Feb 08

Nearly ready

Tag: preparation,routemattholmes @ 7:39 am

The last priority projects have been checked off the list, the tools and food have been stowed.  We are waiting for one item in Monday’s mail, and we still have to fill up on fuel and water and do a hundred other little things that need to get done when you’re about to sail away for a long time, but those are just details, not the kind of thing that will hold us back for too long.

Starting Tuesday, we look for a weather window.  If the current predictions hold true, then Tuesday could end up being ideal for departure.  If the weather isn’t adequate, we will sail circles in the bay until we can leave.

About the weather: this time of year is generally shitty sailing weather.  Low-pressure systems form out in the middle of the pacific and head east, sometimes reaching the coast before they dissipate, and they bring with them bad weather.  When they approach the coast, the wind picks up and shifts around such that it comes out of the south south-west–which happens to be exactly where we’re trying to go.  If the storm is large, the wind produces large waves as well.  Sailing upwind in stormy weather, heavy wind, and large swell is to be avoided if possible.

So we’re looking for a at least a three-day window in which none of these low-pressure systems are headed into our region.  If we have three good days, we can head out, get a ways down the coast, and duck back into a harbor before the weather deteriorates.

We consult a few different weather sites: magicseaweed is a convenient portal to view the GRIB files, which give animated predictions for what the wind direction and strength will be (and swell height, period, also).  My navigation software can download this GRIP data and overlay it on the sailing charts.  I will trust the predictions for maybe three days out, after that I get rapidly skeptical and pay less attention to the predictions.  Anything past five days is probably useless, though if it shows some good weather I can’t help but get a little excited.  Check out magicseaweed–look for the squiggly line along the coast that is San Francisco Bay–and you’ll be looking at the same material we’re looking at each day.  Remember we’re looking for at least a three day stretch where the wind is not predicted to be strong out of the south/southwest.

After we pass under the gate, we’ll turn south, head offshore about five miles, then set a course to stay roughly parallel the coast.  We’ll keep going for as long as we feel awake, alert, healthy, and happy–that may be as little as one day or as long as a week.

I have a road-trip analogy: when you’re driving across the country, you make best use of wakefulness, as long as it lasts, to put some miles under the tires.  If you feel good and happy, you keep going.  As soon as you start to feel tired, you stop for the night.  For a few hours before that happens you’ve been paying attention to potential stopping spots–rest areas, campgrounds, backroads, state parks, etc–so that you can stop somewhere as soon as you need to.

That’s is more or less our approach as we sail down the coast.  The goal is to get south to better weather relatively quickly, within the parameters of staying happy and safe while we’re doing it.  As long as all the crew are awake, alert, well-rested, enjoying themselves etc, we’ll continue to take advantage of whatever weather window we have.  I have a list of harbors that are potential stops; at every point we’ll be within a day’s sail of a harbor on the list.  When we need a break, or if conditions are predicted to deteriorate, we’ll head in to the nearest harbor on the list and stay for however long we feel like.

In a month or two, when we find ourselves in hot weather with clear warm water and white sand beaches, then we toast the trip, throw a party, and get lazy.

3 Responses to “Nearly ready”

  1. George says:

    Matt= Your “Nearly Ready” was perfect . Nice job of writing for the various audiences. Best of happiness and a good,safe trip. We will follow your adventures with great interest. George

  2. Drewbai says:

    You might comsider sailing to Sausalito and droping anchor until your window appears…

  3. Gary says:

    Matt check out this site and play around with the options: http://www.nco.ncep.noaa.gov/pmb/nwprod/analysis/

    It is the NOAA weather site and these are the model runs (they do them every six hours). You can chose to have them show pressure, wind speed, direction and precipitation. There are two main models I look at; the GFS and the NAM (fine resolution… you will figure it all out with a little time). Both models often agree (on macro-scale features), but even when they don’t it tells you something about the uncertainty in the forecast.

    You will also notice there are a bunch of other models and weather charts that I don’t have a need to understand, but you might. I don’t know if sailors use these, but nearly all other inland weather forecasters do. Check it out.

    Good luck finding your window… I guess these will not be of use when you don’t have the internet. But for now you do.


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