Sailors would get into an awful lot of trouble without weather forecasts. In fact, they can still encounter challenging situations even with them – as we have learned from experience. For, while we now have access to a great many sources predicting the weather, the chances are that they are not going to be 100 per cent accurate for where you are right now. With this in mind, we looked back at our sailing adventures so far, and have come up with some lessons learned that we think are worth sharing.
Select your sources carefully
There are many apps and other sources for weather forecasting, as well as “official” channels such as the UK’s Met Office. Whatever you plan to use, read up on what it can (and can’t) do, and try it out before you go live. There’s nothing worse than finding an app you thought functioned offline needs access to your mobile network, or searching for the right button to click to find your local weather.
Mix and match
Don’t rely on just one source of information. We tend to use Windy and PredictWind, along with the Met Office inshore and shipping forecasts and whatever information is available at the local harbour office before we start a passage.
Expect the worst
Whichever of your sources suggests the worst case scenario, that’s the one you should be planning for – as a minimum. So, if Windy suggests winds of 10-12 knots gusting 15, and PredictWind says 15-20 gusting 25, you should be ready to spend the whole passage in 25 knots – plus gusts. The chances are this won’t happen, but at least you will be prepared. That’s not to say you should then rely only on the source predicting the worst weather (see above), but the more information you have, the more you can collate and prepare.
Know the lie of the land
You can easily find forecasts that give an excellent picture of coming weather over quite a small area of sea. You’re more likely to encounter problems, though, if you rely on these and don’t factor in the local geography. What’s going to happen to the wind when you’re rounding that headland? How are weather conditions going to influence the sea state when the tide turns? You might even be asking yourself how the weather is going to influence the tide itself; a combination of strong offshore wind and high pressure could leave you in less water than you expected.
Spot the patterns
However meticulously you keep the ship’s log, knowing where you are and what the wind and weather are doing right now is only part of the story. Look at the positions you’ve marked on the chart for the last six hours. Have you been moving more towards one direction than you think you should be? It might be time to adjust your leeway calculations or double check the tidal atlas. The same goes for the info in your logbook; if the wind and pressure are the same as they were an hour ago, but have been changing every two hours, that should give you food for thought.
Use your eyes and ears
Localised, unpredicted (and unpredictable) gusts and squalls are not uncommon. Keep an eye on the sky and the water, in all directions, and you might be able to avoid them. Listen, too, for changes in the sound of the wind and the water – and for early warnings such as foghorns.
As a postscript, remember that even the best in the business can get it wrong – as the BBC’s Michael Fish knows well.