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A Note on Weather

October 17, 2011

Day 19

Local Noon Position (1142):
By GPS: 15.53.61N by 149.05.25W
By Sextant: 15.53.7N 149.05.75W

Course: 310 degrees true
Speed: 5 knots
Wind: 10 knots NNE
Sea: 1 – 6 feet NE Some big rollers coming down from the north.
Sky: 20% occluded. Clear everywhere but ahead, and ahead is a wall of cloud; we trend alongside. Bar: 1014
Temp: 78 degrees

Since last noon: 136
Total for passage: 2154
Daily average: 120
Miles to Hilo: 408


Woke to a brilliantly sunny day after having slept through my alarm. The last turn on deck I recall was at 0300, and then suddenly I see light filling the cabin. Wind tailed off dramatically overnight, so even before coffee I raised the mizzen then moved to the captain’s seat from which I could adjust Molly’s vane. Here I saw a remarkable thing. High up on the vane, a collection of fish scales. Some hapless flying fish escaping the shadowy hulk of Murre’s hull had flown smack into the vane and left a significant portion of its armour behind. It got away, however, unlike the two unfortunates in the lee scuppers amidships. Some cruisers eat the fish their boats collect overnight. I don’t. Flying fish are just tiny bones covered in scales.

Very light winds–6 to 8 knots most of the morning–from E or NNE. The first is challenging because it’s light wind on the quarter; sails fill, running the boat away from the wind, and then they slam around like wild horses. And the second means we’re close hauled again. Poor Molly can’t figure out how to handle this, so I’m up several times an hour resetting the vane to what seems to be ever changing conditions. Still, we move forward, and that’s what counts. Large swells are now rolling in from the north due to a gale in the region of 30N, deep valleys, long periods between, and heavy, but without any savagery left. We haven’t seen swell like this since coasting from San Francisco to Baja last October. I’ve spotted only one other life form all day–a storm petrel that came to inventory the edibles turned over by Murre’s wake. She found none and wandered away.

Weather forecasts have shown wind softening now and over the next several days between here and Hawaii, which means our record runs are history–we may limp into Hilo.

I rely on two pieces of weather information: 1) the East Pacific Weather Discussion (from NOAA), a longish text email describing main weather features between here and Mexico with specific emphasis on east Pacific hurricanes, and 2) a GRIB file, a graphical representation of forecasted winds for the next several days for my sector. If you are interested in seeing what my GRIB wind forecasts look like, visit and zero in on my region. The first chart is a wind forecast and is very similar to what I study each day.

In case you are unfamiliar with wind charts, the lines followed by hash marks that dominate the chart are called WIND ARROWS. The long line, the arrow, points in the direction the wind will flow and the hashes on the end, the feathers, indicate wind velocity. One full hash mark at the end of a wind arrow would be 10 knots of wind. One hash mark and a smaller one above it would be 15 knots, etc. These are automated predictions and the GRIB people go out of their way to say that the data is probably worthless and shouldn’t be trusted, but GRIBs are by far the most popular weather tool among cruisers I’ve met because, correct or not, they’re easy to grok.

The great wall of cloud that was ahead of us at dawn is still ahead of us and even appears to be running away. Let it. Good riddance.


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