Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Hurricane Irma

Tuesday, September 5

We are in Pagosa Springs, CO, with Robert and Angela. We parked the RV in their driveway. The leveling jacks are not working.

We wake up and look at the National Hurricane Center website. It looks like Irma is headed straight for Marathon. Robert and I book flights to Fort Lauderdale. We make arrangements with Mark to get a ride to Marathon so we can haul out our boats.

We drive to Albuquerque. On the way to the airport, I get a notice that there is a mandatory evacuation order for the FL Keys tomorrow. We park the car in Albuquerque airport and get on a plane. We stop in Dallas. We cannot find any reasonable return flights.

We call Captain Bruce, in Marathon. He says he can take both boats to be hauled out at Marathon Marina and Resort, where we have a haul-out contract. We decide to abort the mission and fly back to Albuquerque, but we can not get out until the next morning.

Wednesday, September 6

We get on the plane in Dallas and are out at 8:00am. We have a lay-over in Las Vegas and get to Albuquerque around noon. We drive to Taos and meet Angela and Fran.

Bruce gets Questeria to the boat yard and they haul her out.

Questeria Being Hauled-Out
Questeria Being Hauled-Out

Thursday, September 7

Bruce evacuates. Questeria is out of the marina, but we have two dock boxes and two vehicles that are still there. Our Honda 2000 generator is in one of the dock boxes. We call George and ask him to move the generator to Robert and Angela’s storage shed.

Big Barn Dance
Big Barn Dance

We go to the Big Barn Dance music festival and watch Irma approach Marathon.

Friday, September 8

We have a fun day at the Big Barn Dance. The last performers for the night are The Band of Heathens. They are the highlight of the day. Their last song is “Hurricane”. The lyrics are inspiring. It takes a lot of water to wash away New Orleans the Florida Keys.

Saturday, September 9

Irma is headed straight through Marathon, as a category 4 hurricane. We watch The Weather Channel. They keep telling us the wind and storm surge will be devastating. There is nothing we can do. We go to the Big Barn Dance and make the best of it.

Sunday, September 10

Irma is a Category 4 hurricane. The eye goes just west of Marathon. They see 130+ mph wind gusts. James talks to George at about 7:30am EDT. George is okay, but power is out and water is over the docks. Cell phone service goes out.

We drive to Pagosa Springs. Communication out of the Keys is almost nonexistent. We can’t do anything but worry.

We see a video , on Facebook, of our marina under water. All we can do is wait.

Monday, September 11

Irma has passed over the keys. We have no idea how we fared.

The RV leveling jacks are not working and the fresh water pump is hobbled together. Robert and Angela take us to get a new water pump and we go grocery shopping. We have an appointment to fix the jacks at Meyer’s RV, in Albuquerque, at 8:00am .

We drive to Albuquerque and park at a Flying J.

Flying J in Albuquerque
Flying J in Albuquerque

Tuesday, September 12

We hear from George. He is good. Everything got flooded, including his truck and our two cars. Our two dock boxes are gone as well. The good news is that  our friends are alive and well.

We get to Myer’s RV before 8:00am. They look at the RV and decide we need a new hydraulic motor. We agree to pay Fed Ex Red to get the part the next day.

We go to the KOA in Albuquerque.

We install the new fresh water pump. It works great.

We watch Irma destruction on TV, apply for a FEMA loan, look for a new car, and get a car loan approval. We find a car in Nashville, TN.

Wednesday, September 13

We wake up to text messages that there is satellite imagery available of the hurricane aftermath.

It looks like our boat is standing. It looks like the solar panels are laying on the ground, but the dinghy is there and still inflated.

Questeria is Standing!
Questeria is Standing!

We get a call from Bank of America. We have to redo our car loan application because we used our mailing address instead of our physical address.

We finish that and we get a call from Myer’s RV. Our hydraulic motor has come in. We get there by 10:30am. They finish up by 1:00pm and we are headed east.

We pay a $500 deposit on a 2014 Honda CR-V in Nashville. We want to get there by Friday. We make reservations at Two Rivers Campground in Nashville. It is next to Camping World and we hope we can get them to add the towing equipment to the car and RV.

Thursday, September 14 – Friday, September 15

We stop in the welcome center in Amarillo, TX one night and in a Flying J in Russelville, AR the next night.

Questeria in Boatyard
Questeria in Boatyard

Cell phone service is back in the Keys. We are getting lots of pictures. Our boat is standing, but we think we might have a crack in the hull. Our cars are definitely flooded out, but our two dock boxes have been found.

Many people are still without power. Marathon is under a boil water order. They are only letting residents in and there is a 9:00 curfew.

Questeria's Hull
Questeria’s Hull

Bonefish marina has some damage, but it survived a category 4 storm better than most people expected.

We get to Two Rivers Campground in Nashville and get a site for two nights.

We walk next door, to Camping World to find out if we can get the equipment installed to tow a Honda CR-V. They tell us it will be 2-3 weeks and $4000 – $5000. We are not real happy.

