“Climate is what you expect.
Weather is what you get.” Mark Twain
Some of you may have noticed that my daughter EmilyAnne and I just got back to St Thomas from another delivery. This last trip was from Naples, Florida to St Thomas, USVI on board a 48 foot Fountaine Pajot Catamaran. I have done this particular trip either from the East Coast to the Virgin Islands or from the VI to the East Coast many many times mostly on deliveries and mostly during times of the year when I wouldn’t have chosen to sail with my own family, but that’s the delivery business. In the past six years I have racked up more than 50,000 offshore miles and for most of those miles either my son Jimmy or my daughter EmilyAnne has come along as paid professional crew.
The most important factor in making a safe and successful offshore passage is a sailors ability to steer clear of or, when you can’t, minimize the severity of storms at sea. The ability to know where favorable currents and favorable wind patterns are also makes the overall passage shorter and not only gets the boat in to port sooner but fewer days at sea means fewer chances for bad things to happen.
When we bought our boat ten years ago the way we got our weather was via a single sideband radio or VHF if we were along the coast. We would sign up with Herb or Chris and they would give us forecasts over the radio at certain times of the day. While out cruising we, along with almost every other boat in the anchorage, would dial in to the right frequency to listen to the daily forecast for our area. These guys were great and they certainly saved our butts a couple of times in the Bahamas but they were only as good as the data available at the time and on an offshore passage it can sometimes be a challenge to get the forecast at all. Then we bought our Iridium phone and suddenly we had a world of information at our fingertips which could be emailed to us daily in the form of GRIB files... I soon discovered that now I was even more limited by the fact that I had to interpret the weather for myself and although I have become pretty good at it on a small scale over the years, I was still far from an expert.
When I started delivering boats professionally I began to search for a weather service which would do my weather for each passage in real time using both email and voice communication over the sat phone. I tried a couple of well known services and in both cases I was treated like a number and in one case as a particularly bad winter storm was bearing down on me in the Atlantic in January they basically told me to contact them if I survived.
On one of the boats I transited back and forth from Norfolk, VA to St Thomas the owner decided to try a weather guy he had heard good things about and after that passage I knew that I had found the service I had been looking for.
Captain Bob Cook / Ocean-Pro weather laughed when I told him I had 50,000 offshore miles and with a little prompting told me he has sailed over 150,000! Bob is a sailor and from the very start I could tell this. He was interested not just in the size and make of the vessel but what the underside looked like, how much sail area she had, pointing ability etc... Bob uses the latest technology to forecast in real time for his fleet. He has consistently given us current boosts, even south flowing eddies in the gulf stream as we sailed south. His ability to route is enhanced by his years at sea as a captain himself. For me one of the most important factors is that I believe he also genuinely cares about each boat in his fleet.
I have used Bob now for multiple deliveries on very different boats both mono hulls and catamarans and I can tell you that I will not go offshore without Bob as an in-facto member of my crew. I want to share a little story from a few deliveries ago.
I was delivering an Island Packet 440 from New York to Ft Lauderdale in November and as I approached Cape Hatteras, NC the VHF National Weather Service was reporting Gale warnings for the next day. If I had not been on a delivery I would have been looking for a nice place to spend a few days to wait out the storm. My options on a delivery though are more complicated. If the boat can be moved safely I move the boat. When we are delivering it doesn’t matter if it is uncomfortable so we end up moving in pretty nasty weather. In this case I was thinking Bob would be routing me inside from Norfolk to Beaufort on the inter-coastal waterway to avoid the bad weather off Cape Hatteras. He told me to go in to Little Creek to fuel up and leave immediately for the cape. His forecast was for the wind to increase from the SE and that at about 10 pm I would have to motor for a while and at midnight it would be clocking around to the NE and fill in to 30 knots. He had done all the math and knew that I would be rounding the cape and turning South East at that point to make an offshore heading for Florida and because he was riding shotgun for me he could keep me well inside the Gulf Stream which would be very nasty and dangerous with those north winds.
As I came into the fuel dock a nice fella jumped off his salty looking little double ender Bristol Chanel Cutter to help me with my lines. While I filled the tanks we chatted and it turned out he had been waiting for a weather window to round the cape and get to Florida for over a month. When he heard we were headed to Florida and planned to round the cape that night he shook his head and asked me if I had been listening to the weather.... gale warnings... gulf stream...
“Yeah, I have listened to it all but my weather guy says its a go tonight. I trust him so I go.”
“You pay that guy too I bet!” The man had a disgusted sneer on his face as he said it.
“Oh yeah I pay him alright, I pay him well too.” I smiled and replaced the fuel hose in the pump.
“ I only trust one man to interpret my weather for me and that’s me!” He pounded his chest as he said it.
I chuckled and said with a smile, “and you’ll be sitting in the marina tonight as I round the cape and probably five days from now as I pull into Fort Lauderdale.”
“Friend all you have to do is look at this SE wind and know that you are gonna be in trouble when you try to make headway against it after rounding that cape.” He shook his head.
“Tell you what buddy,”I replied, “Set your alarm for midnight and check your wind gauge. Bet it reads NE.”
Sure enough that night as we approached the cape the wind died and right on Midnight as we turned the corner the wind filled in behind us and we had a sleigh ride all the way to Florida.
I am a firm believer in a few things for offshore passages. AIS, Liferafts, Sat. Phones, EPIRB, and Ocean-Pro weather.
When Wandering Dolphin sets sail for our HUGE voyage we will be using Bob for every one of our five legs. Knowing how tight our funds are and how HUGE the voyage is (he is one of the few people whom we have actually told the final destination... the rest of you have to follow along to find out) he has also generously agreed to donate one forecast for every person who chooses to use him as a weather service for a passage. So if you are planning your own voyage please give him a try and let him know that you heard about him from the Wandering Dolphin blog. It will not only help us but I guarantee he will make your trip safer and you will use him from then on.
Here is his contact info: (please remember to tell him about Wandering Dolphin!)
Captain Bob Cook firstname.lastname@example.org