Winter, at least in the Northeast, is a time where weather ascends to the topmost levels of our consciousness. It determines what we do, where we go and whether we can accomplish certain things at all. This year in Maine we’ve already had an ice storm that knocked out electricity for thousands, and snowstorms that slowed traffic, closed schools and got the Storm Team folks out of their TV studios and into their on-air parkas.

But interesting weather isn’t limited to the Northeast, I’ve learned this year. Remember, I’m the guy who planned a fall cruise down the East Coast and then to the Caribbean aboard his boat. A weather pattern determined the schedule, in fact: the Atlantic hurricane season ends Nov. 30, and since I was bound for the Caribbean I was obliged not to set out too early. Well, plans are plans; weather is weather. Sometimes the latter affects the former. The former has no influence over the latter at all.

My encounters with challenging meteorology began as a hurricane brushed New England around the end of September. I was near Block Island at the time, headed for New London or somewhere further west on Long Island Sound. The predictions began to deteriorate; the sky to the southeast was looking grim; the seas coming into the Sound from offshore started getting bigger.

We spent a night in Block Island’s sheltered harbor as the wind moaned in our rigging overhead. Early in the morning we reefed and then hoisted sail, heading for Watch Hill, Rhode Island, Fishers Island Sound and New London, knowing we really ought to be in sheltered waters by that evening. It was late September and the days were getting shorter; we didn’t have many hours for the trip. Rounding the north end of Block Island we encountered those offshore swells again; they were bigger than they had been the evening before. The wind built to around 20 knots, fortunately blowing in the right direction. We sailed fast toward the narrow entrance to Fishers Island Sound, negotiating the narrow, shallow but well-buoyed entrance off Watch Hill a little faster than I might have wanted. We reached New London and the Thames River by late afternoon. Putting my crew on the train for home I arranged for a city-owned mooring (a big one, I really hoped) in a relatively protected place. A friend came and picked me up. I left the boat there in the care of the harbormaster and headed away for a long weekend, out of what looked like considerable rain and some wind. Everything worked out-the boat was OK, I stayed dry-but the stopover in New London delayed me by several days. I’d suffered my first change of plan due to weather.

Sailors are often accused of sugar-coating their experiences, remembering only the sunny days and forgetting the others. For the purposes of this discussion, which will continue to focus on the weather as plan-changer, I’ll do the opposite. Fast-forward to Annapolis, Maryland, where I arrived after a quick trip through New York and past the New Jersey shore in good weather. Annapolis is a lovely place, historic and filled with boats of all sorts. It hosts a magnificent sailboat show in early October that I attended in fine weather.

Departing Annapolis, however, was another matter. Somewhere around the middle of the month, a week or so after the boat show, Chesapeake Bay began to sport whitecaps with increasing regularity. The bay’s a shallow place; it kicks up steep waves more than deeper bodies of water anyway, and the winds were definitely growing stronger. By the time I left Annapolis for Norfolk, at the southern end of the Chesapeake, breezes of 25 to 30 knots were commonplace, although for some reason NOAA weather routinely under-estimated what to expect and from which direction those breezes might come. On more than one occasion a forecast for 10-15 from the northeast became 25-30 from the southwest, or the reverse. We found ourselves out in these un-anticipated conditions on several days as we headed south, taking shelter behind low-lying islands or marinas if we could find them. Getting south in the Chesapeake, to say the least, was challenging. We lost our dinghy when it broke loose in big seas; we ripped our jib. As we had in New London, we took a break at one point when things seemed to be getting out of hand, and we finally made it to Norfolk where the Intracoastal Waterway begins. At more than one stop along the way, other sailors noted the unusually strong winds and thus reassured me that I wasn’t really just a fair-weather sailor.

Fast forward again: two hundred miles down the Intracoastal Waterway (navigable in most winds because it consists largely of canals and rivers) lies Morehead City, North Carolina, which I had designated as our jumping-off point for the Caribbean. The sail from there to St. Thomas is 1,170 miles, in a generally southeasterly direction. Waiting out the end of the hurricane season (one more storm to go, as it turned out) I left the boat there and went away to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Still operating under my original plan (!) I assembled my offshore crew in Morehead City on Dec. 2. Hurricanes were over; Commanders Weather (the forecasting service in Nashua, New Hampshire that was to help us with our trip) indicated we had a “window” for Dec. 3 but not a wide one. We delayed one more day, needing to finish projects on the boat. Commanders began sounding more ominous: a gale was building where we planned to go and we might encounter it about halfway down our line to St. Thomas. There was talk of 50-knot winds on our nose. We still might be able to dodge it, we were told, but there was another gale hot on the first one’s heels, and we might be too late. December gales in the North Atlantic, it seems, tend to come with increasing frequency as time goes on. We had waited out the hurricanes, but now we were facing something else.

A quick crew meeting produced consensus: none of us had any interest in 50-knot winds from any direction; we liked Commanders’ suggestion that we head on down the coast. The weather had spoken; we changed our plans, and a lot of people who had gotten their hopes up for January or February snorkeling vacations in the Virgin Islands, including me, learned yet again to temper their expectations.

So now, as I write back in Maine during a Christmas break, Karma lies in Savannah before resuming her voyage south, this time to Florida and perhaps the Bahamas. She’ll likely get to the eastern Caribbean, but not on the schedule I set back last summer. No way…the weather has re-set the agenda. Why would anyone expect anything else?

David D. Platt is former editor of Working Waterfront. He’s working on his post-retirement transition by leaving his snow shovel at home and sailing down the East Coast in the general direction of warmer weather.