Saturday, September 16

We buy a 2014 Honda CR-V at Crest Honda in Nashville, TN. We go to Caney Forks for lunch. We are hearing that the boatyard where Questeria is hauled-out is telling people they are going to start splashing boat on Tuesday.

Our 2014 Honda CR-V
Our 2014 Honda CR-V

Earlier, we had watched a YouTube video and decided that we did not want to install the equipment ourselves. But now we think that that’s what we are going to have to do. We order all the things we need on amazon.com. It costs $2300 and the parts should  be shipped to Jerry’s by Thursday.

Sunday, September 17

We drive the RV and the Honda to Jerry’s house in Athens, TN. We park the RV in his driveway. We have to use leveling blocks to level it out. We plug into his electric and run the A/C.

Monday, September 18 – Wednesday, September 20

We are waiting for our parts. We drive the Honda down to Chattanooga to visit Gary and Ellen for a few days.

Parts start to arrive on Tuesday. We drive back to Athens early Wednesday.

We start working by 8:00. The first task is installing the base plate. We start by removing the front bumper.

CR-V with Bumper Removed
CR-V with Bumper Removed

Next, we install the base plate, which replaces the bumper. Then we wire the tail lights to the four-pin plug and install the break-away switch.

Setup for Towing
Setup for Towing

We get it back together and cleanup by 6:30. We need to test it out but we are too tired today.

The boatyard called and left a message on my phone. They want to splash Questeria tomorrow. We are concerned that the hull might be cracked. We make arrangements for Bruce to inspect it and George to bring her back to the marina if it’s okay.

Thursday, September 21

We test the towing equipment we installed. It all works.

Our Dinghy
Our Dinghy

Bruce checks out Questeria. The hull is okay. They splash the boat and George takes her back home to our slip in Bonefish Marina. Everything goes fine.

We go to the grocery store and get ready for our trip home.

Friday, September 22

We attach the Honda to the RV and start heading south. Most of our friends who evacuated have now returned, Power is starting to be restored. We expect to make it back by Monday.

Many of our live-aboard friends have lost their boats. David and Brenda have their boat back and are able to live on it. Bill and Lisa’s boat is on the mangroves. Susan and Johns’s boat is in mangroves as well. Mark and Angie’s boat burned up from the generator.  John and Mel’s boat got totaled in the marina. Gary and Sally can’t even find their boat. The good news is that everyone we know is alive and well. We hear that everyone in the Keys is helping one another. The new slogan is “Keys Strong”.  It was not enough water to wash away the Florida Keys.

Weather, Part 8

It’s been a while since I did a weather post. I thought I had covered everything, but when I wrote Dry Tortugas – Day 6, I wanted to reference a post about GRIB files and realized that I never wrote that post. So here it is.

Cruisers have used GRIB files for a while. GRIB stands for Gridded Binary file, which describes the format, not the content. But most cruisers accept it as weather data, in particular, raw data from the Global Forecast System (GFS) model.

GRIB files are raw data from a computer model and have their advantages and disadvantages. Unlike Radio FAX weather maps they are not interpreted by a human, but a GRIB file has data for multiple locations over periods of time. GRIB files are more complex than weather FAX files and need a program to interpret them.

There are many ways to work with GRIB files. We use AirMail for it all.

Getting GRIB Files

We get GRIB files by sending an email to SailDocs. A minimum request message specifies the model and area of forecast. There are other optional parameters such as grid spacing and Valid Times (VT). The AirMail program has a GRIB-Request window to help format a request.

AirMail Grib-Request Window
AirMail Grib-Request Window

There is a trade-off between the amount of data needed and the file size. We tried out different parameters before we started our cruise to Dry Tortugas. Here is what we ended up with.

Subscribe GFS:26N,21N,084W,072W|1,1|0,12..120|PRMSL,WIND TIME=00:00

The above message is a single line. It has the following meaning:

  • Subscribe asks to get a new file daily. Use Send for a one-time request.
  • GFS is the model.
  • 26N,21N,084W,072W are latitudes and longitudes of the area the file will cover. We get a big area because we like to see weather from Dry Tortugas to Bahamas.
  • 1,1 defines the grid spacing in degrees (Lat,Lon).
  • 0,12..120 define the Valid Times (VT). In this case it is requesting the current forecast, followed by the 12 hour forecast, and 12 hours thereafter until 120 hours. We like these times because they correlate to the NWS 5-day zone forecast.
  • PRMSL requests Mean Sea-Level Pressure.
  • WIND requests gradient surface Wind.
  • TIME=00:00 specifies the UTC time that the file is sent. This time works best for us when we are cruising because we get our emails in the evening when the SSB propagation is good.

More information about requesting GRIB files is available at  www.saildocs.com/gribinfo.

Viewing GRIB Files

There are many options or viewing GRIB files. We use the viewer that comes with AirMail.

