Category Archives: Weather

Finally Leaving the Grips of La Paz

While we understood why many cruisers claim that La Paz is where cruisers come and they never leave.  We had plans to meet up with Patrick’s parents in Mazatlan for Christmas holiday week so we weighed anchor and headed back down the coast to return to Ensenada de los Muertos, which is approximately a two-day sail to Mazatlan. Mazatlan is located in the state of Sinaloa on mainland Mexico.  It is approximately located just north across the Sea of Cortez from Cabo San Lucas on the border of the Tropic of Cancer.  It borders the southern end of the Sea of Cortez and has a more lush and tropical climate compared to the desert-like climate of the Baja Peninsula.  After having our share of Northers and cooler temperatures they brought to La Paz we were ready for warmer temps and tropical waters of the mainland.  After staying overnight at La Bonanaza anchorage on Isla Espiritu Santo with s/v Bella Star we headed out early to make Los Muertos before night fall.  The water was like glass leaving the anchorage with absolutely no wind so we needed to motor to make it through the Lorenzo Channel.  As we were motoring along, I noticed a ton of fish jumping out of the calm waters so I took that as a hint and dropped the hook.  I had a feeling we were going to land something good!  A few hours later just before heading into the anchorage we heard the wonderful sound of the line whizzing out of the reel.  Patrick grabbed the rod and I got my gaff and the “fish booze” ready, which is cheap vodka in a spray bottle used to knock out the fish after it lands on board.  This time we caught a Skipjack tuna!  This fish was soooo beautiful and strong!

Just as we were bleeding the tuna on deck a pod of dolphins showed up to greet us and check out our catch.  I threw the head overboard for them but they didn’t seem too interested in my measly scraps.

We quickly got on the radio to let Bella Star know that we would be hosting a tuna dinner onboard Deep Playa that night.  After quickly bleeding and fileting the fish I threw it into a marinade of soy sauce, fresh ginger, mustard and lemon juice for a couple hours.  It was a good fish but, like many say, Skipjack Tuna are the ones you throw back, and now Patrick and I agree.  It was a little too fishy for our tastes, so next time we will throw it back.

After spending some quality time hiking and enjoying nachos with Bella Star, they took off the next day for Mazatlan.  We decided to wait till the next day for the seas to settle a bit more.  The following evening we weighed anchor for Mazatlan about 7:30 in the evening.  After leaving the anchorage in a completely moon-less night we experienced rough swell (not forecasted of course) and after 45 minutes we decided to turn around and head back.

The next day we decided to leave about 4:30PM to avoid departing in the dark.  S/v Journey, who we met in La Paz and were fellow participants in the Baja Ha-Ha, buddy boated over to Isla La Piedra anchorage with us.  Everything was going great, we were even able to put up all the sails, including the mizzen, and sail along at 5 knots for about 6 hours!  Just as the sun was setting and Patrick decided to go below to take a nap the winds increased and the swells built to 6-7 feet on the beam.  Patrick came up to see what was going on and decided that perhaps this was not going to be a nice calm night of sailing.  We reduced sail to a double-reefed main.  Throughout the night the winds built up to 30 knot gusts with 8-9 foot swells with a very short period.  Due to the conditions, we decided to take short naps in the cockpit while the other was on watch.  The spray was coming over the dodger and combing making for a long, cold and damp sleepless night.  At one point, I opened my eyes to see the port side solar panel flap in the wind so we had to tie it down to ensure it didn’t flap off the boat.  Around 2:00 in the morning we chatted with Journey about our decision to turn up into the wind and the swell for a few hours to make for a more comfortable ride and they agreed and followed our lead.  Finally about 4:00AM we were able to turn down wind, which put the swell and wind on our stern and made for a MUCH more comfortable ride.  We were able to watch the sun rise just as Mazatlan came in to view.  Oh what a beautiful sunrise it was for such very tired eyes.

Sunrise 1

After weighing anchor in Isla La Piedra anchorage we crashed hard for many hours.  We didn’t even drop the dinghy in the water the next day.  At least we were in Mazatlan, in warmer weather and water!  Or at least we had hoped…but no mi amigo…it was only 68 degrees and the water was 65!!! AAAGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Sea of Cortez Weather

This morning we headed out early with the hopes of making it to Ensenada de Los Muertes before the forecasted winds would build to 20kts around noon, according to the GRIB. Well noon was apparently at 0700 today. We made good time until then we were driving into 20kts at 2-3kts and pounding seas. So we turned tail back to Los Frailles as did three other boats.

I just went over the Sonrisa Net, Buoy Weather and a new source I found Stan’s Weather Pages. Only Stan had it correct. His forecasts are available on Saildocs, here’s a link to his home page: http://www.weather.solmatesantiago.com/

We’ll be crossing comparing more but its nice to see one guy who got it right.

iPAD Weather Apps Review

We’re back in planning mode and waiting for a weather window in Charleston to jump down to San Francisco which made for a perfect opportunity to play around with weather Apps for the iPad.

