Weather or Not
01 May 2015 | Charleston, SC
I must confess to having an odd, but passionately held, interest. I am really curious about how people decide they know things. Since most folks don't debate these things with the rigor of epistemologists, I just occasionally sneak in a question like, "how do you know that?" The question is seldom welcome and the answer seldom satisfactory.
DAWN had been sitting for four days at a marina in Brunswick, Georgia. The marina was nice, the town friendly and close by, and the sailors and boaters there interesting. However, places like that get old for me pretty quickly, and four days was certainly on the outer edge of my envelope, so we were trying to squeeze all the good news we could find out of the weather reports. Notice the plural reports, there lies the curiosity.
Each of the boaters in the place had his own favorite weather source; I have three. Each of those weather sources presents a different product in a different package about the same thing...the weather for the next few days. I have a subscription to Chris Parker's Caribbean, Bahamas, and SE US weather service. I like passage weather.com GRIBS when I can get them. And, I listen to the NOAA forecasts that are readily available for the coastal waters I'm now traveling.
Chris Parker's reports are always a bit cerebral with emphasis on the meta causes of the weather on the ground, and they're reported with enough CAPITAL letters to keep your attention...if you can get through the cryptic shorthand in the actual forecasts. His focus is often on the stuff that would keep you forever in the marina in Brunswick, Georgia.
The passage weather.com GRIBS are just that, sequential weather maps, projected for every three hours, for the region of your choice. I'm primarily interested in wind speed and direction, so that's the focus of my downloads. These are cold predictions based on systematic weather conditions without regard to local effects.
NOAA weather is the stuff we've all grown up on. "Small craft should exercise caution," and "Mariners should be aware that wind and waves can be greater than predicted." I've found them pretty good for the limited geographies they cover.
So after listening to all of these sources, each with its own spin on the weather we'd be confronting if we struck out for a 150 miles over night from Georgia to Charleston, SC, we had three pretty clear pictures. Chris had enough words like STORM and GALE that I was ready to stick around for the next wine party at the marina. The GRIBS showed 15-20 northwesterlies along our route until just after midnight, and then three hours of 20-25 with gusts to 30 and a slight clocking of the wind toward the north. NOAA said winds would be 15-20 along the route for the duration without mention of any late night scale up.
I was now like the guy who watches Fox, CNN, and NPR. How would I choose what to accept.
After lots of discussion, we decided Jeff and I would go sailing and expect the passage weather.com version of weather, largely because it didn't ignore the rapid movement of a small wind generating depression, and because it fell between the two extremes...the frightening and the benign. I'd hasten to add that I didn't know anything about the upcoming weather; I simply had some expectations.
Sure enough, none of them were right on all counts. Morning, daytime, and evening winds seldom reached beyond 10 or 12 knots along the route forcing the use of some diesel to keep us moving. Evening produced the promised 15-20 knot breezes from the northwest under a nearly full moon. At 0100, after spending half an hour trying to figure out what a well-illuminated shrimp boat along our route was actually going to do, a sudden blast came from the north-northwest triggering the anticipated wind increase and shift.
A single reef became a double reef; the jib got rolled up a bit; and, as the wind continue to build beyond 30, the jib got rolled all the way up and we did pretty nicely under double-reefed main alone for a spell. The entry into Charleston was fully predictable given the anticipated wind directions and tides...time-consuming. With 3 or 4 knots of current against us and 25 knots of breeze on the nose, the little 44HP diesel did its best to get us in alongside the container ships, but it took it a while.
So, what did we know about the coming weather? Well, we had reasonable evidence to expect winds with significant north elements, and we had reason to believe it would blow pretty hard late at night, otherwise, not much.
Now we start all over again with others on the dock trying to figure out what we will "know" about the probabilities for safe passage tomorrow, comfortable seems to be out of the picture just now in waters off the southeast US.