AirMail GRIB Viewer
AirMail GRIB Viewer

This viewer shows wind barbs and isobars for the area covered. It shows wind speed/direction and pressure wherever you place the mouse cursor and wind speed/direction at your current location, as set in AirMail. Select a Valid Time (VT) or scroll through them using up or down arrows to see the forecast for that time period. We usually set our location and scroll through Valid Times to see wind for our location for the next five days.

GRIB files play an important role in cruising. Especially when combined with other available weather resources. A GRIB file might even be the most important weather resource when in remote areas, without cell phone or internet access.

Weather, Part 7

Marine Forecasts

Previously in this BLOG I talked about weather services we use while cruising. The most basic service is the marine weather forecasts from NOAA’s National Weather Service. The marine forecasts are categorized as Coastal/Great Lakes, Offshore and High Seas. These are further subdivided into areas and zones. Each zone has a unique Zone ID. Coastal/Great Lakes forecasts are broadcast on VHF radio and Offshore and High Seas forecasts are broadcast on HF radio. All of them are also available from the internet and email as well.

In The Gentleman’s Guide to Passages South: The Thornless Path to Windward, by Bruce Van Sant, he talks about using the NWS offshore report exclusively to watch and plan for weather. He recommends a short hand notation for copying the HF broadcasts, but we find it easier to have them emailed to us. The NOAA website explains how to get the email, but we have found an easier way using SailMail.

Finding the marine forecast when connected to the internet is pretty straight forward. You just enter a location or click on a map. When you are planning to cruise offshore, you need to know which zones you will be cruising in. It’s a good idea to start looking at the forecasts before leaving so you are familiar with the conditions.

Marine Forecast Zone IDs

I will explain how we used marine forecasts for our recent Bahamas cruise. We started by finding the zone IDs for the Bahamas by going to NWS Offshore Marine Forecasts page and clicking on the Tropical Atlantic link to get a clickable map.

Tropical Atlantic Zones
Tropical Atlantic Zones

Zone IDs are six characters; two letters, the letter “z” and three digits. The numbers for each area are closely grouped. In this case 111 to 127. Each area has a synopsis, which is not shown. The synopsis is the lowest number in the group. In this case it is amz101.

The Bahamas zone ID is amz117. Clicking on it will give you page http://forecast.weather.gov/shmrn.php?mz=amz117&syn=amz101. It has a synopsis for the Tropical Atlantic area and a five-day forecast for the Bahamas including Cay Sal Bank.

You might notice that the offshore zones don’t cover the Gulf Stream crossing that we need to cross from Molasses Reef to Gun Cay. In this case we go to the Coastal/Great Lakes forecast by Zone page and click on South, followed by Miami to get the following clickable map.

Miami Forecast Zones
Miami Forecast Zones

Click on amz671 Waters from Deerfield Beach to Ocean Reef FL from 20 to 60 NM excluding the territorial waters of the Bahamas and you will get to http://forecast.weather.gov/shmrn.php?mz=amz671&syn=amz600. It has a synopsis of amz600 and a five-day forecast.

Now that we know the zone IDs we can get access to the data directly. Each forecast and synopsis is a .txt file stored on the NWS website. Start by going to http://tgftp.nws.noaa.gov/.  Click on data, then forecasts, marine and either coastal or offshore.  Next click on the directory with the two letter name that matches your zone ID, such as am. You will see a list of .txt files. Click on amz101.txt to see the synopsis and amz117.txt to see the five-day forecast for the Bahamas.

These files are updated periodically to contain the most current forecast. We like to look at them each day at about the same time. It’s a good idea to look over previous forecasts to see how they change. We could make copies each day, but we find it easier to write it down in a small notebook. Also make sure to check the date and time in the file.

Getting Forecasts by email

You can have the forecasts and synopses emailed to you. Here is the way as described in the NWS website. Address your email to nws.ftpmail.ops@noaa.gov.  The subject is ignored and you put commands in the body similar to below:

!REM send to nws.ftpmail.ops@noaa.gov
open
cd data/forecasts/marine/coastal/am
!REM Atlantic Coastal Waters Synopsis
get amz600.txt
!REM Atlantic Coastal Waters Forecast
get amz671.txt
cd ../../offshore/am
!REM Bahamas Synopsis
get amz101.txt
!REM Bahamas Offshore Waters Forecast
get amz117.txt
quit

It uses the FTP protocol. The lines starting with “!REM ” are ignored and can be used as comments in a file that you copy and paste into your email. The biggest disadvantage with this is that it is very easy to make an error and all or part of your request will fail without explaining why.

An easier way is to use SailDocs . Send your email to query@saildocs.com. The subject is ignored and the body looks as follows:

send amz600
send amz671
send amz101
send amz117

This format is easier to write and you can change the word “send” to “subscribe” to get an email everyday. The default subscription is for 14 days, but you can change that.

subscribe amz600 days=7
subscribe amz671 days=7
subscribe amz101
subscribe amz117

Some of the zones are not supported by SailDocs. In that case you can format your email as a webpage request.

