Skipper’s Tips #15 – Whether the weather is hot…

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This subject is truly extensive.  There are a huge number of books that have been written about weather and there are many, many people far more knowledgeable than I, who can wax lyrical about world weather systems.  That said, I do know some of the pertinent bits and that’s what I hope to pass on to you today. 

It goes without saying that it’s a good idea to keep an eye on the weather.  Nobody wants to be caught out in bad weather and frankly, with so much good quality forecasting these days, it’s almost inexcusable.  Weather forecasts can be found in newspapers, on the radio and on the television, on regular VHF broadcasts, on the internet, but even easier than all these options, try using ‘Mk 1 eyeball’; stick your head out of the window!

Essentially, as boaters, the weather we need to know about falls into three categories.

  1. Depressions
  2. Sea breezes
  3. Fog

Depressions occur when warm, wet wind crossing the Atlantic, picking up moisture as it goes, comes into contact with the Polar Front, which lies generally to the north of our latitudes.  The cold Polar winds will get underneath these rising, warm, wet winds from the southwest and set up an anti-clockwise, upwards spiral of wind.  As the warm, wet winds rise, they cool. Cold air isn’t capable of carrying as much moisture as warm air and so eventually, the moisture is released as precipitation – that’s rain to you and me.  The difference in air pressure from the outer edge of the depression to the inner centre varies hugely over relatively short distances – we can see this when we look at synoptic weather charts showing the clustering of isobars around the centre of the depression. These tightly packed isobars indicate the large pressures gradients involved, which to you and me essentially means strong winds.  In fact, the closer together the isobars, the stronger the winds.  If you can get hold of a print out of a synoptic chart, there should be a scale on it, which will allow you to measure the precise wind speeds.

Here’s something to consider the next time you get a chance to look at a synoptic chart. In the Northern Hemisphere, the wind cycles anti-clockwise around a low and clockwise around a high.  So, if you get a High and a Low next to each other the wind is likely to be great where they meet as you will have two wind systems effectively going in the same direction.  However, when you get two Low’s next to each other, they cancel each other out at the point at which they meet.  The resulting wind, at this point, will most likely be light and variable in direction.

If we know what to look for we should be able to spot a weather system coming and this will allow us to make an informed decision on whether to go to sea or not.  So, what does an approaching depression look like and what are the clues?

The classic timeline of a depression moving through is as follows:

  • Falling barometer
  • Lowering cloud base
  • Rain
  • Reducing visibility
  • Complete cloud cover
  • Veering (clockwise) change in wind direction as the warm front arrives
  • Steadying barometer
  • Easing of the rain to a continuous lighter rain or drizzle, in the warm sector
  • Rising barometer, as the cold front arrives
  • Thunder clouds, often with the thunder
  • Gusty winds
  • Showery rain
  • Veering wind direction
  • Crystal clear skies, with fluffy white clouds
  • Excellent visibility

Keep your eye on the barometer.  Make a regular note of the readings when you fill in your deck log and you will instantly notice a change.  A fall of 6mb in a two-hour period means head for port; there’s some bad weather due soon.

Clearly, given the basic level of our weather forecasting skills (up to Yachtmaster level), I would still recommend that you also compare what the traditional weather sources are telling you with your new found skill of being able to spot a depression – the weather we experience in and around the UK is very varied and subject to quick changes. Weather systems continually speed up and slow down, often arriving early or not at all.  

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Sea breezes occur on sunny, summer days, when rapidly rising air, which has been warmed by the land heating up, sucks in air from the sea, producing the onshore breeze.  The rising air eventually cools, falling back down over the sea and so the process continues until the evening when the sun goes in.

Katabatic wind is the wind that blows out to sea from the land. As the land, which during the day was hot, cools down, it cools the air above it. This, now heavy, cool air tumbles down the hillsides and coastal cliffs, rushing out to sea.  This wind effect doesn’t last particularly long and personally, I’ve only experienced this in the Med. 

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Fog is caused when warm, wet air gets chilled revealing the moisture content as fog. The classic example of this is in coastal UK waters in Spring, we call this Advection Fog or more affectionately, Sea Fog . The waters around the UK are at their coldest at this time. As the warm, moist air coming across the Atlantic meets the cold waters around the UK, the chilling effect reveals the moisture as fog.  It can often burn off by mid-afternoon but occasionally it can hang around for a few days until the wind direction changes and the temperature differential changes.  I’ve seen waves of fog plague islands in the early Summer months and even in August on Jersey one time when I was delivering a new boat to a customer and got fog-bound myself. 