A first rate weather application should allow you to see both wind and sea state information simultaneously. Air Temp, Water Temp, Cloud Cover, Precipitation are nice but not super critical for my needs, but may be for others. I’ll first go over some of the common functionality of these applications and then review how each app did at implementation.

All of the apps use public weather data either directly from NOAA, Saildocs or some other such relay service. If you’re familiar with receiving GRIB files through SSB or the web then you will be familiar with the way they are visualized in the apps. Each app adds a lot to the presentation of the data and making it easier to understand. Some of the apps support more than one data model (read about the GRIB data models on SailDocs). Since I don’t have a ton of experience interpreting data models, I am unsure which data model is better than the other or which is better suited for which route planning. It would be useful to look at more than one data model to see if and where they differ. The assumption that agreement between data models means a higher likelihood that the forecasted conditions are what you’ll actually see out there.

All of the apps allow you to visually select the area of the forecast model by selecting an area on a map. Additional selection information includes the following options: forecast to retrieve (and hence the file size), number of days in the forecast, number of forecasts per day, and the weather data to be retrieved (wind, wave, temps, cloud cover, precipitation, etc.). After selecting the data you want to include the GRIB file is then downloaded by the application.

All of the applications have the ability to play, or animate, the multi-day forecasts. This is similar to watching a time-lapse RADAR image on the web or on the local TV news, but in this case it shows the evolution of the forecast in your selected area.

Keeping the above information in mind and the disclaimer that I am at best an amateur neophyte weather forecaster, here are my reviews of the following applications.

WeatherTrack (iTunes) only allows you to see one weather data model at a time. Animating the data requires an extra step after download and there is some pause while it is generated. The other apps generate animations on the fly or by default; in this case the extra step makes the implementation feel less polished.

Weather 4D HD (iTunes) has some stunning graphics and not only are they are sexy, you can understand more information faster. With a two finger tap on the screen controls can be accessed that allow you to change the information displayed. For example, you can choose to mask forecast data over the land (or water) so it is hidden. You can also change wind display visualization from traditional wind barbs to color gradients. This can also be done for temperature data. Another nice feature allows you to visually display sunrise and sunsets data by changing the background display map from day to night making it obvious to tell if you’re looking at a day time part of the forecast or a night time forecast. This is VERY intuitive and when you’re trying to plan a multi-day passage it again makes understanding what will be happening at day or night on your projected route more obvious because you are visually prompted to see the end of each day.

This is by far the best app due to its visualization and its ease of use. However, it only supports the NOAA GFS Model which does not contain sea state information, which as I mentioned earlier was a must-have feature.

NOTE: I have spoken with the author of Weather 4D HD and he told me he just submitted an update which does include wave data. YAY!! I’ll update this review when I have actually used it.

PocketGrib (iTunes) is the only application that currently displays multiple types of data and does contain sea state information. Visually it is not as sexy as Weather 4D HD, but it is functional. Some things need work, like the date selection on the bottom takes all of the real estate on the screen and thus covers up the icons legend. This is especially problematic since I had a hard time deciphering the different sea state icon sizes. The red sea state icons are like carrots (or arrows) of differing sizes based on height pointing in the direction of the wave\swell. I don’t find the sizes of the icons to be considerably different. So if you have three icons represent three states the one in the middle isn’t different enough from the one above or below. Adding color gradients, wave gradient height would help, or even better, providing the option for both.

PocketGrib only supports one data model and the file name indicates it’s a GFS model. However, GFS models don’t contain sea state information. I contacted the author and they are merging in WW3 data, but don’t mention it. Probably not a big deal to an average user, but I think they miss out on getting credit for it.

Of the apps that I reviewed, PocketGrib is the only application that meets my primary requirements to allow me to visualize both wind and sea state information simultaneously. I am selecting it to use for future passage planning. Since I really liked Weather 4D HD, I will be using it when I in port and want to see normal land lubber weather.

 

I’m stoked for the new version of Weather 4D HD to come out, I keep checking for app updates looks like that will have to wait till we’re further down the coast.

Our First Weather Fax

I’ve started devoted a little bit of time each night to playing around with our ICOM M710 SSB Radio. We’re sitting in the middle of a marina surrounded by aluminum masts so I assume reception or transmission is going to be greatly impaired. Thus far I’m focusing on what I can hear and then I’ll work up to transmitting.

With that in mind, two night ago I was tuning around to find some Shortwave broadcasts and was able to hear China and Cuba, not too shabby. Last night I use the GetFax module in Airmail to receive (or download you might say) our first weatherfax. Weatherfax will be critical to our onboard weather forecasts and route planning so it felt pretty good to see it work properly on the first try!

Here’s our first weatherfax image.

Our First WeatherFax

I’ll do a video podcast at some point of the image actually downloading its cool to watch, and it will be impressive to all my geek  friends to see just how SLOW it is. There’s no broadband at sea (well that we can afford).