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|24 October 2003||Weather Weather Weather||Yachties|
|24 October 2003||Christopher Cross Concert||Mixed|
|25 October 2003||Pre-Departure Weather Update||Yachties|
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The 2003 sail from New Caledonia to Brisbane, Australia, was perhaps the most 'interesting' of our passages to date - due to the variety of conditions we experienced. These passage webpages address not only the details of the passage itself, but attempt to review the weather leading to the conditions experienced, a discussion of how our relatively small catamaran handled the conditions, and provide some personal perspectives on the passage. The passage is broken up over several webpages in order to reduce the access time for those with slow phoneline connectivity. This page is rather boring as it presents the weather information available to us before the start of the passage.
Weather. Gosh, where do I start? Weather dictates whether the passage will be smooth or a voyage through hell. Some cruisers wait for months until the 'ideal' conditions materialize whereas others sail to a fixed schedule figuring any passage will have its good and bad moments. The experienced cruisers look with great skepticism at any weather forecasts more than three days out whereas we've heard some cruisers telling others with great conviction what exactly the weather WILL BE at noon seven days out at such and such a location.
As you've seen from our two very recent late-winter passages (from NZ to Fiji and Fiji to NewCal), we've had fast-changing weather systems which provided wonderful smooth 15-knot broad-reaching conditions one day and ugly headwinds with confused seas the next. Historically, an October passage from New Caledonia to Australia should have a high probability of broad-reaching tradewinds (from the southeast) and absolutely no northerlies.
Our decision-making process was influenced by a number of external factors:
1. We had a 30-day visa for New Caledonia which (based on our past experience) was a hassle to extend.
2. Our offshore insurance demanded that we be out of that area during the nominal cyclone season of December-April.
3. Long-range weather and water-temperature analyses had at least one meteorologist projecting an early cyclone season this year.
The number of weather inputs available is truly staggering - information overload! With the Internet readily accessible, one could spend all day analyzing weather models and data - gosh, isn't that what meteorologists do? When at sea I do not have a satellite service and thus rely on SSB (High Frequency Single SideBand) weatherfax (primarily Australia and New Zealand as I had not taken the time to figure out which NOAA transmissions from Hawaii I should use) and the SailMail GRIB charts. When I had on-shore access to the Internet in NewCal, I also downloaded from Fiji Met, New Caledonia Meteo, and the US Navy sites. In addition, we have regular high-seas voice broadcasts from Australia (which need to be tape-recorded because of the quantity of numbers and facts issued rapidly). Not only that, but during our passages we checked in with Russell Radio in New Zealand twice daily and Des provided us with his latest analysis and ideas about what was coming - a most welcome and valuable resource!
Weather routers are a great resource in order to make sense of all this information, and, indeed, we had used the services of a well-known one for our passage from New Zealand to Fiji. In retrospect, we perhaps should have employed someone to assist us on each of these passages. As it is, we have plenty of books on the subject, talk with lots of fellow-cruisers (blind leading the blind?), and take our best shot considering all the variables facing us.
Some of the weather books we have onboard, with my favorite being the little green one (I just saw an newer edition of this one in BoatBooks).
In retrospect, I should have studied this one carefully.
I don't want to ever be in a situation where I'm rapidly thumbing through this book.
We had been all set to take off on October 20th, but at the last minute I changed my mind because the outlook would have had us motoring for at least four days in almost no wind and then hitting some nasty weather as we approached Australia. The boats which left on that day not only experienced that, but had headwinds for a good part of that passage as well.
The weather generally travels from West to East. What we were looking for is a slow-moving high to move across well below our latitude so we'd have moderate tailwinds for the passage (winds circulate counter-clockwise around a high in the Southern Hemisphere). Unfortunately, this was not to be...
This weather pattern, a week AFTER we arrived in Australia, shows the desirable stable horizontal isobars for a broad-reach from New Caledonia to Australia. The isobar spacing of about 300nm for 4HPa at that latitude would mean winds in the 15-knot range. Doesn't get any better than this. (Sigh)
The exit process from New Caledonia takes about a half-day, and if one wants to leave on a weekend then Friday is check-out day. The weather actually looked very good for a Friday departure, but by the time we got our act together (and not wanting to tempt Neptune by leaving on a Friday) we were ready to leave in the morning on Saturday, October 25. Unfortunately, we also recognized that we were facing a big blob of nothing (no isobars) a few days out.
When looking at weathercharts, be aware that local time in New Caledonia is eleven hours ahead of UTC (used to be called Greenwich Mean Time). Thus, if a chart shows that it is valid for 0000 hours UTC on 24 October that means roughly local noon on 24 October for us.
All right, having said all that, let me show you what that Friday's (24 October) weather downloads looked like:
The Fiji weatherchart is wonderfully annotated and updated four times daily. It is an analysis of the present situation and not a prognosis. Unfortunately, it is only available on the Internet and is not broadcast as a SSB weatherfax chart.
My interpretation of the above chart is that we presently have fifteen-knot easterlies and nothing adverse out west. Expect that trough below the high to simply move east. Nice.
