Rally season: trackers, goggles, and a weather router issue

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Of course I admire another boating writer willing to put weird things on his head for the sake of research and a little levity. But consider me dubious regarding the anti-seasickness goggles Charlie Doane modeled aboard a yacht he almost crewed aboard for the Carib 1500 rally. The rally — which runs from Hampton, Virginia, to the Virgin Islands — got delayed by what became tropical storm Sean, and Charlie had to bail, but he still came up with an interesting story about the rally organizers and weather routers who try to help passage makers in this difficult season…

While the Carib 1500 was gathering, and waiting, in Virginia, apparently some of the NARC rally boats en route from Newport to Bermuda were getting clobbered by Sean, and recriminations ensued. According to Charlie, NARC organizer Hank Schmitt is saying that the consensus among NARC boats and others in Bermuda is that the well-known volunteer weather-router Herb Hilgenberg was a fount of bad advice. In his own defense Hilgenberg told Charlie that “The NARC Rally should never have started on Nov.1 to begin with, and I believe Hank Schmitt is looking for someone to take the blame for his bad decision.” Yike!  You can read Charlie’s whole piece on Wavetrain, but there’s no conclusion I could glean, aside from the truth that sailing south in November is often stressful.

That subject was already on my mind because a friend had called a few days back wondering what to do with the fact that the SPOT Messenger track of another friend’s wooden yawl Cimarron had abruptly stopped two thirds of the way to Bermuda. I assured him that the most likely reasons were that (extremely experienced) skipper Rick Smith had forgotten to restart tracking before it shut itself off after 24 hours, or didn’t notice that the batteries went dead, or the Spot broke, in that order. I also went into my observation that the significant downside of tracking devices is that they establish expectations ashore, and if the track stops those folks understandably get upset. Remember to warn your friends and family about that if you should head off with only a tracker/messenger to stay in touch.  
   At any rate it was good learn later that Rick and Cimarron are in Bermuda and doing fine. And it’s great that the boat I’m tracking has two Spots and an Iridium 9555 handset with email set up. Yup, for reasons unknown my Yachting colleagues George Sass and Arnie Hammerman headed south in the same Shannon 43 they struggled with last November, as documented in these blog entries. They left last Sunday, planning a pit stop in St. George before the longer hop to the BVI, but things didn’t work out that way…

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The boys on Sea Mist didn’t like it, and I thought it seemed a little over cautious myself, but two days out weather router Susan Genett of RealWeather advised them strongly that a detour to Norfolk, Virginia, was the wise move. And I’d say she definitely earned her keep when the low stalled north of the Bahamas became sub-tropical Sean and almost an odd late season hurricane. But now Sean is safely beyond Bermuda and losing steam, and Sea Mist got underway for the BVI at noon today with a solid northwest breeze on her tail. I haven’t heard from them since this morning, but their recent Spot track suggests that they jibed east for while, and I think I know why.
   The Carib 1500 rally that Charlie had to miss also got underway today and I’m guessing Sea Mist decided to get out of their way (or maybe she can’t sail well downhill). Interestingly the Carib boats also seem to be using Spot trackers even though the fleet web tracking is being handled by YellowBrick, which makes higher end trackers. Maybe a cost thing? Spot has really broken ground in terms of affordable offshore tracking and simple one-way messaging, but then again the company is also about to see some serious competition from the various Iridium 9602 tracker/messengers that are coming to market. I’m testing two of them right now, and look forward to telling you what I find. In the meantime, how about we send good wishes to all those boats headed south.

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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

8 Responses

  1. Don Joyce says:

    Ben,
    The “SPOT” trackers for the CARIB1500 were passed on when Steve Black sold the rally. Fortunately, they don’t have to be reset.
    Don

  2. Don Joyce says:

    Ben,
    By the way, What turned into Sean was pretty easy to extrapolate from the GFS GRIB files well in advance of the departure of NARC and delay announcement of the Carib1500.
    It has to be a difficult call for the rally organizers because of various conflicts. Ultimately, its every individual captain’s call. Sadly, I’ve watched the herd instincts take over better judgement multiple times resulting in pretty bad consequences.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Don, I’m not a weather expert, and I’ve also been ashore all week, but I do not think that low was easy to extrapolate. In fact, even after it got named as a sub-tropical storm, which was unusual, I saw one of the multi-model wind intensity graphs that was profoundly divided. As I recall (and it’s on that NHS history page somewhere) two models had Sean wind speeds increasing rapidly, two had them decreasing rapidly, and one or two were flat.