Radiation Fog or Land Fog, as some call it, happens mostly in the Autumn months. After a warm, sunny September day, the land, which has been warming up during the day, will chill down quickly under clear skies.  This chilling cools the air lying over the ground, which in a Katabatic Wind style, tumbles down into valleys and estuaries where it meets warm, moist air lying over streams and rivers.  The chilling effect of this cold air produces the fog – which gives us those romantic looking photographs that people like me love to capture.

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Please don’t base your boating plans on a forecast you had five days ago – 12 to 24 hour forecasts are going to be the most accurate and this is what you should be looking at before you decide to head down to your boat. Then, before setting off on your journey, get the latest forecast as published by the marina.  Remember too, that the weather you’re feeling inside the marina will often bear no relation to what’s actually going on at sea.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

 

Breaking news: Sea captain turns hunter gatherer!

Saturday evening, I was round at a friends’ house enjoying a lovely Fabada which I’d made and adapted à la Captain Corbett and suddenly David said, “How do you fancy coming with me tomorrow and emptying the crab pots?”. How could I say no?

So this is us leaving Gorey Harbour on a sunny but slightly fresh Sunday morning at the end of May – I love living on this island!

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David was telling me a while back how he makes his own pots and how he’s been catching crabs and lobsters for years.  I was absolutely fascinated, especially as I’m normally cursing the pesky things when I’m out on a motor cruiser, with eyes peeled, trying to avoid the floats – the fishermen around here call them ‘buffs’; excuse the spelling if I’ve got it wrong! For all I know, they may call them ‘buffs’ everywhere, I ought to find out…

Anyway, David’s pots are less than a mile out of the harbour so we were soon upon them and lifting the first pot.

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I could scarcely believe it, the pot was full of Spider Crabs!  David and I suspect all the other local guys, who put pots out for personal use rather than for commercial reasons, adopt a conservational tactic of only taking the males and then, only the ones over 12cm long.

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Once the pot is cleared, it is re-baited and tossed back into the sea.

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When all the pots had been lifted, emptied and re-baited we headed in. Our total catch was five Spider Crabs, which were going to make a lovely supper with some garlic mayonnaise, some crusty bread, a little salad and some nice red wine.

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Back on the berth in Gorey Harbour – isn’t it pretty?

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What a splendid way to spend a Sunday and free dinner too!

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

Circumnavigating the British Isles

This is going to be an epic trip, without any shadow of doubt.  Sadly, I’m only going to be able to make some of the legs but nevertheless, I’m going to chronicle the passages I do make and probably comment on notable happenings from the ones that I’m not on.  The last time I made a journey of similar magnitude was down the east coast of America, some of you may remember the Grand East Coast Tour. I think this is going to be just as exciting, if not more!  In order to protect the privacy of the owner of the boat, I’m not going to mention any names, including the name of the boat but I can tell you that the boat is a Botnia Targa. Whenever I’ve spoken with people in the industry about these boats I always get the impression they are the marine equivalent to the Camel Trophy Land Rovers – it appears that people who own these boats seem to wait until it gets rough and then go out!! Fortunately, not everyone who owns a Botnia Targa is loopy-loo and I suspect the ride around England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales will be a very pleasant and calm affair – at least I hope it will be when I’m on board.

So, the first thing to do is get the boat from Jersey to Southampton and that’s just what we did yesterday.  A suitable day appeared out of nowhere and after making some quick plans on Saturday, we were off at 08:45 Sunday morning.

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Flat enough it may have been but it was also wet and pretty miserable as we left Jersey and headed north for the Alderney Race.  Tripping along at 22 knots, we were soon at the race and swept through at 28 knot SOG with a handy bit of tide under us.  The Channel was absolutely empty.  We didn’t have to change course once to avoid ships and we only saw four in the shipping lanes anyway – the breaks in the conversation were getting longer at this stage.  I reckon there’s only so much you can talk about before it starts to become prying.  Maybe it was time for a game of I-spy…

“Hang on a moment, that’s not a freighter and it’s not going the same way as the other ship in the south bound lane either…I know what that looks like, it’s a forces vessel and it’s headed our way!”