This preceding-day's New Caledonia Meteo chart is pretty because it superimposes isobars over a satellite shot of cloud patterns. Nevertheless, it is also not a prognosis of things to come and is only available on the Internet.
My interpretation of the above chart (which is yesterday's) is that it reflects the southerlies we had and shows nothing adverse out west, especially since that high had moved southeast by today.
This series of New Zealand charts starts off with an analysis of the present situation and provides prognoses for 30hr, 48hr, and 72hr lookaheads. Each of these charts is updated at regular intervals throughout the day and broadcast as SSB weatherfaxes in addition to being posted on the Internet.
My interpretation of the above series of charts is that the front along Australia's east coast in the first chart and the stationary front inland showing up in the second chart dissipate and that the subsequent conditions are benign. What I think I failed to note is the trough line which must result from the sharp bumps in the isobars from the low off Tasmania in the last chart.
We found these New Zealand South Pacific charts to be very useful on our passage to Fiji and from Fiji to New Caledonia, but the closer we got to Australia the less detail existed in that area on these charts and we eventually abandoned them (also, reception of the NZ weatherfaxes became poor as our passage progressed).
This Australian four-day thumbnail prognosis I find to be very handy. It is broadcast only on the Internet.
My interpretation of the above series of charts was that the Sunday and Monday lows off Tasmania were too far south to affect us. Mistake?
This is the Australian 36-hour prognosis. It is only good as a one-day lookahead.
My interpretation of the above chart had me a little nervous, as that is a huge trough line running from northwest to southeast Australia. Unfortunately, I was overwhelmed by all the other charts and promptly forgot about this one.
This series of charts from the United States Navy website provides a very cluttered view, but includes surface wind velocity and direction as well as wave heights. Although produced in twelve-hour intervals, I only download 24-hour segments and don't bother with the present. This series of charts provides a five-day lookahead.
My interpretation of the above series of charts is that they show no problems ahead. I need to read up a little about these charts, because I don't understand what the black areas outside the land masses represent.
Another way of looking at the future is to see what precipitation there may be. This series of charts from the US Navy shows anticipated rain as well as isobars, and is also a five-day lookahead.
My interpretation of the above series of charts is that the third chart shows that we might get some rain, but nothing untoward is looming.
This rather simplistic set of charts is intended to show gale probability. Its primary usefulness is that it shows isobars looking ahead nine days.
My interpretation of the above charts, recognizing that model accuracy is really questionable that far out, is that there are no issues out there.
This US Navy chart shows whitecap probabilities and is normally quite colorful. For the duration of the anticipated passage between New Caledonia and Australia, it was benign, and I am only including one of the series to show what is available.
Based on these downloads, I made the decision that we should take off on Saturday, 25 October, and presumably we could do a fairly trouble-free passage in five days (HA!) which would probably involve a fair amount of motoring but have favorable winds at the outset.
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We spent the rest of the day checking out with the various agencies (Customs and the Port Authority), finishing provisioning, and then relaxed and attended the Christopher Cross concert that evening - actually, we didn't relax because not only was it an expensive affair, but they couldn't take our credit card at the concert and I was low on cash as we were leaving the country (luckily, I had a US$100 bill on me which just paid for our entry), and the only way to get there and back was by taxi. It was obvious that many in the audience were enthusiastic fans, but I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of diversity in the presentation and the minimal attempt to connect with the audience.
A relatively poor hand-held photo just after the concert ended shows the packed hillside overlooking the stage. Photography during the concert was strictly prohibited.
That's Kathy after the concert ended.
After the spectator area emptied, I was able to set the camera down and this photo shows the spectacular surroundings for this concert: in the background are the dramatic Tjibaou Cultural Center structures (built in the late-90's) which have a disturbing resemblance to the post-911 remains of the World Trade Center towers.
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On the morning of 25 October I ran over to the Internet Cafe and made a last-minute weather download. Here's what the charts showed:
The Australian 4-Day series. Monday no longer shows a trough line associated with that low off Tasmania, although Tuesday does show two significant lows in the southeast of Australia, with a trough line stretching to the northwest.
The New Zealand 72-hour prognosis. That low off Tasmania has moved east and doesn't seem to have any effect at our latitude. POST-MORTEM UPDATE: if a trough line were to be drawn in on those isobar bulges it would extend right into our path!
The US Navy Wave Watch looking ahead five days. Looks as though that low is too far south to affect us.
The US Navy precipitation prognosis looking ahead five days. Hmmm, in retrospect, perhaps I should have identified a ridge line in the kinks in the isobars associated with that high to the west of New Zealand and stretching all the way up to our latitude, followed closely by a trough associated with that low west of NZ. But there is no precipitation... POST-MORTEM UPDATE: Yes there is! Look at it just off southeast Queensland!
When preparing this webpage, I couldn't find the primary Australian 36-hour prognosis chart on my computer (perhaps I forgot to take a snapshot of it?). Anyway, I'll see if I can retrieve it from the archives in order to complete the picture.
Based on all the above inputs, would you see any reason NOT to depart New Caledonia for Australia? :-) The more I now stare at these weather charts, the more indicators I detect...
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