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Free World Class Weather: UGRIB

Louay Habib interviews round the world yachtsman and America’s Cup navigator; Steve Hayles:

Ok, what’s the catch? How do two of the world’s top weather navigators give out free weather forecasts 24/7 for precisely the information you want, anywhere in the world?

Steve Hayles is a world class yacht racing navigator who has competed in the Volvo Ocean Race (formerly the Whitbread Round the World Race) four times and was selected as navigator for the last America’s Cup for Larry Ellison’s BMW Oracle.

Besides his racing prowess, Hayles is an expert in marine electronics, especially in producing software to integrate different systems together. This talent led him and fellow-round the world racing navigator, Marcel Van Trieste, to launch UGRIB.

A GRIB file is a metrological format file which is used for sending weather forecast information via computers. UGRIB uses this information as a client application, a programme that runs on your laptop or PC.

Steve Hayles explains how it works;

“It accesses our servers via the internet and UGRIB allows you to choose what weather data you want. You can choose the length in time of the forecast and the geographical location of the forecast. The programme then grabs this information and displays it to you in a very user friendly manner. The user has access to worldwide weather forecasts about a week into the future and at the moment our free offering gives you surface pressure, wind speed, wind direction and rainfall. The service will be enhanced further throughout the year; shortly we will be offering other information, such as, wave height data in our standard package.”

UGRIB is not the only free weather forecast on the net.  Hayles explains some advantages;

“One of the big advantages of UGRIB is that you can decide how large an area you wish to have a forecast for; this means that the data transfer can be small in comparison to other sources. Also the software allows you to set a limit for file size so that you don’t download a very big file by mistake.

“When we designed the software, we were very conscious of allowing the user to download what they needed according to their type of data connection. Sitting in port, on a cheap broadband connection, perhaps you want to look at the whole Atlantic chart. At sea, you might be restricted by lower bandwidths or expensive air time and want much smaller, more localised data. UGRIB does both.

“Another advantage is that you have a consistent source of data wherever you are in the world. Don’t get me wrong, there are other weather forecasts which are very good indeed and we fully support them.  When I am trying to get weather information for a new location, I always look around at what is available. However I think that UGRIB is easy to navigate and gives consistent information which is very useful.”

UGRIB’s initial offering uses weather data from NOAA, America’s free world class weather forecast service and so do many other free and pay-for-use weather sites.

“The difference with UGRIB is that it is a piece of software that you can tune to your requirements. Other sites use an internet browser which can not be manipulated as easily or without transferring a lot of data on your connection.”

So how come world class professional weather navigators like Hayles and Van Trieste offer the service for free?

“We do produce much higher resolution models or forecasts with bespoke data for specific professional clients ranging from Solo round the world yacht races to individual Super Yachts; we offer those services on a commercial basis but our policy is that we only charge the end user if it costs us something to produce, regardless of amateur sailor or Super Yacht captain. The standard model is free for all but if we produce bespoke forecasts, there is a charge—but it is often a small amount.

“We also offer commercial packages which are of interest to other users; for example, sea temperature data can be produced, using some human input.  This is of interest to fishermen or marine biologists. We have commercial users in other industries as diverse as fruit farming to aviation. All of these commercial activities, which produce income, allow us to keep the standard service available for free.”

For more information or to download UGRIB and use it for free:  www.grib.us

Louay Habib is a freelance yachting journalist. For the past twenty years, he has competed at yachting regattas and offshore events all over the world and represented England in the 2004 Rolex Commodore’s Cup. Louay writes for a variety of clients including the Volvo Ocean Race and the Royal Ocean Racing Club.

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