Send http://tgftp.nws.noaa.gov/data/forecasts/marine/coastal/an/anz152.txt

Note: The above email is formatted as a single line. You can substitute “Subscribe” for “Send” and get a file everyday for two weeks.

We use AirMail, with SailMail on our SSB while cruising, but you can use any email service to get these forecasts from SailMail.

Using Marine Forecasts

The format of the marine zone forecast is pretty obvious. It goes out for five-days, or ten 12 hour periods. We like to compare them to other weather resources that are labeled by hour so we note the days and hours when we copy it. Times are noted in local time of the reporting office, which is EST or EDT for all Atlantic zones. Some other weather resources are in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time), but we have gotten used to converting.

The format of the forecast is straightforward. Both the synopsis and five-day forecast  have dates and times, descriptions of what they are and the area covered. They use a limited set of characters – all uppercase letters, numbers and very few punctuation marks. This is a holdover from years ago when there were devices that could not display all the characters.

The synopsis has a few sentences, describing current patterns and what’s expected in the next coming days.

Synopsis amz101
Synopsis amz101

We use the synopsis to verify our analysis of weather faxes and other weather resources. The weather faxes are like snapshots that are 24 hours apart, the synopsis explains what happens in between. If you want more detailed information about the forecast, look at the discussion for the area.

Five-day Forecast amz117
Five-day Forecast amz117

The five-day forecast has wind direction, wind speed, sea height and precipitation forecasts for five days. Wind speeds are in knots and seas are in feet. We copy the forecast to a small notebook along with notes from weather faxes and other resources. We have one page a day and generally go back to see how forecasts change. We also compare actual conditions to what was forecast.

Weather Log
Weather Log

Here’s a page of our weather log. It starts out with the date and location. Next are notes from the Surface Analysis and 24, 48, 72 and 96 hour Surface Forecast weather faxes. Refer to Weather, Part 6 for more information about weather faxes.  Next is the five-day forecast. When we are actually cruising there will be more on this page, such as observed conditions and notes from Chris Parker and other weather resources. I will discuss our weather log in more detail in future posts.

Summary

In this post I discussed different ways to get marine forecasts. The method we use depends on whether we have access to the internet. When we are cruising in the Bahamas we use SailMail to get our forecasts by email, otherwise we access them directly. Some cruisers prefer to listen to the broadcasts on their HF or VHF radio. Whatever you decide, you can’t say that marine forecasts are not a valuable weather service when cruising.

Weather, Part 6

Using Weather Faxes While Cruising

Marine Weather Faxes from NOAA are a valuable resource while cruising. In Weather, Part 3 I discussed how we use weather charts that we down-load from the internet. In this post I talk about how we get weather faxes on Questeria when we have no internet or cell phone service, such as our last Bahamas cruise.

What You Need to Get Weather Faxes

To receive weather faxes you need a SSB (single side band) receiver (you don’t need a transmitter), a way to decode the signal and a way to display the fax. We currently decode the signal with a pactor modem but we have also used our smart phones and tablets to decode weather faxes. You can display the fax on a computer screen, mobile device or print it on paper. We generally like to look at the fax on a large screen tablet.

Getting Ready to Use Weather Faxes

We got ready for our Bahamas cruise by going on-line deciding what data we needed to look at. We started by going to http://tgftp.nws.noaa.gov/fax/marine.shtml and deciding what station was best for our cruising area. For us it was  GULF of MEXICO, CARIB, TROP ATLANTIC, and SE PAC (New Orleans/NMG). Next we looked at the Hyperlinked Schedule and made note of the broadcast times and frequencies. All times are in UTC (Universal Coordinated Time) and all broadcasts are in the USB (Upper Side Band) mode.

Why All the Frequencies?

The faxes are broadcast on multiple frequencies for different propagation conditions. Propagation is the principle that allows HF radio signals to travel long distances. Propagation is complicated, but for our purposes we just listen to each frequency and decide which one is clearest. You must tune your receiver 1.9 kHz. lower than the frequency on the schedule. For example, if you want to receive a fax on 4317.9 kHz, set your receiver to 4316.0 kHz. Make sure your radio is programmed to receive all frequencies so you can quickly scan through them and listen for the clearest signal. My ICOM M802 came with weather stations already programmed in. New Orleans station 4316.0 kHz. is channel 54.

What Charts Should I Get?

There are many charts available, but what do you really need to understand the forecast? We rely on the Surface Analysis charts, to see what is happening and Surface Forecast charts to see what will happen. The four charts that are most interesting for the Bahamas are the U.S./TROPICAL SURFACE ANALYSIS (W HALF)  and 24, 48 and 72 HR SURFACE FORECAST charts.

Sometimes we look at the WIND/WAVE charts to verify our analysis of the surface forecast charts. These charts have wind barbs that show wind speed and direction, but wind speed is only in 5 knot increments. Also, the charts don’t always have wind barbs in the exact locations you care about. With practice you can extract the wind speed and direction from the SA/SF charts and use WIND/WAVE charts to verify your analysis.

Familiarize yourself with these charts before you start cruising. You can click on the times or contents of the Hyperlinked Schedule to see what each transmission looks like. The charts you get over the air will not be as clear as what you down-load and there will be times when you can’t get readable charts at all.

Decoding the Signal

Once we have the SSB receiving the signal, we need to decode it. On Questeria we have decoded it two ways; with an iPhone/iPad or with a pactor modem.  Before we had a pactor modem we used the HF FAX app with an iPad or iPhone.   At first we would hold the device next to the speaker or an ear bud. Later I built a an interface based on the instructions at this website.

We found it easier to decode weather faxes when we got a pactor modem. We installed the Viewfax software, which comes with the AirMail program. We got AirMail on a  CD that came with the pactor modem we bought from DockSide Radio. We highly recommend DockSide Radio. They sell systems already set-up with the right cables, software and documentation for your SSB and they will help you resolve any problems.

If you have AirMail on your computer you just open the GetFax window, select your station and frequency, and start receiving faxes.  We listen to each frequency and choose the clearest. We periodically listen to make sure we are receiving the clearest signal, as propagation condition change over time.

Viewing the Weather Fax

When we have decoded the faxes that we want,  we need to view the files. The files are in one of several formats, depending on how you receive and decode them. If downloaded from the internet they could be in .gif (Graphics Interchange Format) or .tif (Tagged Image File Format). If decoded with HF FAX they will be in .png (Portable Network Graphics) format. When received with a pactor modem they will be in .tif format.  Files in .gif and .png format are easily viewed as photos, but files in .tif format need a special viewer. AIrMail includes a TIFF viewer, but we like to transfer the files to an android tablet so we can easily rotate and zoom into the image. There are many android apps to view TIFF files, but we use Multi-TIFF Viewer.

When we use HF Fax on the iPad we use the iPad to display the charts. The displays on our iPhones are too small, so we transfer the files to the computer with iTunes. Make sure your iTunes is up to date before you start cruising off the grid. When we were in Dry Tortugas we were unable to transfer files until we got back home because we had a back level version of iTunes on our computer which refused to talk to our phones.

Examples of Weather Faxes

In Weather, Part 5 I talked about tropical storm Ana forming on top of us. Here are some real weather charts we received while in the Bahamas showing this forecast.

24 Surface Forecast
24 Surface Forecast

In this chart you can see the surface trough at about 25N 76W.

48 Hour Surface Forecast
48 Hour Surface Forecast

This chart shows the low starting to form at 30N 76W.

72 Hour Surface Forecast
72 Hour Surface Forecast

In this chart the low continues to form.

What’s Next?

Receiving weather faxes on your SSB radio is pretty simple once you get started. Analyzing them is a bit more difficult, but with practice it becomes easier and easier. We started treating it like a hobby and now they have become a resource that we rely on while cruising. In a later post I’ll talk about how we practice analyzing weather faxes. I’ll also talk about how we use zone forecasts, synopsis-es, GRIB files and make weather observations while cruising.

Weather, Part 5

Marine Weather Center

In Weather, Part 4 I talked about how I watched weather while cruising in the Bahamas. In this post I discuss one of the weather resources, the Marine Weather Center (better known as Chris Parker) broadcast, in more detail.

Chris Parker Services

I knew about Chris Parker when we started planning our Bahamas trip. I haven’t talked about his services because I hadn’t used them before this trip. Chris Parker provides a number of subscription and free services. You can get general weather advice or weather advice for your specific location or destination. You can receive this information in several formats, including SSB (single side band radio), satellite phone, fax and email. In addition he broadcasts  a weather synopsis for Bahamas, Caribbean and US East coast on SSB every Monday through Saturday.

We didn’t subscribe to any services for the last trip, but we did try to listen in on his Bahamas weather synopsis. Sometimes we couldn’t catch everything he said so next Bahamas trip we will subscribe to his daily email service.

The SSB Bahamas synopsis starts at about 6:40 am on 4.045 MHz USB and 8.137 MHz USB. We would usually tune in before then and adjust the SSB to get the best reception. We would switch between 4.045 and 8.137  and adjust settings to get the best audio reception. It was not always possible to hear the entire synopsis and sometimes we would have to change frequencies in the middle of the broadcast to hear it.

Chris Parker’s Bahamas Synopsis

When we tune in he is taking calls from subscribing vessels. He tries to prioritize calls by propagation. In other words, he will delay his synopsis if there are vessels calling in who will soon lose contact. He always starts his synopsis asking if there is any emergency traffic. Next he cover recent observations pertinent to the area. Then he covers a five-day synopsis and outlook past five days. Then he covers precipitation, winds and seas for northern, central and south Bahamas. Finally he discusses gulf stream crossings, both east and west.

We would prepare for his broadcast by writing down the  National Weather Service Offshore Forecast for the Bahamas (more on that in a future post). Then we would take notes on differences while he was talking. At the end we would compare notes and try to make sure we didn’t miss anything important. The information on squalls was what we found most useful. We have not found an easy way to get this information any other way.

