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Old 04-21-1999
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Bob Rice is on a distinguished road
How to Sail with Weather

Since this is my first article for my new SailNet column, I think it's a good time to provide an idea of what I'll be trying to do in this monthly space. Weather can be rather overwhelming, both in terms of real experiences and in the understanding of it. So, what is the importance of understanding weather anyway?

While there may be some argument about the degree of social and moral progress the human race has made over the centuries, there can be no argument over its extraordinary technological advances. They might be enough to lead one to an attitude of indifference toward the weather, based on the assumption that we're so advanced that, "We don't sweat no stinking weather." It's cold; we turn up the thermostat. Hot, we turn on the air-conditioner. It's snowing; we plow it. It's raining; we carry an umbrella. We need to go despite bad weather; we drive. Man can cleverly handle all of these weather situations. Right? Well, not exactly.

Every day in one or more places around the world weather events prove time after time that there is a no more commanding or intimidating force in this world. There are few aspects of life not affected by weather. Vulnerability to a weather event is something that everyone has to worry about-kings and paupers alike-, but certainly there are few people as exposed to weather as those on boats, particularly we who sail.

Getting to know...There isn't a great deal we can do about keeping severe weather out of our sailing. Simply put: If you sail long passages, you're bound to encounter extraordinary weather. If not this time then the next, or the next. So what can we do about it? We can learn more about the vagaries and personalities of severe weather events to be better prepared. But weather isn't all bad and most of the time it's reasonably benevolent. Don't let the above suggest that you rush out and sell the boat, or delay getting one.

Basically, weather is a presence to be addressed, understood, respected and, above all, lived with. In the columns to come, I'll talk about both the more violent weather and how to deal with it, as well as the delightful weather that makes sailing all worthwhile. I'll also talk about how and where to find great sailing weather.

The trouble is that bad weather gets all the attention, even though it's occurring a minority of the time. Read a book on weather and it's as if there were nothing but gales, storms and apartment-building-size seas. That's because there's little glamour in writing about high pressure. Murderers and thieves sell better than puppies and Boy Scouts. My goal will be to discuss a reasonable mix of weather: the kind you can utilize and enjoy, as well as that from which your only thought may be to survive.

During my career of weather advising over a period spanning more years than I care to discuss, I've become familiar with a range of weather. In the process, in addition to meeting and working with many remarkable people-some famous, some not-, I've become rather intimate with every variety of weather over every ocean, most, if not all, of the seas, some lakes and, in general, every watery corner of the world. I will be dipping into that well of experience to include not only educational stuff but also some interesting vignettes about both weather and people. But the primary goal will be to address your weather questions and problems. I will probably not be able to answer all your questions, but let me know what interests or troubles you about any aspect of weather or weather forecasts. I'll try to respond.

I decided to join SailNet as a columnist while on assignment in Auckland, New Zealand, doing weather support for the next America's Cup defender, Team New Zealand. While there I ran up the weather and routing for Steve Fossett. Using GPS positions, satellite communications and only my notebook computer as a full weather station (away from my base in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire), I was weather advisor for Fossett as he set the new 24-hour record run of 580 nautical miles in the catamaran PlayStation last month. Sometime I'll get into what it used to take in the olden days to run any sort of weather support.

We haven't learned much this first time around. Certainly no sign of any significant insights into the fabric and personality of weather events, or how to make your life more dazzling with weather. But that's okay. I just wanted to say hello and get things started.

The range of subjects within the general theme of weather is pretty extensive. In the next column, I'll address right out of the box the Internet and weather, a subject of top priority to me. Considering Internet weather a razor-sharp double-edged sword, I have mixed emotions about it. I find two things quite dangerous. One, it's making instant experts out of some people who really don't have the background or knowledge to utilize the data properly. (Worse still, they're writing about it.) Second, there are so many different variations of the same product that the layman can't effectively discern the variations and what they may mean.

To try to sort out the things that are useful, and provide some cautions and warnings about the stuff you obtain, I'll take a look next month at some of the benefits and pitfalls of Internet weather information and data-fodder there for more than one column, I'd suspect.

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