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Weathering the Weather

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“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning!”
One possible origin of this lore is from the Bible, Mathew 16:2-3 “…Jesus replied to some Pharisees when they wanted him to give them a sign from the Heavens, ‘When evening comes, you say, it will be fair weather for the sky is red. And, in the morning, today it will be stormy for the sky is red and overcast.’”
In 1492, Christopher Columbus was primarily a dead reckoning or DR navigator. He deduced his position by measuring the course and distance he sailed from some known point. Each day’s ending position would be the starting point for the next day’s course and distance measurement.
Columbus’ first Atlantic crossing began from Spain on August 3, 1492. He left European waters during the Western Atlantic hurricane season, his fleet of three small ships experiencing storm-free weather as they sailed the West Indian Islands. Possible weather reconstructions from Columbus’ log book suggest that as he approached American waters, a cold front pushing off the Florida peninsula influenced his fleet’s course. Behind the front, northerly winds forced them to sail south; if the front hadn’t moved through the region, the trade winds would probably have steered the fleet into the Gulf Stream and then northward up the US coast, making his landfall in Florida or Carolina and changing history. Columbus stopped for provisions in the Canaries and he sighted land (the Bahamas) on October 12, 1492 — approximately 35 days from start to finish.
Seamen have come a long way from those early days of yesteryear and the decades of paper based, non-geographical forecasts. To wit, the BonVoyage System (BVS) is weather routing that’s a miracle of modern technology. BVS, whose parent company is Applied Weather Technology (AWT), has developed voyage software that charts routes with consideration for optimizing fuel efficiency while staying on the cutting edge of shifting weather forecasts. Reports are updated four times daily, with real-time analysis and forecasts of ocean conditions at a quarter-by-quarter degree instead of the usual one-by-one degree — 15 nautical miles versus 60 nautical miles. This information gives the captain the ability to plan adventures for owners and guests with perfect precision by analyzing the route ahead in various scenarios.
The vessel’s pertinent data — such as length, tonnage, capable speed, fuel consumption charts for different speeds, travel dates and the outer limits that are acceptable for your transits — are inputted into the BVS software system. A report is returned that has compiled the safest, fastest and most efficient way to your destination given your specific parameters. More efficient routes not only translate to an even keel, but they also optimize fuel efficiency, thereby reducing carbon emissions.
For example, if your vessel goes 10 knots and your destination is 240 miles away, your expectation would be to arrive at your destination in 24 hours. However, if given the option and the data, would the ride be better if you started at 1800 hours, when the waves would be two to three feet, or at 2200 hours, when the waves have escalated from six to eight? Crew may be able to handle the increase in wave height, but would owners and guests opt for a smoother ride? Probably. This information can be extrapolated for 16 days into the future, giving captains and guests multiple options for planning their trip.
BVS shows you on a chart where and when it thinks you should go. The report is written and visual, combining all of the below disciplines that will affect your yacht at any given time. If BVS is wrong on their data and your guests have a rough ride, you have extraordinary information to prove that you tried.
The following weather parameters are addressed in the BVS analysis:

  • Tropicals (weather conditions that are spurred by warm water)
  • Pressure (measure of the weight of the atmosphere above us)
  • Front (line of weather moving across the Earth)
  • Wind (natural movement of air)
  • Wave (curls in the ocean that are created by wind)
  • Swell (formation of long surface waves that can be created by storms thousands of miles away)
  • SST (sea surface temperature of the water that is the closest to the ocean’s surface)
  • Ports (destinations)
  • Satellite image (photographs taken from orbit)
  • Marine Bulletin (USCG marine safety bulletins)
  • NCOM current (Naval Coastal Ocean Model current data)
  • Visibility (relative ability to be seen under given conditions of distance, light and atmosphere)
  • Highs and Lows (pressure)

Better information will always equal better decisions. I use Ken McKinley of Locus Weather locuswx@midcoast.com for backup and redundancy. He’s a meteorologist and has helped me on many ocean voyages with his sound weather advice.
Using the forecasting expertise of BVS, McKinley and red skies, I recently delivered a 178-foot motor yacht from St. Lucia to Malta in 15 days. This included a short stop in the Azores and fueling in Gibraltar. All storms were avoided, fuel consumption was optimized, and we only encountered… fair winds and calm seas.
Find out more about BVS and ATW at www.appliedweather.com.
Captain Ted Sputh holds USCG and MCA 3000 Ton Upon All Oceans with Sail licenses and has been a professional mariner for 33 years. He is currently doing relief and delivery work. Contact him at ted@captainteds.com.

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