Tropical Storm Ana

We had our share of squalls while in the Bahamas. A trough of low pressure started forming in the Bahamas the first week of May. This later formed tropical storm Ana, the earliest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in the US. It was not fun being there with a tropical storm forming overhead. (See Waiting for Weather and Rain, Rain Go Away.) But from a scientific point of view it was quite fascinating. We would not have known about this except for Chris Parker.

What’s Next

We relied on Chris Parker’s synopsis more than we thought we would. We will definitely subscribe to his email service for the next Bahamas trip. In the next post on I will discuss weather faxes.

Weather, Part 4

Weather Resources While Cruising

In Weather, Part 1 I talk about why I became interested in weather and about the book, Modern Marine Weather: From Time Honored Maritime Traditions to the Latest Technology. In Weather, Part 2 I talk about some of the weather resources I use and in Weather, Part 3 I talk about how I use these resources to watch marine weather. In this post I  talk about how I actually monitored weather during our Bahamas cruise.

Single Side Band Radio

We left Marathon, FL on March 31, 2015, headed to the Bahamas and returned on May 12. Most of that time our only communication was through our single side band radio (SSB). We knew this ahead of time and planned for it. The SSB allowed us to keep in touch with family and friends, but more importantly keep track of weather.

Through the SSB we were able to receive weather faxes, weather forecasts, GRIB files and voice broadcasts. In addition to these we sometimes heard local forecasts from marinas or other cruisers via our VHF radio or in person.

Daily Weather Routine

While in the Bahamas we usually got up at 6:00 am. After coffee we looked at the wind speed, direction, barometer and of course the sky. Then at 6:30 we tuned the SSB to hear Chris Parker’s Bahamas weather synopsis. After that, depending on our location we would listen in to various VHF radio  nets on weather. When we were in Warderick Wells the local cruisers would hold a weather net on VHF 68 at 8:00 am. At 8:30 we would join a weather net on VHF 12 from Staniel Cay. At some point during the day we would try to receive NOAA weather faxes and send and receive emails through SailMail. These emails included a GRIB file that we had subscribed to from SailDocs.

I’ll elaborate on each of these resources in future posts.

What I did on my summer vacation

The summer has come and gone and I haven’t touched the blog. After our Bahamas trip it took us a while to get used to being in our marina again. We made boat repairs, went to some of our favorite restaurants and visited the sandbar. On Memorial Day weekend we held our first annual Bonefish Marina Paddle Board Race. We had one entry in the kayak division, one entry in the dinghy division and several entries in the paddle board division. That was lots of fun.

We started to get back to normal and then Fran’s brother, James came down to visit. We had a great time fishing, even if we didn’t catch anything. One day we went to Key West to visit Jim, his army buddy who he hadn’t seen in years. Jim has his own micro brewery in Key West called Bone Island Brewery. We sampled some of his beers, went to lunch and toured the Mel Fisher museum.

Bone Island Brewery
Bone Island Brewery

We had more visitors in June. Alicia, Jackson and Oliver came down for a week. We went fishing, to the sandbar, to the beach, to Aquarium Encounters and to some of our favorite restaurants.

Jackson, Alicia & Oliver
Jackson, Alicia & Oliver

On July 4th we had a great cook out with ribs, brisket and other things on the smoker. We cooked breakfast (red, white and blue pancakes and four pounds of bacon), lunch, snacks and dinner. We had tons of leftovers.

July 4th Cook Out
July 4th Cook Out

Following that I took the van and left Fran in Marathon. I drove to Chicago for the 107th Chicago to Mackinac Island race. Robert flew up there and we met up with the crew of Twisted. This was the second time I crewed for this race. We did better this year, We didn’t come in first, but we didn’t come in last. We had a great crew and I learned a lot. We started the race on Saturday and got to Mackinac Island on Monday. Tuesday was a day of celebration.

Before Race
Before Race
After Race
After Race

On Wednesday Robert and I rented a car and drove to Chicago. I spent the next week and a half with my family. We went to Lincoln Park Zoo, a movie, bowling and of course eating. Fran flew in on Thursday and we got ready for Simoen and Jerry’s wedding.

Lincoln Park Zoo
Lincoln Park Zoo

The wedding was fantastic. The bride and groom looked great. It was at a beautiful country club and we had a great time dancing with the family.

Jerry & Simoen
Jerry & Simoen

The day after the wedding we left Chicago and drove to Lexington Kentucky. We stopped at Town Branch distillery. We didn’t make it in time for a full tour, but we did get the tail end of the tour and the tasting. We are not big bourbon drinkers but we really loved the Bluegrass Sundown. This is the Kentucky version of Irish coffee. All you need to do is add hot water and float heavy cream on top. We bought a bottle, but it didn’t last very long. Fran was right. We should have bought more than one bottle.

Town Branch Distillery
Town Branch Distillery

The next day we went to the Four Roses distillery in Lawrenceburg KY. This time we took the full tour. After the tasting we bought two bottles, the Yellow and Small Batch.

After that we went to the Wild Turkey distillery. This was a larger tour that included the distillery, barrel storage and bottling. We bought a bottle of American Honey Spice and Rare Breed.

Wild Turkey Distillery
Wild Turkey Distillery

Next we went to Woodford Reserve. We were too late for the tour, but we did a porch chat. We learned that bourbon is really good after a bite of dark chocolate. We bought a bottle of Woodford Reserve and a box of bourbon chocolates.

Woodford Reserve Distillery
Woodford Reserve Distillery

Then we drove to Bardstown. We tried to get into a bed and breakfast. One was Bourbon Manor Inn and the other was Jailer’s Inn, an old jail house. Neither had vacancy so we stayed in a hotel and walked around the town. We had dinner at the Bourbon Manor. We definitely need to come back to the bourbon trail and see more of the sights.

The next day we drove to Nashville, TN. We went to the Johnny Cash Museum, the Ryman Auditorium, the Country Music Hall of Fame and several honky tonks. We met up with Erika and Steve and went boot shopping and to dinner at the Urban Grub. We had a great time. The only problem is that we didn’t have enough time to see everything we wanted to see.

Johnny Cash Museum
Johnny Cash Museum

 

Ryman Auditorium
Ryman Auditorium

 

Nashville Honky Tonk
Nashville Honky Tonk

Next we dove to Athens, TN to visit Jerry and Debbie. They were very gracious hosts and we had a wonderful time. They also gave us wine and preserves.

After that we drove to Catawba, NC (outside of Charlotte) to visit Alicia, Jackson, Oliver and Jeff. We had a great time, as always.

Then we drove to Durham, NC and  ate dinner at our friends restaurant, Thai Cafe. The food was excellent I wish we knew about this place when we lived there.

Next we went to Ernul, NC to visit James and work on Olson Manor, our storage unit (refer to Tips or Becoming a Liveaboard for more explanation). We managed to pack a bunch of stuff in the van, including a band saw, teak, lexan and a bunch of tools. Keep in mind that we already have stuff from the sailboat race (mine and Robert’s), clothes for Chicago, Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, wine and preserves from Jerry and Debbie and beach stuff for the next week.

Then it’s time for our annual family beach week in Ocean Isle, NC. Fran and I started this tradition four years ago. Since we don’t have a house, and our boat is not big enough for everybody we decided to rent a beach house for a week when all our children and grandchildren were available.  This year we had Shannon, Daniel, Gracie, Lawton, Alicia, Jeff, Jackson, Oliver, Ryan, Audrey, Erika, Steve, Adam, Ava, Greg, Emmy, Fran and Ron. We had a wonderful time playing at the beach, as usual.

Grandma and Oliver
Grandma and Oliver
Jackson and Oliver
Jackson and Oliver
Ava, Lawton and Jackson
Ava, Lawton and Jackson

After a fantastic week at the beach it was time to go home. But first we had to drive Adam and Ava to the Raleigh airport. Remember all the stuff we packed into the van? Now we had to find room for two more people and their luggage. We managed to get them to the airport Saturday afternoon and then made it back to Marathon, FL on Sunday. We stopped Lorelei, one of our favorite restaurants on the way back. It’s nice to back in the keys. Fran was gone five and a half weeks and Ron was gone eight weeks. Are we done traveling for a while? Definitely NOT!
It took us a while to unpack the van. We reassembled the band saw and put it in our marina workshop. George and Nancy are off for a while so we go diving and lobstering on Just One More. We only get four lobsters in two days, but they sure were tasty.

On the Sunday of Labor Day weekend we go to Key West with George, Nancy, David and Brenda. The first Sunday of every month is local appreciation day and many of the attractions are free. Our fist stop is Peppers of Key West. We buy some hot sauce and marinade. Then we go to the Spice and Tea Exchange and buy some seasoning. Then we visit the Custom House, Art and History museum. What an interesting place. We eat lunch at Caroline’s and then tour the Harry S. Truman Little White House.  Then we take the Trolley tour and finish off the day with mojitos in Mallory Square. What a fun day!

Dancing
Dancing

 

Weather, Part 3

Analyzing Weather Maps

In Weather, Part 1 and Weather, Part 2 I talked about the weather resources I use to look at the marine weather for where I am and/or plan to be with my boat. Here I will talk about how I use these pages.

Surface Analysis and Surface Forecast Maps

The Surface Analysis Page and the 24, 48, 72 and 96 hour Surface Forecast pages have the same format. I’ll use this 24 hour Surface Forecast page as an example.

24 Hour Surface Forcast
24 Hour Surface Forecast

Barometric Pressure

The first thing I note is the barometric pressure for my location, the middle FL Keys,latitude N24.7, longitude W081.0. It is about halfway between the lines labeled 20 and 18. These are shorthand for 1020 and 1018 millibars, so I will call it 1019 millibars.

