The science of weather forecasting is a rather complex subject. However, every boater or sailor must have some degree of understanding of the weather patterns and what that all means. When you go out for a Sunday afternoon day sail, you should probably have a pretty good idea of the day’s expected weather. When you are going offshore on a trip for a few days, weeks or months, you must have some knowledge of weather patterns and how they will affect you when you reach your destinations. The size, design, and seaworthiness of your vessel are important for you to make an intelligent decision of when you should stay in port or when you can continue on your voyage.
Marco Island is located in a strategic location for going northward up the Gulf coast, southward to the Florida Keys, or passes through the east coast at such places as Marathon which is accessible to the Atlantic Ocean. This opens up to a whole new cruising ground. From there you can go northward up the US East coast or across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas, with the Abacos to the north or the Exumas to the. Southeast. All of these exciting destinations are reachable from here by boat if you: (1) know the weather; (2) when to take advantage of good weather; (3) or when to stay in port. Unfortunately some people do not always use caution and venture out into a dangerous situation. There is a famous axiom amongst cruisers and cruiser weather networks – “Wait for Weather.”
One famous disaster was “Charley’s Crab”. It was March, 1993, and we were in Georgetown, Exumas. There were storm warnings for a fierce storm coming across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. The boat was named “Charley’s Crab” because the owner owned a chain of restaurants by the same name. The owner of theboat, along with his wife and two guests who were aboard, set out from Georgetown to cross over to Florida. There was a report that the owner of the boat had an important business meeting that he could not miss. He reportedly said that he never missed a meeting before, and he was not going to miss one now. Sadly, the boat was never heard from again. It went down in the Gulf Stream in a 70+ knot gale that blew across the islands and surrounding waters. The storm was so dangerous that our daughter and a friend, who were flying to see us that fateful night, were grounded in Miami for a day and a half before being able to fly across to our very secure boat. The moral of this story is, “Wait for Weather”. You can not outrun a storm.
How can you learn about weather? First, I recommend taking the excellent weather course from the US Power Squadron. Second, you can go on line and get instant weather updates or study at home yourself. Finally, the US Coast Guard gives weather seminars in some popular boating communities. My husband and I took a week-end course in Groton Connecticut at the Coast Guard Academy before we sailed to the islands and South America. Thanks to knowing the weather our trip was delightful!
How can you gather weather information suitable for you position and intended destination? Go online and look at weather report for conditions now and when you expect to be in the next anchorage. Learn how to use a weather fax. If you have TV aboard, use it as well for receiving local weather. Learn how to call up and use the GRIB files. You can get these files down loaded to your computer. They show the difference in hours up to several days what the current wind speeds and directionsare, or projected to be daily for several days in the areas that you need. If you need help in planning your trip, especially across to the Bahamas or down the island chain, you may want to call a weather expert. There are several weather experts you can call. We personally use Chris Parker at email: email@example.com; web., www.mwzc, or cell phone, 941-915-7608. For a fee he will advise you of the weather on your route and re-route you if that is necessary.
If you are in Georgetown Exumas, for example, there is a weather update each morning on “The Net. Listen to channel 16 at 8 am. The weather man will tell you to switch to the net for weather and other information. Usually that is channel 68. I was the morning “weather lady” for the 3 months we were in the Bahamas. To reach the GRIB files go to www.grib.us. This service is free.
For you who are planning a trip down island from Bahamas to the Caribbean there are some very helpful books: THE CONCISE GUIDE TO CARIBBEAN WEATHER’ by David Jones and “TRICKS OF THE TRADES,” by Bruce Van Sant are both very useful. Bruce addresses such topics as: “Knowing the Weather, “Weather Windows, Understanding the wind”, “Wait for Weather” and much more.
You can cruise safely when you take the time to “wait for weather”. If you are caught in an unexpected situation while under way, assess the situation quickly. Do you need to put a quick reef in your sail? If you change course so as not to punch to windward, make sure there are no obstructions that may unexpectedly pop up on the new course. Try to be prepared for any and all adverse situations that you may be able to foretell. Life aboard will be much calmer and enjoyable. Things happen. Be prepared to deal with them. Happy sailing!