When we have a tough passage to make, particularly early or late in the season, and we need expert advice on picking a weather window, we call Commander’s Weather. They provide excellent individualized forecasts and routing advice, based on information we give them on boat speed, preferences, etc. We still make the final decision on routing and the decision of when to go, but it’s great to have the additional information that Commander’s Weather provides.
As we get good internet, I wander old postings.
After 3-4 passages using Herb, Southbound II, I used Commander Wx for a passage in 2004 or so (we left with other boats who get irritated by Herb’s habits, therefore CW). It was Norfolk to St. Martin and CW routed us fairly directly. I listened in to Herb and he reported a high ridge developing. It developed and we stayed north of it, had a very nice but longer sail. The others were uncomfortably upwind mostly, and burned so much fuel motor sailing they used Bermuda as a fuel depot. Since then we have used Herb exclusively and had our in-house developed routing confirmed or fine tuned in our daily discussions with Herb.
My favorite Herb story (of a handful) occurred on a passage from the Bahamas to what turned out to be Cape May. After 2-3 days in the Gulf Stream with southerly winds we lost the axis of the GS and our SOG dropped to 8-9 knots from the 10-11 my greedy self had by this time gotten used to (boat speed 7knots). We searched east, we searched west and still no increase in speed. After our talk with Herb, Ginger elbowed me and said “Ask about the GS”. I hesitantly said to Herb that we had lost the axis of the GS and had been looking and looking and could he help. He said “Hold on” and 20 seconds later, from a basement near Toronto, said there was a large meander east we had just passed just south of us and if we went a ½ mile east we would be back in the groove. We did so, found the current and swept past Cape Hatteras.
Herb has confirmed (or fine tuned) our routing notions which we tend to develop ahead of time, warned us of wx unavoidable, and kept us from making a poor decision at least once. He has been a very valued companion on our longer passages.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy, Portsmouth, England
I agree that the advice from Commanders has been more variable in quality in recent years, probably the result of getting larger so that George Caras is doing less of the work personally—I’m guessing here. Having said that, Herb makes mistakes too, all forecasters do—it’s an inexact science.
One other point. I get very uncomfortable with stories of Herb’s brilliance, like yours about the GS, because (although I’m sure you did not intend this) they contribute to what I call the “Deification of Herb Myth”, which is bad for cruisers and bad for Herb.
The fact is that anyone with an internet connection and a link to the correct surface temp and current data could have made that call—no skill was required. Today, you could have downloaded that data and made the call yourself. See this post.
And before everyone explodes to Herb’s defense. Although I no longer use him personally, I have great respect for Herb as a forecaster and his unparalleled knowledge of North Atlantic weather.
Having said that, I have real discomfort about the state of weather routing and voyagers’ over-dependence on routing from shore-based people, Herb included. More here and here.
John, I agree about the over-dependence of of wx gurus. My habit is to do all the work, decide a routing plan, and then see what other’s can contribute. I think you are right about the internet today, but back then you still had to pay (?? a woman whose name escapes me now) to get the Gulf Stream current charts. One could interpolate from Navy temp charts, but that was all that was available for a few years. In any case, I have worried more about the ridicule and denigration of Herb that I hear, primarily for his quirks and not for his wx content. You are correct that all forecasters have their moments, but Herb has been doing this as a volunteer for a lot of years, and for that, he gets a great deal of admiration, not deification, from this quarter.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
As I’m sure you know by now, this over dependency is a personal hobby horse of mine. I don’t worry about people like you who have been going offshore for years. But what does scare me is the blind faith, particularly in Herb, that I’m seeing in newer cruisers.
Blind faith is always a dangerous habit and should never be bequeathed upon any expert for sure. Your emphasis on over-dependency may be a personal hobby horse, but it should be a concern for all of us who spend considerable time on the water. One’s seamanship is inexorable damaged thing any time dependence is transferred outside the vessel and her crew.
I am especially attuned to those commercial enterprises whose promises seem to far exceed what they deliver, bordering on dangerous at times. And with no real oversight by magazines (who function as paid entertainers/promoters under the guise of journalists), brokers (who have a financial incentive), surveyors (who often focus exclusively on rules) the learning sailor is often sold a bill of goods. Over-dependency and unrealistic expectations are actively fostered by sailing rallies, roller furling mainsails, and all sorts of safety gear to name just a few. All promise relief from this or that anxiety with little or no mention of the bothersome idea of developing skills through experience and drills.
I am concerned not (only) because I see people being mislead, but there are very real ripple effects from this dependence that affect the whole boating community in directions that worry me.
I could go on and on, but you have the idea.
Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy