Whether being able to get an idea if it is safe to go on your sailing trip, or to judge the weather patterns for a longer passage, it really helps to know as much as you can about the science of meteorology.
I’d even go as far as saying that reading the weather is one of the most important disciplines to have in elite sailing – almost as important as having the latest and fastest boat in the fleet!
Firstly let’s look at a real world situation happening right now in the Vendee Globe singlehanded round the world yacht race, and then look at courses that you the sailor might enrol on during the winter months.
Watching the Vendee Globe round the world yacht race you will see that the leaders have managed to make the best routing according to the weather, while those who either misjudged it or could not stay ahead of the weather systems have been caught up in light and variable winds in the South Atlantic.
The leading group who managed to time their routings just right are now deep in the Indian Ocean (Alex Thompson even managing to break the race record to the Cape of Good Hope by five days…) while those at the back have yet to break south of the Cape and are up to 4,019 miles behind the leaders!
Alex Thompson in particular may sail a longer route at times to get the weather that suits his boat. Having hit an object in the South Atlantic and breaking a hydrofoil he can only reach maximum speed when the wind is on the starboard side of the boat. Until he can find conditions that suit the boat best he’s likely to lose ground to rival Armel Cleac’h.
Whether a beginner sailor or a very advanced one you will always need to learn about weather forecasting.
As a rank beginner you will learn to watch the TV news to see whether it is safe to go out. On a short racing course you will learn how to go for the best wind and to route your course between the buoys to maximise your speed. On a yacht planning a 2-3 day passage you will need to read the weather for the next few days, if nothing else to know if there will be a nasty low coming in to bring F8 headwinds and thereby scotch your attempt to get to the next port!
The US American Sailing Association offers a classroom based meteorology course that according to the website, enables the student to be “Able to observe and forecast weather conditions using traditional maritime skills and modern technology. Knowledge of weather information for planning and adapting navigation during short duration and extended voyages.”
The course can be done online or in the classroom, and is a good winter time course to do to help develop your sailing career even while the cold winds keep you ashore.
While having an IMO Sea Survival certificate isn’t strictly necessary if you never do more than 150 miles in a passage, meteorology is something that will always give you rewards and arguably the better you understand it the better it will serve you.
Over the years I have developed my knowledge through my work as a sailing journalist and writer, through sailing and even mountaineering, as well as through my first university degree and various RYA courses.
Whether because you have time on your hands with early retirement for example, or because you are planning to cut loose and are about to sail the world’s oceans, it may help to develop your meteorology skills to the next level through a university course.
The University of Sydney runs a special course for those wishing to develop their meteorology skills. The Weather for Sailing Course sets out to equip the sailor with “basic theory, weather observations, weather maps, clouds, the interaction between the wind and coastlines, weather forecasting at sea and especially using the weather to your advantage.”
Being a shore based course, meteorology is something you can develop at home through an online course. These are getting very good and once more you can return to many of the courses long after you have completed them to update your knowledge.
Reading this series of blogs you will learn to appreciate that sailing is more than just a hobby – it is a career in its own right.
As with your working career the more you learn the greater rewards you get. Where being able to sail at just the right time to avoid getting a kicking from an incoming gale isn’t quite the same thing as getting a 10% pay rise at work, a meteorology course will certainly make life a lot easier for completing it!