For most of the year, the winds of the Caribbean blow from the south-southeast (that is, from South America toward the Gulf of Mexico). Though the winds do change — sometimes blowing from the south or southwest, sometimes from the east or south-east — on the whole any ship sailing south-east is going to spend much of its time fighting the wind.
This is particularly difficult for some of the slower, larger ships in the game — galleons, merchantmen, and, above all, the sluggish cargo fluyte. If you head one of these ships into the wind, if it moves anywhere at all, it will probably move backwards! This can be discouraging, particularly if you're on a long south-easterly voyage, going, say, from Havana to St. Kitts.
When the wind is in your teeth, the only way to get where you're going is by "tacking." When you tack, you zig-zag toward your target rather than heading there directly.
You'll note that in the diagram at left, you actually cover about twice as much distance as if you sailed directly east. However, with an unwieldy ship, you'll get there much faster than if you went straight east. In sailing, the shortest distance between two points is not always the fastest... One of the most important characteristics of a sailing ship is its ability to sail "close hauled" — that is, to sail toward the wind's "eye." Throughout the history of sail, ship-builders have struggled mightily to design craft which will sail just a few degrees closer into the wind. Over long journeys, a difference of just a few degrees can mean days — even weeks — of saved travel time. (See the section "The Ship Gazetteer" for more details on points of sailing.)
In short, if you're planning to travel far from east to west, you might consider selling off any poor-handling ships, particularly merchantmen and fluytes, before you go.
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