Corwith Cramer's full stack of square sails. From bottom to top: the course, the topsail, and the raffee. These sails are designed for travelling downwind. Below, right: Our current chart. The faint pencil line is our track line. Notice the five shipping lanes: two for dangerous cargo, two for non-dangerous cargo, and one for smaller, auxiliary vessels.

Ship's Log

38° 40’ 16.80” N x 10° 18’ 57.60” W
NxW Force 5
NxW Force 4
Cumulus, covering half of the sky
1216.4 nautical miles so far!

Well here it is, our last day at sea before reaching the bustling port of Lisbon, Portugal.  The prevailing Northerlies have really come through for us in the past 36 hours, and we’ve had the distinct pleasure of sailing downwind before a following sea and beneath some lovely altocumulus artwork. As Ryan, Steve, and Elliot taught us yesterday, these winds are a result of the Azores high, also known as the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre.  As warm
tropical air moves North in the atmosphere to these temperate latitudes, it cools down and sinks, creating a region of relatively high pressure at the surface.  This region is centered somewhere in the North Atlantic.  The Corliolis force causes the air to rotate clockwise around the ocean basin, giving us these lovely winds from the north off the coast of Portugal.


With the wind was at our back, we set two square sails that don’t often see the light of day: the raffee and the course.  We have now set all of Cramer’s sails (except for the storm trys’l). Very exciting! In setting these downwind sails, we are following in the footsteps of the Portuguese pioneers who first took advantage of the Azores high to make their way down the West African coast, in search of the lucrative Spice Islands in Southeast Asia.  We learned something that sailors have always known-sailing downwind is easier, faster, and more direct than beating to windward.  In fact, we have been making such good time in these favorable conditions that we sailed some extra distance so as to not arrive in Lisbon early!  While cruising downwind, everyone has stayed busy.  We’ve learned a lot about Portuguese maritime history, worked on our knots (practical and decorative), and kept an ever-vigilant eye out for fin whales.  Also, a frenzy of Turk’s Head bracelet and anklet making has erupted on the Cramer. Chief Mate Will McLean predicts that the entire ship’s company will have (at least) one by Cadiz. 

Alas, our comfortable downwind stint had to end once we reached Lisbon’s latitude.  About 1 hour ago, we struck the square sails, set the fore-and-aft sails, and gybed around to head west.  Tonight we will cross the shipping lanes and reach the mouth of the Rio Tejo by morning.  Everyone is alert for the upcoming game of Frogger-we will cross five shipping lanes, about 45 total nautical miles!


Categories: Corwith Cramer,Historic Seaports of Western Europe, • Topics: c254  sailing • (0) Comments
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