Sure enough, they tucked into our wake as we sailed past and kept pace with us for a short while.  Nothing came over the VHF, so we carried on, assuming they would have seen our name and the AIS signature and done all the checks they wanted without having to stop us…

WRONG!

The next thing we see, they slowed the cutter right down and launched a RIB, which hammered through the sea after us.  Still no call on the VHF and I was beginning to wonder if it was working and at the same time dreading the, “Why didn’t you stop?” conversation that was bound to happen once they boarded us.  So, we thought it might be prudent, at this point, to slow down and let them come alongside.

In no time at all they were upon us and three large and slightly intimidating ‘blokes in black’ got on the boat.  They were Border Force and simply wanted to know who we were, where we’d come from and where we were going.  Actually, they were really nice guys, very polite and we had an interesting chat.  Right up until the point when they spotted the table.  It’s not a particularly remarkable table really, save for the fact that it is suspended by a stainless steel shaft which is attached both at the floor and on the ceiling of the cabin. When ‘underway’, the table is slid all the way to the top of the post in order that it is out of the way and nobody can hurt themselves by striking it when the boat rocks about in a sea. Clearly, this leaves a tall stainless steel post as the centre of attention in the saloon area of the pilot house – yes, it does look as though it is there for ‘pole-dancing’ purposes!  When the Border Force guys spotted it and asked what it was for, they and I found out, at the same time, that it was for me to practice my ‘pole-dancing’ skills on!  Now this came as a shock to me, as you might imagine.  After all, anyone who knows me will instantly testify to the fact that my sheer bulk alone would prevent me from completing any sort of manoeuvre on a pole upside down or otherwise, not that I wouldn’t have given it a go; I’m always up for learning new skills!

Apparently, as the Border Force guys left the boat, they were giggling and I had gone a shocking shade of scarlet – I will get my own back at some stage, of that I’m certain.  Drat and double drat!

Once the ‘giggling’ Border Force had disappeared and we were on our way again, I put all scary thoughts of ‘pole-dancing’ to one side (I could always pick them up again later) and we concentrated on the last leg of the journey.  It wasn’t long before the south coast of the UK appeared in the form of the white cliffs by the Needles on the Isle of Wight. The weather was improving all the time and the sun even put in an appearance.

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We were soon through the Needles and as we went through, we made the call to get clearance on the HM Customs National Yachtline.  N.B. you must let HMRC know when you leave and enter the EU on your boat. It’s a short call, nothing onerous, so no reason not to.  It would pay to have your SSR or other registration numbers to hand.

A short while later and we were threading our way through boats off Calshot Spit, heading for the Hamble.  At this point we called up Solent Coastguard on the Small Ships Safety Channel VHF67 and asked them to let Jersey Coastguard know that we had arrived safely.

As soon as we’d tied alongside and tidied up, I bade farewell to my crew-mate and toddled off to start my journey back to Jersey.  Over the next few months there will be more instalments from the trip. If you enjoyed reading this post and don’t want to miss any of the new posts I will make in the future, simply click on the link to Follow the Blog and you will get notified whenever I post a new entry.

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventures.

Offshore in the Channel Islands

Offshore, in the Channel Islands

As we zigzagged and rattled our way down the runway at Southampton I looked around at my fellow passengers and wondered if they were feeling the same sense of apprehension I was.  There were only 10 of us on the flight and that meant we were almost at capacity.  The curtain into the cockpit was held aside, so I had an excellent view of what was happening up front; finally I stopped panicking and instead I started wondering how different navigating through the air is to finding your way around on the sea.

Guernsey was wet and windy and as we walked across to the terminal it occurred to me that our first day of training, tomorrow, was going to be a little exciting.  Thankfully, the forecast from earlier in the week had changed somewhat, as it usually does, and the 30 knot winds had been replaced by much less worrying 16 knot winds.  Nevertheless, it was still going to make us think about how we approached our close quarters work.

After lots of cheery ‘hellos’ and swift, manly hugs, we headed off to the boat to dump my stuff and then on to dinner.  There are hosts of lovely restaurants surrounding the harbours in Guernsey. If you ever choose to cross the Channel, and I would heartily recommend you do, this island is definitely worth a visit. For all sorts of reasons of course but mostly, in my opinion, for the food.  The fish dishes are magnificent and the French influence is plain to see.

