Weather Delays

11 June 2012

Weather Delays
11 June 2012

In 2012 we delayed the start of Rally Portugal for five days to allow a weather system to pass through the Bay of Biscay and English Channel.  Most of the boats sailed down to Falmouth for some impromptu sightseeing and social activities, but some made a dash across the Channel to Brest.

Acting on Information
Before the starts, we analyse a range of weather information sources in order to build a clear picture of the weather for that stage. For a long passage such as crossing the Bay of Biscay, it is important to understand the track of any low pressure systems, and what wind strengths and directions these are likely to bring.  With a four to five day crossing of Biscay, this will be a prediction, as weather forecasting is rarely accurate over this sort of period.

Usually in June there is little to worry the boats, and so the departure can be made on the scheduled date.  In 2012, a series of low pressure systems tracked across the Atlantic, bringing sustained winds of over 30 knots and very high seas.  We had already made the decision to delay the start, and so all of the fleet were safely tucked-up in port for an extra five days until the weather window improved.

The participants are kept appraised of the weather information, and our plans for the rescheduled start date.  Based on this, most decided to stay together, and we arranged berthing in Mylor and Falmouth with an inpromptu programme of shoreside activities that included a wine tasting, visit to the RNLI lifeboat station, visit to the Maritime Museum and a celebration dinner.  Some boats decided that they'd prefer a taste of France, and made their way across the Channel to wait out the weather in Brest. They made an independent start and rejoined the fleet in Bayona.

Weather at Sea
Weather forecasts are sent to the boats by email, with a relay by radio being made by the fleet.  This is where owning or renting a satellite telephone is a bonus; having the ability to send and receive emails or make a phone call direct is very useful, as well as being a comfort to those onboard and ashore.

The pre-departure skippers' briefing includes recommendations for the track to Bayona, but it is up to the skipper to decide what course to steer. These decisions will be based on the weather forecasts, the prevailing conditions (not always the same!), the skills of the crew and sailing attributes of the boat. The skipper may decide to use the engine as well as the sail to keep boat speed as high as possible to outrun unfavourable winds, or he may decide to slow down to let a weather system pass ahead. 

Being Prepared
Sadly it isn't always blue skies and following winds at sea, so it pays to be prepared.  Preparations for a long passage are a personal choice, but we would always recommend getting-in as much sailing as possible in as wide a range of conditions as possible.  That way you will know how your boat and crew manage, so that if you are faced with a 2-day beat into a Force 6, you know whether this is a practical option or not.

For couples or families, it may be worth bringing some extra crew onboard for longer passages like the Biscay crossing.  A family member, friend from the yacht club or even a professional crew will spread the workload and watch systems, allowing all of the crew to get more sleep and have a more enjoyable sail.  Try to go sailing with your extra crew well before the rally start - its a bit late to decide you don't like each other when you're 200 miles from shore!