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Three French Skippers Defeated!

The early stages of the Vendee Globe are turning out to be be typically tough. So many starts have seen yachts dismasted or hit bad weather that is so bad they race has to be re-started! This year has been no different with 3 yachts withdrawn. Alex Thomson on Hugo Boss has suffered a huge crack in the French built Hugo Boss. Pascal Conq, one half of Finot-Conq, the French team that designed the boat is very pessimistic about getting the boat back in the race. Rough seas also forced Marc Thiercelin and Kito de Pavant to quit after losing their masts. Yannick Bestaven’s mast snapped during a storm on Monday and he was heading back to Les Sables d’Olonne to repair the damage. Bestaven becomes the third French skipper to quit after losing his mast.

Several other sailors have experienced problems because of the heavy weather during the sixth edition of the single-handed race, and returned to port for repairs.


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Weather for FREE

There are a number of subscription services for weather data, but I really think that whether you are experienced or a novice sailor it is a good idea to practice reading barometric and other weather data for yourself to get accustomed to the connection between the data and the summary weather forecasts that are available from the US and UK Met Office. Please note I am not saying that you can substitute for listening to and heeding the Inshore and Shipping forecasts – but these resources and sofware can help your own decision making in terms of passage planning.

Of course what the paid for services add is “interpretation” and “prediction”…and we all know how accurate the weather forecast is on the TV…well in England that would be funny – perhaps the weather is forecast accurately in your part of the World? There are many models for forecasting but the most prevalent is the US National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) – GFS Model.

Below are a large number of free resources and software that would make you fully capable of seeing all sorts of up to date weather data for FREE.

NOAA Marine Weather Service
This fantastic site gives free TIFF and GIF images for:
You don’t even need fancy software to see these pictures – just double click and the browser (IE or Firefox) will just display the picture for you – and you can save them to your laptop/PC for viewing later when you may not be able to get an internet connection.
NOAA Radiofax Schedule (for any fax viewing software – see below)

GRIB file data goes a step further by giving wind direction and speed using an easy to understand “barbed feather”. This saves you having to measure the distance between isobars to calculate wind strength. Some software even draws isotechs which are lines of constant wind speed. and some software draws arrows of different dimension and colours to represent speed and direction.

UGRIB Screen shotBut, I use the simple free service from UGRIB. This service gives you a free worldwide viewer and free GRIB files for any area that you care to select. You can select GRIB file area by just drawing an area on the map of the world and then the software downloads that area’s data alone – thereby saving on bandwidth for the download, which si a real boon if you are connected to the internet using your GPRS enabled phone! – click on the image for a larger screen shot.

Free GRIB viewer and GRIB data file – UGRIB
Free GRIB data viewer from AIRMAIL

If you have an SSB receiver on board such as the NASA SSB, then you can even get all sorts of free data while on the high seas and no where in sight of an internet connection…yes there are places such as these!

WEFAX is a method to transmit weather facsimile images over radio. Most images are transmitted in black and white, although some are grey scale. To receive wefax images, you need a shortwave receiver and a software decoder to convert audio tones into black and white. Tuning the receiver accurately is a tricky and time consuming process, but essential to receive acceptable pictures. You then have to clean up the audio signal by appropriate filtering to isolate the black and white “tones”.
The connection from the NASA SSB is a cable that plugs into the microphone input on my laptop, and when in operation sounds just like a fax machine or old analogue modem.

The program I use is SeaTTY. This can receive weather reports, navigational warnings and weather charts transmitted in RTTY, NAVTEX and HF-FAX (WEFAX) modes on longwave and shortwave bands. It can decode GMDSS DSC (HF and VHF) messages. The software can also automatically save NOAA Weather Radio SAME voice messages (NWR SAME) and the digital headers. No additional hardware is required — you need only a receiver and computer with a sound card.

Software for WEFAX – SeaTTY
Info and further links The DKZone
Free data by ham radio from Winlink2000
Software for weather fax
WEFAX Resources


Radar Images for Weather on your phone..and much more…

palm700 thumbThe Memory Map application for mobile phones and PDA’s is fantastic example of software development for mobile devices. This application has been around for some time, and is the work of US based developer Richard Stevens and his team. Richard is a software developer with 15 year’s experience in scientific super-computing and high-performance real-time systems such as medical imaging machines and high-end radar systems.

From the MemoryMap web site …

Memory-Map Weather Radar is an application to display live National Weather RadarWeather Service doppler radar images and animated loops from radars located throughout the United States. Radar is the most effective tool to detect precipitation, especially thunderstorms, and has been used by NWS forecasters since the 1940’s. Memory-Map now brings this information, conveniently and efficiently, right to your phone or PDA.

With Memory-Map Weather Radar, when you update the image, the radar data is downloaded as a compressed overlay, without having to download the whole base image each time. There are no usage fees or subscriptions for using the service, except your mobile carrier’s normal data access fees. If the sky is clear, the download is only 1 or 2 kbytes; if there is widespread rain, it might be 10 kbytes. The first time you view each radar station, the base map image is downloaded, which is 50 to 100kbytes….”

Although the radar product is limited to the USA, what I didn’t realise is that his company has produced a full navigation product Memory-Map Navigator – for hiking and sailing that covers the UK!. Take look at the excellent video here.

This takes the use of the built in GPS on a smartphone into a whole different realm….


Accesing the internet while sailing..

DSC01794Of course you can simply browse the internet directly using a modern phone with GPRS. But even my Samsung i780 is a sloth when using Internet Explorer or oven the Opera browser to do this. Stick the phone into a laptop using the USB cable and suddenly browsing the internet becomes bearable – even “acceptable” – its magic…see the picture – my phone is the tiny display behind the laptop.

You can of course use bluetooth to connect the phone and the laptop – if the GPRS signal is weak try putting the phone in a (dry) place in the cockpit while using the laptop in the saloon. This will give a better GPRS signal to the phone but the bluetooth signal to the laptop is slightly slower than having the phone wired directly in using USB. Experiment with both methods.

So on my recent sailing holiday to the Normandy coast I thought I would try out the possibility of using this combination. I can happily report that both in the marina at Fecamp and even sailing along the coast – while in proximity to the coast of course – you can access my weather page – and all the weather links and the UK Met Office 24hr forecast.

What I do is then copy and paste the forecast, and right click on images like the barometric charts and save them to a table in a Word document that I keep as a passage plan. Very useful for reviewing as the passage develops – and the possibility of having to change plan dawns on you!

If you want more information about using your mobile phone on board check out my dedicated “phones page“….


Using your barometer to forecast the wind…

Scurrying home from a rather bleak and windy pontoon at Brighton Marina the other night I was thinking about the weather advice that one barometerof the old salts had been giving me over a warming glass of wine (yes, not rum!)…

Given the strength of the depressions that are passing over the UK at the moment I had asked how he would tell if a depression was going to bring strong or gale force winds – given of course that he wouldn’t know a grib file from a grab bag – and he advised me that as a rough guide a fall in the barometer of 6mb in 3hrs expect a force 6; 8mb in 3hrs expect a force 8. Given that we first discovered the connection between atmospheric pressure and the weather in the 17th Century you would have thought we would all be accustomed to using the barometer well instead of treating it like a piece of brass furniture – or is it just me?

In a BBC weather forecast when the barometer is described as “falling quickly” or “rising quickly”, it means a fall or rise of 3.6 to 6mb in a 3hr period. If the words used are “very quickly” then that means a movement of 6mb in a 3hr period.