Friday, June 5, 2020

The BIG SECRET About Weather?

Perfect weather here in Torres del Paine, Chile
Having known Peter Isler since his college sailing days at Yale University, sailing out of "Yick-Yick" (a.k.a. Yale Corinthian Yacht Club in Branford, CT), sailing the infamous "Snow & Satisfaction Regatta" (with famous sailors like multiple-Olympic Champion Paul Elvstrom from Denmark), it is remarkable to see how he and fellow Yale Bulldogs sailing alumni from that era like Dave Perry, Stan Honey, Steve Benjamin, Jonathan McKee, amongst others, have grown and evolved in the sailing world as knowledgeable leaders, World Champions, Offshore Champions, and experts in various permutations of the sport.

Scuttlebutt recently had a chance to catch up with Peter, a world renowned sailor, educator, and two-time America’s Cup winning navigator. Peter had some ideas he wanted to share with fellow sailors around the world as we sit in front of our computer screens in this pandemic world dreaming, wishing, we could be flying down magnificent Pacific swells under spinnaker at sunset doing 25 kts down the face of a never-ending surf to forever....  We’ll let him explain…

"When was the last time a friend bragged about their latest “weather app du jour” that is the “best ever” for forecasting the wind in a particular location? It happens to me a lot. And most of the time, when I check out the app or website – it’s just a new-fangled “re-packaging” of a weather model that is freely available (often thanks to some nation’s taxpayer funding) in a host of places.

Now, weather models are good things– invaluable tools for meteorologists, but they are not created equally– and none of them are exactly right.

In the right hands, these models (the grist for the forecasting output of 99.9% of every weather app out there) can provide invaluable data that will result in good forecasts. But used blindly in their raw form (e.g. with the thumb swipe to the screen) – well, let’s say their batting average won’t get you into the Hall of Fame.

It’s kind of like self-medicating with hydroxy-chloroquine to prevent a coronavirus infection. You might do okay, but you would probably be better off if you enlisted a medical doctor to direct your treatment.

sunset and rainbow over Newport, RI
I studied meteorology in college, obtained a bachelor’s degree in that fine course of study, and I have raced sailboats professionally for most of my life. I have navigated boats to offshore course records in both hemispheres, on the Pacific and the Atlantic. So, I hope you may agree my weather savvy is above the median. And yes, I use weather apps (want to know my favorites? – hang on for a minute – the answer isn’t as simple as you may hope).

I use weather models regularly, but when there’s big money on the line, I do more than “swipe right” on my favorite app.

I appreciate important characteristics of different models– like their pedigree, resolution, initialization time and more– and that helps me be more discerning when looking at their output and, ultimately, assists me in making better decisions in my forecasting/tactics.

Don’t get me wrong– I love weather apps. And, I use them all the time.

For example, when it comes to deciding whether I can get one or two more good runs in on my windsurfer before a thunderstorm (still learning to kite– so probably wouldn’t cut it so close), there’s nothing like the amazing weather radar we have here in the US – available (repackaged) on just about every good weather app. And, before a long back-country horse ride when there’s rain threatening, I have my go-to apps.

But here’s fact of life #42 – Weather forecasts have their limitations. They have been the brunt of jokes about their inaccuracies for centuries and now that computers have gotten into the game– they, too, have had their share of spectacular failures. That’s when we come back to the batting average analogy.

When I’m really serious about getting the weather right, I work hard at it– burning the midnight oil– not relying on a single data source, app, or model. And, I don’t just look on my phone/computer. I do what sailors have been doing for centuries– looking at the sky, the present conditions, and I scan the horizon for clues. Because, it is the human side of the forecast process that the app-bound sailor misses out on– it is a big swing and a miss.

And, when I’m really serious about getting the weather right– I hire a professional. Ironically. You see, even if I’m better than most professional meteorologists at running weather routing software; they're probably better than me at the human side of the art and science of weather forecasting.  The part where you have to decide between all the different forecast outputs (by definition every one of them is always ‘wrong’ to a degree– never perfect.)

Weather professionals do it for a living and some are really good at what they do. They don’t have to get a good night sleep before the race, they don’t have to attend the skipper's meeting, or work on some last minute item on the boat’s to-do list, and they probably have a good internet connection to be able to send out a crew email/ Whatsapp when I’m still packing my sea bag.

For me, having an outside meteorologist providing a morning forecast before a big race is money well spent and allows me to better do my job.

All this brings me to a new endeavor– Marine Weather University. I’ve teamed up with my weather guru and long-time friend, Chris Bedford ( to create an online school to teach sailors about the weather. Chris is adroit at teaching the weather– he’s one of those people who have the ability to make complex subjects become understandable.

Marine Weather University is designed to help sailors go beyond their favorite weather app and build a foundation of knowledge that will make them smarter about the weather. Chris has designed the curriculum with that goal in mind. Classes are rolling out throughout the summer with the first launching in a live webinar on June 2.

Ultimately all classes will be online for 24/7 access. Students can sign up for single classes, but we encourage they take one of MWU’s two full courses (Fundamentals or Advanced) – where the classes are bundled together, in a curriculum designed by Chris– like a real university course.

Check it out – you will learn what are my favorite apps (and Chris’ too), but more importantly, you’ll learn about the weather the right way. You will be able to read the sky better, make the most of the data you have available, and understand the limitations and strengths of your weather information." Thanks for this contribution from Scuttlebutt Sailing News.   For more Marine Weather University information.Add to Flipboard Magazine.