  4. Don Joyce says:

    All true Ben,
    Nonetheless, if one looked at the 500mb data, it looked to be an uncomfortable situation. I’m in the same boat as you regarding being a weather expert. Nonetheless, I would tend to pay heed to the worst case model.
    Cheers
    Don

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I’m very sad to report that a sailor in the NARC rally lost her life, and for Mainers like me there’s at least a bit of a local connection. Charlie has the unfolding story here: http://goo.gl/ce3dh
    Jan and Rob Anderson’s Sailblog, which Jan last posted to a week ago offshore, is here: http://goo.gl/4ztMW

  6. Marc Dacey says:

    Every skipper is responsible for the “go/no go” decision. I’m made a delivery through these very waters, exactly two years ago. Some three Swan 53s were in the Carib 1500 within 50-75 NM of us and to my knowledge, two of them had to retire to Bermuda with broken stays due to the hammer and anvil effect of a very deep and extensive trough and Hurricane Ida.
    Herb H. was a constant and reliable advisor and our skipper did not consider him a god of forecasting, but rather a very experienced and sober second opinion in conditions that were frequently squally and hard on boat and crew.
    If any sailor finds Herb inaccurate or misleading, they have only themselves to blame as his forecasts are freely given and are based on reportage of vessels already at sea.
    For us, he was a reassuring voice during a tough, if educational, passage to the USVIs.
    For the whole story, see:
    http://alchemy2009.blogspot.com/2009/11/nothing-like-real-thing-november.html
    and the skipper’s version:
    http://onainia.blogspot.com/2009/11/it-sure-is-hot-in-caribbean.html
    Draw your own conclusions, or better yet, sail where I have and tell us what you’ve learned.

  7. Reed Erskine says:

    The tragedy of a cruiser lost overboard on what was supposed to be a pleasant adventure cruise to the sunny Caribbean, brings to mind a nagging question. Do cruising rallies like the ARC, the NARC and the Caribbean 1500 (one crew member lost in 2010) create a false sense of security among their participants? Having been in a rally and a couple of offshore races, my wife and I have forsworn any further participation in scheduled offshore events. While not the most experienced blue water cruisers, we found that when the parties, skippers’ meetings and weather briefings were over, and we’d cast off, we were on our own. The rally radio nets were useful, but Southbound II is also an effective radio net providing valuable information, and news of other boats over a broad area of ocean. The basic rally format is a one-size-fits-all situation, with under 40 ft. boats joining fleets that include boats over 50 ft., and nobody wants to be left behind. In all the events we’ve participated in, the slower boats end up being overtaken by the cold front and hammered. In our caution we’ve lost crew members to scheduling constraints, and suffered occasional derision for being wusses, but in our limited passage making experience, most recently a double handed Transatlantic run, getting there is 99% of the game. How you do it doesn’t seem to make much difference.
    s/v Cayenne lying Rabat, Morocco

  8. fgstreet1 says:

    I’ve just arrived home in Minneapolis from Bermuda, having stopped off there while attempting a sailboat delivery from Long Island to Fajardo, PR. The skipper was using Commanders Weather, and they didn’t have a clue about Sean, either. We left LI on Saturday evening, Nov 5th and things looked clear (despite some headwinds) for the next several days. We finally made the decision to divert to Bermuda but had to spend a couple of days tacking there to preserve fuel; by that time, the storm was on us and we chose to run north until the winds changed and we could sail back to Bermuda. We spoke in St George with a few of the Swan and NARC boats; most of them were caught off guard, as well. To suggest Herb provided bad info, when the NWS couldn’t even decide which way or how strong the storm was going to be, is absurd. The track itself it unusual — see http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/gis/best_track/al192011_best_track.kmz
    BTW, I had a SPOT Connect aboard, and it performed flawlessly.
    Fred Street S/V Oceanis, Lake Superior

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