Wind Direction

The next thing to note is the wind direction. In the Northern hemisphere surface winds travel clockwise around a high pressure center and counter-clockwise around a low pressure center. They roughly follow the isobars turning about 22.5 degrees into the low. For the middle FL Keys, latitude N24.7 longitude W081.0, the wind direction is roughly ESE.

Wind Speed

Finally I will estimate the wind speed. Wind speed is dependant on the distance between isobars and the latitude.  The first step is to find the ratio of isobar spacing in degrees of latitude.  I use a digital micrometer with my tablet and make two measurements.  It is a ratio so the unit of measurement doesn’t matter. I use thousandths of inches, but I could use mm or grey hair thicknesses.

I zoom to a level where I can see two isobars and ten degrees of latitude on either side of my location. Then I measure the distance between isobars (IS) over my location and record it. Next I measure the distance between ten degrees of latitude (LS), without changing the zoom level.

Measuring Isobar Space
Measuring Isobar Space

At latitude N24.7, longitude W081.0, I measure 1.007 inches between the 1020 and 1018 isobar lines.

Measuring Latitude Space
Measuring Latitude Space

Without changing the zoom level I measure the latitude space of 10 degrees. It is 4.176 inches.

I calculate the distance in isobar spacing is degrees latitude (D) using formula IS/DS. Since my DS is for ten degrees I multiply by 10. Sometimes isobar lines are four millibars apart (both lines are solid) and sometimes they are two millibars apart (one line is solid and the other is dashed). The default millibar space (MS) is four millibars, so if the fax I am using is two millibars isobars I multiply by two.

D = 10*(IS/DS)*(4/MS) = 10*(1.007/4.176)*(4/2) = 4.8

I can find my wind speed, in knots (WS) using the formula WS=40/(D*sin(Lat))*.8, where D is the ratio I calculated above and LAT is my latitude in degrees.  The .8 can vary between .55 for very stable air masses to .95 for very unstable air masses, but I always use .8.

WS = 40/(D*sin(Lat))*.8 = 40/(4.8*sin(24.7))*.8 = 40/(4.8*.418)*.8 = 16

Weather, Part 2

Marine Weather

I look at the weather forecast everyday. In the past I would look in the paper or listen to the radio, but now I use the internet. I have 12 weather related apps on my phone. I look at some of these general weather apps to see the high and low predicted temperatures and if it will rain. I also look at the marine forecast to winds and seas. The latter is what I will discuss here.

Marine Weather Faxes

The first things I look at are weather faxes. I use the mobile sites from New Orleans and Boston. The weather faxes from New Orleans cover the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Tropic’s. I mainly look at the Surface Analysis page (West half) and the 24, 48 and 72 hour surface forecast pages. I look at the 96 hour surface forecast on the Boston site. I figure barometric pressure, wind speed and wind direction from these and verify by looking at the wind/wave forecasts for the same hours on these sites.

Zone Forecast and Synopsis

After analyzing the weather faxes I look at the marine forecast and synopsis for zones that I’m interested in. There are several ways to find the zone ids. I’ll go into this later, but for now I’ll just tell you that I use zone id gmz043 for the forecast and gmz005 for the synopsis. I have a bookmark on my tablet to this URL:

http://forecast.weather.gov/shmrn.php?mz=gmz043&syn=gmz005

I compare this to what I saw in the weather faxes.

Area Forecast and Discussion

At this point I have the data I need, but I might use other resources to explain or verify it. I sometimes look at the Area Forecast Discussion to see the forecasters reasoning and/or confidence in the forecast.

GRIB Files

I might also check the GRIB (Gridded Binary) file. One way to get a GRIB file is to send an email to Saildocs. In response you will get an email with a GRIB file attached. It has raw computer model data that forecasters use to make the forecasts.

Marine Weather Observations

Once I get the forecasts that I want, I compare previous forecasts to what actually happened. For this I use the National Data Buoy Center C-MAN station. I use the Sombrero Key station, SMKF1 at http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/station_page.php?station=smkf1&unit=E&tz=STN. This tells me the wind speed and direction and pressure at each hour for the past 24 hours. I use English units to get wind speed in knots and Metric units to get pressure in millibars.

Why These Resources

You might be wondering why I chose these sources for weather when there are so many other sources that are easier to understand. The answer is that I don’t want to rely on sources which need internet or cell phone connection. I can get this through my SSB radio when I am offshore.

Weather, Part 1

Marine Weather

Everybody should be aware of weather. This is especially true if you are out on a boat. I thought I knew a lot about weather until I started studying it.

There are many sources of weather data available, but understanding how it affects you is not easy. I have looked at some data and compared it with what I see and I am learning how to better interpret the data.

I started doing this on my own over a year ago and then came across a book. Modern Marine Weather: From Time Honored Maritime Traditions to the Latest Technology, by David Burch. This book told me of more resources for weather data and how to better interpret them.

In the next part I will talk about some of the weather resources that I use when cruising.