The Weather -This Time It’s Personal
Oscar Wilde once said;
“Conversation about the weather is the last resort of the unimaginative”
I assume he said this whilst seated by a crackling fire in the sitting room of one of his substantial houses. He obviously never lived on a boat.
It’s a well known fact that us Brits love to talk about the weather. Faithful followers of this blog will have seen plenty of evidence to reinforce it.
Sailors around the world love to talk about weather too. I’m an unimaginative Brit and a sailor, what can I say?
I’ve lived afloat for three years now. On a home-built plywood catamaran. It’s pretty basic, to all intents and purposes we live outdoors. It’s fair to say my connection to the weather is constant and close.
In harbour and at sea the weather is always on my mind. My home is a little survival capsule floating in an alien environment. I need to keep it and its occupants safe. The weather poses one of the biggest danger to both.
The sea can be a beautiful paradise or the worst kind of hell. As flat and calm as a peaceful lake or a screaming maelstrom of massive crests topped with white froth.
The sea can lull you to sleep or tear you limb from limb. It all depends how the wind blows.
So before we go to sea we prepare ourselves, we prepare our boats and we try to predict the weather.
In days gone by the only way to do that was by looking to the sky.
Red Sky at Night, Sailor’s Delight. Red Sky in the Morning, Sailor’s Warning.
Ships left harbour with only a best guess and a prayer to protect them.
Things are different now. We live in the information age. When it comes to meteorology it’s all available at the touch of a button. Satellites, radar, webcams, weather buoys. We can see what’s happening anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world. SSB, Weatherfax, VHF, GRIB files, Satcoms and forecasts, all there for the asking.
There’s a problem though. The pendulum has swung. We’ve gone from not enough information to too much information. What’s right? What’s wrong? Who do we trust? It’s easy to be overwhelmed. Paralysis by analysis.
The farther we sail the harder those questions are to answer. Go into any harbourside bar in the Canaries during December and you’ll see skippers and crews huddled over laptops and charts trying to make the right call.
The technology might have changed but the weather is still the weather. It’s hard to predict.
When we sailed south along the Atlantic coasts of Spain and Portugal in 2015 we were expecting to be blown on our way by the Portuguese trade winds – The Nortada.
They hardly appeared. We either had no wind or it blew from the opposite direction.
Sailing into the Mediterranean last year we knew we’d have to wait for the prevailing east wind – The Levantar, to stop blowing. It’s not unusual for it to blow for a week. Last year it blew for far longer and more frequently.
I’m typing this in Yacht Port Cartagena. I’m listening to the wind whistling through the rigging. It’s been doing that for 3 days straight now. Cartagena isn’t normally a windy place.
On Sunday we had the hottest March day ever recorded. The following day we had an 18’ temperature drop and the kind of rain normally associated with Autumn ‘Gota Fria’ storms.
Since arriving in September we’ve seen the first snow here since the Spanish Civil War and one of the coldest, wettest Winters.
Climate change? Natural pattern fluctuations? The experts can’t agree.
It matters not. It is what it is and what it is is unpredictable…… or is it?
I mentioned The Levanter earlier. During August 2016 We spent 14 days in the Spanish harbour of Rota waiting for a lull to tackle the Straits of Gibraltar.
I was getting frustrated, I had information, I had forecasts, but I couldn’t make a decision.
The Straits have a notorious reputation. This stretch of water has challenged sailors for thousands of years. Gales, calms, fog, strong tides, weather that can change dramatically in hours.
I had to make the right call and I needed help.
That’s when I happened across a little business called MeteoGib.
You can hop over to their website and get the full story. There’s lots of good info there. Stephanie Ball CEO and the Chief Meteorologist has nearly 30 years of professional experience in Marine forecasting. She’s provided forecasting for major Port Authorities, Transatlantic Passenger Cruise Liners and high profile racing events such as Cowes Week.
If I’d seen that website first I’d have been impressed, but I’d probably have left it at that. I’m a boat bum sea gypsy, professional weather services aren’t for the likes of me. I’d have moved on.
But I didn’t find them through the website, I found them via Twitter. A lot of people don’t use Twitter, they don’t get it. That’s fine, I’m not here to promote social media. I mention it here only because it’s a nice easy platform to connect with people and that’s what happened with MeteoGib or more accurately Stephanie.
I was following her forecasts, she seemed to know her patch. I asked a few questions, she answered, she helped.
Long story short I ended up paying her a few quid and I got some bespoke forecasts that saw us safely from Rota to La Línea de la Concepción.
Information is one thing. Understanding and using it to make accurate predictions is another thing entirely. I pride myself on being self-reliant but I’m not too proud to ask for help either.
Stephanie is a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society with almost 30 years experience working for the UK Met Office. She has a small team working with her. They provide specialist forecasting for construction, transport and agriculture industries.
When it comes to weather forecasting they’re the right people to ask for help.
I’ll let Steph tell you what they do;
MeteoGib can provide detailed 24hr and 2-5 Day Marine Planners, which can be used for local sailing or clubs, short sailing hops or for planning optimum departure dates. These are normally delivered by email depending on comms and are often requested shore side.
We are really proud of our Weather4Marine service which aims to provide professional weather forecasts at an affordable price for amateur sailors or those less confident with their weather skills. Our main mantra is “SAFETY at SEA” – what you get, in effect, is your own personal weather forecaster. You can leave the worry of the weather to us – leave us to take in the bigger picture. We don’t send automatic GRIBs, we track your progress and support you all the way – and we bespoke the forecast for your next 24hrs sail – by looking at various models and variables, looking at real-time data such as satellite to gauge possible storm development – by making sure you’re always informed in advance of any poor weather which make affect your route.
These forecasts are normally sent as a short-coded SMS type message to your SAT phone or YB Tracker or Delorme. The ocean is a big place and so for accuracy we need to be able to track your position or at least be sent an updated position. We’ve found most of our clients so far have had Yellow Bricks or Delormes which work perfectly.
I asked Steph for some indicative prices because I know cost is a real stumbling block for many of us.
Understandably she was reluctant to give them as there are so many variables, but here are a couple of examples you might find surprising.
Minimum cost for 24Hr short SMS type forecast to SAT phone, which includes wind, weather, sea state and swell is from £5 and support from £5 daily (depending on area).
For example, a fully supported sail from Cape Verde to Barbados with daily SMS type forecast, routing advice and warnings etc costs as little as £120 (based on 2 week sail).
More detailed forecasts start from as little as £10.
Personally I think that’s damn good value for ‘your own personal weather forecaster’.
So if you’re planning any passages this year I’d email Steph (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Tell her Foolish Neil sent you. She’ll look after you.
You know it makes sense.