Weather Windows • It is fair to say that most sailors are obsessed with the weather. When Rosie and I are aboard Lime’n coastal cruising, we monitor the VHF national weather service reports every morning and evening. If we have an Internet connection, we download the seven-day forecasts available in low-bandwidth mode on www.passageweather.com and check the PredictWind app on our smartphones.
On a passage from Nassau in the Bahamas to Newport, RI last spring, we tried out the latest version of WeatherNet from OCENS, which runs on a laptop and gets weather data in digestible packets via an Iridium sat phone. There is so much weather information available through the OCENS portal that you have to be careful not to overdo it since you pay for each download.
We like the seven-day surface wind forecasts and we needed an up-to-date Gulf Stream map, so we downloaded these before we left Nassau. The wind maps were very accurate as were the Gulf Stream charts, although we did find several local anomalies south of Cape Hatteras. Unfortunately, we had an operator error with the sat phone that shut down the data feed and left us approaching the North Carolina coast with only a fuzzy, four-day-old forecast.
On to plan B. BWS is a sponsor of the new Salty Dawg Rally (see the update on page 26), and our contribution is to subsidize daily weather and routing for rally sailors provided by Chris Parker (www.caribwx.com). We were able to reach Chris by sat phone (voice was still working) and he very ably supplied us with forecasts for the rest of the trip home. Rounding Hatteras was the tricky part since a low was brewing just to the east of the famous cape. NOAA was predicting 25-knot easterlies, but Chris saw the low inching away and predicted calms for our rounding. He was right.
Both Chris and NOAA agreed that the low would generate strong northeasterlies when we got to the Delaware. Time for plan C. We tacked our way across the bay’s mouth in 30-knot headwinds and then beat a retreat into Cape May, NJ, where we hunkered down for 24 hours.
The next morning, NOAA was calling for the wind to abate within 24 hours. But we could see the barometer rising and Chris’s morning weather broadcast on SSB 4045 forecast the wind off New York to veer to the south that afternoon. That was our ride home. We set off from Cape May and were home in 36 hours.
NOAA does a great job and we are pleased that their forecasts always err on the side of caution. By using your own tools like Passageweather, PredictWind or the comprehensive, professional tools available through OCENS WeatherNet, you can increase your chances of sailing in favorable weather.
Working with a professional like Chris Parker or the gurus at Commanders’ Weather will take you to the next level and can really help you find those weather windows that make all the difference when blue water sailing. We count ourselves lucky to have access to so much quality weather information.