React to The Weather, Or Plan For The Weather

Snugged up for a bit of unsettled weather.

Being a controlling sort of guy, and a bit of a wimp too, I have always put a lot of effort into getting good weather forecasts and really understanding them, so as to not only get ready for nasty weather, but to really plan our cruises to maximize our enjoyment.

Now, I’m sure many of you are, at this point, saying “duh, doesn’t everyone?” And the answer to that is, “no, they don’t”. Many, perhaps most, cruisers are just looking at the immediate area around them, either via text or radio broadcasts or GRIBs.

By taking this approach, they are practising what I would call tactical weather management—reacting to the weather as it comes.

Get Strategic

On the other hand, probably because many of the places we have cruised have few safe harbours, I have, over the some 25 years I have been doing this, developed an approach to not only pick good weather windows to go to sea, but also, when coastal cruising, to look out as much as two weeks so that we can visit interesting, but often exposed, places when the weather is kind and be snugged down when it’s cruel—a strategic approach.

Hunker Down

For example, as I write, the weather here on the remote Quebec Lower North Shore of the Gulf of St. Lawrence is a bit unsettled, so we picked a nice sheltered anchorage with good hiking possibilities and snugged in for several days of catching up on boat work, writing for AAC, and taking a break from being on the move.

Then Maximize Fun

But, even before we got here five days ago, I could see that settled weather will return next week, so we are planning to visit a couple of isolated communities with less than snug harbours next, and then use the tail end of that pattern, with the associated generally northerly winds—the opposite of the prevailing southerlies (we don’t say “down north” in this part of the world for nothing)—to passage south.

Ocean Passages Too

And this same kind of strategic weather management can be used to plan an ocean passage to minimize nasty weather, although, that said, no amount of weather planning and understanding can guarantee that we won’t need to deal with gales and even storms at sea.

What We Need

There are two parts to doing this kind of cruise-enhancing strategic planning:

  • Getting the required information.
  • Having the skills to analyze it.

The first is easy enough if we have reasonable internet, either via WiFi or cell phone, but, up until a couple of years ago, difficult, time consuming, and expensive without.

And the second used to require a good understanding of upper level (jet stream) patterns and how they affect surface weather, as well as years of experience analyzing the weather in a given area.

Just Got Way Easier

But relatively recently there have been two technical developments that make this strategic planning process far easier than it once was, and that bring it within reach of any cruiser (even when far from internet access) who is willing to expend a little effort and a moderate amount of money.

Those two developments are:

  • The release of the Iridium GO! with associated unlimited data package for $125 a month.
  • The upgrades made to global weather models in the last five years or so that make them quite trustworthy on a detailed basis for 4-5 days and useful on an overview basis for as much as 6-14 days.

Testing The Tools

And the cool thing is that because our current cruise has been to remote places without internet and yet reasonably slow paced and relaxed, I have been able to put some quality time into getting the best from these tools, as well as testing out several software and hardware options.

And that’s what I will share in the next few chapters in this Online Book.

Further Reading

Meet the Author

John

John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

11 comments… add one
  • Bob Tetrault Sep 8, 2017, 8:21 am

    John, you have my attention. This kind of content is why I’ll always be onboard AAC. One point while you prepare for the next few chapters. As you know I was an early adopter of the GO. The primary reason was not the cost savings but rather the utility of that device. I have my GO mounted in a docking station but with a yank it and the repurposed IPhone nearby would Join me in a liferaft. Not so easy if a laptop is the primary device tethered to it. Battery life and ruggedness being additional qualifiers for bringing them along. I believe you have a portable Iridium phone for your ditch bag. You describe the communication between the GO and IPhone as “clunky”. I can attest to the voice and text being really easy and reliable, not so I presume for the Internet. Is there a way that both utilities can be utilized or enabled at least simultaneously? After all, from the liferaft who needs Internet. In an emergency one doesn’t want to deal with multiple processes, one button push is enough. Ideally the GO would default to the IPhone once separated from the laptop. Have a great cruise home.

  • Robert Andrew Sep 8, 2017, 4:02 pm

    John, another excellent article. Coincidentally I am in Seattle right now, the home of Starpath. I’m embarrassed to say I have never heard of them before your article (why I’ll keep subscribing to AAC). Since the cost of their online weather course appears to be equal to about 10 years of AAC I’ll take your reference to it as a very strong endorsement of its value? Bob Andrew

  • Phil Sep 14, 2017, 11:33 pm

    Lee Chesneau is getting an old man. And he is not really in good shape anymore. His wife as a nurse is traveling with him to take care of him. This is sad. It is getting difficult to find seminar with him. I personally urge readers to jump on the next incoming seminars while those are still existing.

    That was an eye opening for me: his approach on the 500mb storm trac map is so modern. Classic weather training classes based on surface analysis are way behind. I really do not understand why more than 20 years after his first publication most marine weather course do not even considering talking about this. And not many books mention his analysis either.

    This is where I can realize that AAC include lots of great and valuable content.

    Unfortunately, Lee’s web site has not been maintained over at least the last 2 years, and it is very hard to get in touch with him.

    • John Sep 15, 2017, 8:33 am

      Hi Phil,

      That’s really bad news, but thanks for the heads up. I don’t know him personally, but I have huge respect for his work and am endlessly grateful for the understanding that his book brought me. I guess the good news is that his book is still there.

      And thanks for the kind words.

      • Phil Sep 15, 2017, 9:49 am

        Mariner’s Weather Handbook from Steve and Linda Dashew also includes a large section dedicated to the 500mb charts. Lee Chesneau and Joe Sienkiewicz contributed largely to that section of the book. It is easier to read than Lee’s book and does not include the section about route planning for commercial vessel.
        A free PDF version of the book is available for download at http://www.setsail.com/free-books/

        • John Sep 16, 2017, 11:34 am

          Hi Phil,

          Good point, and, as you say, it’s both free and more approachable than Lee’s book, albeit not as detailed.

  • Stefa Katamay Sep 27, 2017, 9:34 am

    The approach and language used in David Burch’s book Modern Marine Weather will appeal to ACC readers. David Burch is the brain’s behind Starpath. He covers 500mb content thoroughly and in an easy to read and understand manner.

    • John Sep 29, 2017, 9:23 am

      Hi Stefa,

      Good to hear, thanks.