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    Join Date
    Sep 2007

    Default Weather/Tactics Discussion (Intro)

    2010 SHTP Bug Lighters:

    In tribute to WILDFLOWER, my partner in the 1978 and 2008 SHTP's, over the next few weeks I will be posting a multi-part weather/tactical discussion based on first-hand experience in 28 West Coast-Hawaiian Races since 1961. I would welcome other's experiences and questions. All courses noted are given in magnetic degrees.

    Though the main goal of racing SHTP is the challenge of making a safe and fun ocean crossing, much of the pleasure of the SHTP is arriving at Hanalei in a timely manner. Reunions with family, friends, and competitors, Tree Time, and enjoying the pleasures of tropical Kauai are all incentives for a fast passage. Not to mention the Race deadline of 21 days.

    SHTP requires a basic understanding of weather conditions from start to finish, and how best to use them to advantage. An excellent overall view is Stan Honey's "Slotcars to Hawaii," available online. Jim Corenman's treatise in the Pacific Cup Handbook is also an excellent resource. Firsthand SHTP weather stories, such as related in the Crawford's BLACK FEATHERS, as well as past Forum posts and logs from previous SHTP's can be mined for information..

    The most thorough understanding of SHTP weather, and relevant tactics, is only as valuable as the route chosen. A simple but comprehensive GAME PLAN is invaluable. The GAME PLAN is based on forecasts and real time observations before leaving the dock. A skipper with a GAME PLAN will arrive sooner than one zig-zagging down the "race track," sailing extra miles. The GAME PLAN is not set in cement, but can and should be adjusted daily according to such variables as: movement of the EPAC (Eastern PACific) High, tropical waves passing to the south, and other competitors positions and weather.

    The Great Circle (GC) to Hanalei, as shown on your GPS, is the shortest course. But the GC is rarely the fastest. The GC takes one north into the calms of the EPAC High. If the GC were flipped upside down, the resulting "Reverse S" course, pioneered in the '49 San Pedro to Honolulu Transpac, would more likely approximate a successful route, at least for the first half of the SHTP.

    The GAME PLAN can be broken into sub-plans: #1 Exiting SF Bay. #2 Across the Gulf of the Farallones to the "weather mark." an imaginary point abeam and south of the Farallones. #3 The "Windy Reach" to "Pt. A," an adjustable waypoint on the SE lobe of the EPAC High along 130 W longitude, #4 The "Slotcars," or the desired course around the southern perimeter of the EPAC High to "Pt. B," a waypoint 100 miles upwind of Hanalei at 23N x158W. #5 Sprint to the finish and entry into Hanalei, depending on time of day/night arrival.

    The GAME PLAN should also take into account possible variations and anomalies, such as: a "Southerly Surge" at the start (as in '06 and '08). Gale conditions on the Windy Reach (prevalent about 25% of the time in June.) An EPAC High that is MIA, not yet formed, or to the West of the Dateline. Tropical Waves and remnants of Tropical Storms from Mexico traveling W or NW. And of course squall management that will likely affect the downwind portion of the race, especially at night. (These will be discussed in later chapters.)

    For this year's 2010 SHTP, there is a weakening El Nino. This El Nino should become "neutral" by June/July. A non-existent El Nino means late spring storms should track further N, and likely not have as much potential influence on the SHTP course as during an El Nino year. In non El Nino years, the EPAC High becomes the predominant weather feature of the EPAC in early July, two weeks after this year's start.

    2010 competitors can thank SSS Commodore Bill Merrick and SHTP RC Co-chair Bob Johnston for scheduling this year's SHTP for maximum moon, something the Pacific Cuppers three weeks later will not have in their favor. Full moon is June 26th, or about halfway. Bug Lighters are blessed, as a bright moon makes the passage infinitely more enjoyable. And safe.

    Nevertheless, there will be dark nights. For apparent wind direction, nothing beats an aft facing Windex at the masthead, lit by a tri-color light. Also, white nylon spinnaker cloth telltales, hot knifed into 1"x16" strips from sailmaker's scraps, and lit by a flashlight or headlamp, serve much better than wet or dark yarn. Even toilet paper taped to the weather shrouds makes an inexpensive night (or light air) wind instrument.

    I like to tape over the steaming light, leaving just a slit to light the fore triangle during dark squalls. A dimmer switch on the steaming light is a more hi-tech alternative. For those relying on wind instruments, two thoughts: Wind instruments are only as good as the calibration and lighting. When sailing off the wind, if the instrument wand is facing forward, it may suffer directional interference from the masthead and/or spinnaker upwash.

    Word to the Wise: The compass light will fail at some point. Take a couple of spares that can be easily plugged in. And when the compass light does fail, don't place a flashlight near the compass.

