Navigating the weather of the English Channel

For ships departing for the  new colonies, the English Channel was renowned for its varied weather and sailing conditions. Some accounts are of ships becalmed and shrouded in fog, while numerous wrecks along the coast attest to others battered by gale to stormforce winds and heavy seas driven in  from the Atlantic. Some of the early immigrants to South Australia may well have had fair weather and moderate winds to assist them on their southwest passage through the Channel, but for the first ships to leave London in February and March 1836, the odds were always that they would taste the foul weather and westerly gales for which  the Channel is known.  At  latitude 50o North, the Channel  lies under the influence of the Atlantic Cyclone Belt, especially in the period between October and April.  In this region polar maritime northwesterly airstreams meet warmer sub-tropical southwesterly streams and  regularly spawn vigorous storms with fast-moving frontal systems. The  inclement weather, gruelling headwinds and high seas (often up to 8  metres or more) would severely hamper any ship travelling southwest down the Channel. The small sailing ships bound  for South Australia were little match for the fury of these powerful storms and it is credit to their captains and  masters that they fared so well.

Click here to read on about the severe storms these ships encountered in the spring of 1836.

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