It wasn’t long before we had convinced ourselves that the wind, being from the North, wouldn’t be that bad after all and as long as we made sure we set off when the tide and wind were going in the same direction, we would be fine – besides which, the forecast for the following day was zero wind and cloudless skies, so getting back from St Malo would be a breeze…

The next morning the wind had changed direction and was now going to be completely in the wrong direction.  ‘Wind over tide, lunch over the side’, one of my students said to me once. It was definitely going to be lumpy out there and St Malo had become a non-starter.  So, plan B came into effect and as soon as we’d had breakfast and completed all our checks we set off for a bumpy ride around Herm.

Drawing on some expert local knowledge – Ross has been navigating around these islands ever since he was a young lad – we wove our way through some narrow channels, with some ever so jagged looking rocks sticking up on either side of us.

Actually, the channels were really well marked and once we’d made it through it wasn’t such a drama after all.

Out of the wind it was a superb day.  There were barely any clouds in the sky and in places it was quite calm.  So we decided to head for a sheltered bay to anchor off for a spot of lunch – on the east coast of Guernsey, just below St Peter Port, is a lovely spot called Fermain Bay.

There were plenty of transits to line up on but the wind was so light in the bay, as it was supremely sheltered from the North Westerly wind, that we needn’t have worried about the anchor dragging.  We were soon anchored up and munching our way through a light lunch; must save space for dinner!  Incidentally, if you do find yourself in a situation whereby you’ve set the anchor but it then starts to drag, before you go about pulling it up and starting again, try letting another ten metres of chain out.  Also remember, never anchor on a ‘Lee shore’.  This is a shore which the wind is blowing on to.  Clearly, letting out more anchor chain in a situation such as that would just put you closer to the shore and you would run the risk of grounding on the shoreline.

After lunch we headed back to the marina.  Being a very tidal area and the marina having a sill, we needed to get back into the marina before the tide level dropped too low.  Once inside I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice some close quarters work.  We created quite a stir, not only the mud at the bottom of the marina but also from some bemused onlookers, who’d obviously never seen a 42 foot, fly-bridge motor cruiser going sideways down a channel before – we meant to do that!

Finally, we moored alongside the berth and set about planning our next great adventure.  Two mugs of very welcome tea later, it had been decided that we should go to France for lunch – our destination was to be Dielette.

The next morning it was completely calm and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Ross and I got up early to move the boat out of the marina before the tide dropped too far and put her on the waiting pontoon in the other harbour.  Once we had all showered and dressed we set about getting the tender off the back so that we could go ashore and get some… breakfast!

As soon as we were back on the boat we fired up the engines, let go of the lines and headed out to sea.  The plan was to head across to Sark and have a nosey round the island whilst we waited for the tide to come back up – heading into Dielette at low water can be a little exciting as it gets quite shallow…

Sark is gorgeous from the water, it must be even better on land.  Did you know that there are no cars on Sark, just horses, carts and a couple of tractors?

Look at the tide flowing through channel in front of the lighthouse in the shot below.

This next picture shows the harbour in the middle of the shot, with the road winding its way up the hill – an energetic walk or a ride on the tractor drawn trailer; you decide!

An hour and a half of perfectly flat sea later, Dielette harbour appeared in front of us and we headed in.  I made certain we had all the relevant documents on board, as a good sea school captain should do, especially since I have been asked for every bit of paperwork imaginable on previous occasions but the harbour master was kindness exemplified! Not only did he waive the mooring charge – we were only staying for lunch – but he telephoned a local restaurant and booked us in.  What a nice fellow.  Even better, the lady who owned the restaurant looked after us personally and sang a delightful song under her breath as she served us.  I’m certain it was delightful, even though my French is a little sparse, as she wore a lovely smile the whole time.

Go to Dielette, it’s a brilliant place!

Full from a sunny lunch in France, we jumped aboard and whizzed back to Guernsey.

As we made our way back to the marina I reflected on the last couple of days.

This is truly a magnificent way for friends and family to spend time relaxing together.  A spell of nice weather, an open sea, and a passage plan make up the ingredients for a smashing day out.

Keep a look out for my next big adventure which will be from Lake Windermere in Cumbria – by for now shipmates!

This has been another Captain Corbett’s Adventure.  If I’m not on Jersey teaching a private tuition Day Skipper theory or Yachtmaster theory course, then I’m either spending time with someone on their boat, giving them the confidence to take their boat out with their family and friends on board or I’m off somewhere exotic delivering a boat. Either way, I’ll write it up and put it on the Blog for you all to see, so keep popping back to see my most recent adventure.