    Further Thoughts on Prep:

    COLD: If the hardest part of the SHTP is untying the docklines, the second hardest is the first night at sea. Prepare for cold, wet, and rough the first couple of nights, with thermals, fleece, good foulies, and clothing redundancies. Decisions made when wet, tired, or seasick can be compromised, and errors compounded. Cloud cover out to 135 degrees W is the rule, not the exception. In the '08 SHTP we did not see the sun until Day 8.

    DRY: Importance should be given to having a dry and dedicated weather/nav area. This can be as simple as a portable lap board. Readily accessible, besides the SF-Hawaii chart, cut/ folded to cover the course, is a second chart with winning tracks from previous SHTP's, and Pacific Cups. In absence of a chart plotter, a pad of plotting sheets (available for less than $10) is good value. Plotting sheets can be lined at the appropriate latitude, and 10 degree increments of longitude. Call me old fashioned, but on a small boat with limited electrics and a vulnerable and power hungry computer, I use plotting sheets to plot my course, positions of fellow competitors, note sail changes, barometer readings, plot downwind jibe angles, etc. Ultimately, these plotting sheets, 4 or 5 for the course, act as my hard copy log of the Race for current and future review.

    HOT: As the fleet passes halfway and sails SW into summer, the sun will be almost directly overhead at Local Apparent Noon (LAN). Being on deck without shade can be debilitating. A umbrella clamped to a stanchion or small awning/bimini, a good sun hat, a fan over the bunk, and a flower misting squirt bottle all become invaluable. For the second half of the SHTP, consuming 1 gallon of water/day was my norm to stay hydrated.

    SLOW: From the start out 200 miles to 125 W, loose kelp, and to lesser extent kelp paddies, can hang up on keels, rudders, props and struts, causing degradation of speed. Further W, out past 135 W, and increasing approaching Hawaiian waters, all manner of plastic debris, monofiliament nets, net islands, and polypro rope become obstacles. 25-50% of SHTP competitors will likely snag something, and may not realize the problem, especially if an autopilot or windvane is steering.

    Absent bottom windows, kelp cutters or an expensive and fragile endoscope, there are several clues that something has hung up: 1) By disconnecting the windvane/AP and hand steering once/hour, one is more likely to feel vibration caused by snagged debris. 2) By charting hourly average speed and distance, it is more likely to notice a slowing in boatspeed. 3) By heeling or broaching the boat and hanging over the side, sometimes trailing debris can be visually seen.

    As preventive maintenance, at noon every day, I would back down WILDFLOWER. The peace of mind was worth the approx. two minutes lost to perform this maneuver, which usually involved dropping the jib, twins, or spinnaker, and backing the main with a preventer.

    The other "in extremis" alternative, not recommended for solo sailors, entails "parking" the boat by lowering all sails, deploying a drogue, using a long tether and swim ladder, and donning mask and fins.

    PRESSURE: A calibrated barometer, even wrist watch style, is a must for the SHTP, and return passage. Calibrate to Oakland airport reading prior to start. Save time: rather than recalibrating, simply note error on the barometer, to be added or subtracted when logged. Pressure readings, logged at four or six hour intervals, can be a significant tool in reconciling observed weather with weather fax charts, GRIB files, WWV reports, approaching tropicals, etc. Most importantly, the barometer gives confidence in routing around the EPAC High.

    GUEST NAVIGATOR: The choice of a "Guest Navigator" (or navigators) can and should be made by each competitor. After the SHTP start, NO WEATHER or ROUTING INFO may be relayed from wives, friends or weather routing sources. However, competitor's ROLL CALL POSITIONS, COURSE and SPEED only, may be relayed from shore stations via e-mail/ Sat Com voice, or SSB/ham

    Wind/sea reports can be exchanged between competitors via VHF or SSB public channels.

    There is no shame in pre-identifying experienced Transpac competitors and keying off their daily roll call positions and courses. This is your "Guest Navigator." In 2008, I chose ALCHERA, POLAR BEAR, and HAULBACK as WILDFLOWER's "Guest Navigators." All three had strong SSB signals, and two were previous SHTP overall winners. Not by accident, POLAR BEAR and WILDFLOWER's tracks were ultimately similar. Though POLAR BEAR was over 100 miles ahead at halfway, it was a confidence builder running in Eric's wake, knowing he was sailing in good wind. ALCHERA, ahead and initially on a more northerly track, was my "probe" for wind conditions closer to the EPAC High.

    NEXT CHAPTER: Day of the Start (June 19, 2010)
    Last edited by sleddog; 05-20-2010 at 04:01 PM.

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