Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hands On: Weather/Wind References, Part I

Last month, I took a look at the best resources available for learning and understanding the Racing Rules of Sailing. Continuing with the theme of profiling books and CD's that will help all of us suck just a little less against that local rockstar (or, if you are that rockstar, they'll allow you to beat up on everyone with even less effort, jerk), we're going to be looking at reference materials that deal with the weather and wind.

Oh, and I'm going to be doing this over the course of a few days, so as not to create a mega-super post. I started typing the first review out and it was pretty long -- I'm not nearly interesting enough to expect anyone to read my reviews for more than a couple of minutes, so I'll break it up and spare you the agony.

The first resource that I'll be taking a look at is the North U. book, Weather for Sailors. The book is written by Bill Biewenga, who is a well known weather guru, having owned his own weather consulting firm and currently doing numerous seminars about sailing related topics. He's also a pretty accomplished guy on the water, thanks to a few Whitbread's, several TransPacs and more transatlantic crossings than years I've been alive. Just wanted to get that out there so you understand that it's not just your local Al Roker-esqe TV weather hack slapping a book together, but it's actually a sailor.

It was also edited by Ken Campbell, the co-owner and President of Commander's Weather Corp -- I've actually used Commander's forecasts before at Key West Race Week, and they're good stuff. Usually pretty accurate, predict shifts nicely... always have to grin though when I find the one line that's in all of their reports, saying something to the effect of "the wind will shift to the SE, unless it doesn't".

Having read over the book last night, I came away feeling like I'd taken a bit of a crash course in meteorology. This text covers everything from the formation of tropical systems to reading and understanding weather maps. It also covers important topics like the mechanics of sea breezes and what clouds can tell you about the wind underneath them.

I was a fan of the manner in which the information was presented. The author/editor/et al. did a great job of logically building information on top of itself, much like a good textbook. The book also does a great job of keeping the language and terminology at a manageable level, using the professional "big boy" words only when necessary. This helps the book stay interesting enough to keep reading without making you feel like you're cramming for a final.

One of the areas where I would have liked to see more information was the use of forecasts and knowing what to do/how to react when they're wrong. The book did touch on this, but for like two pages. In fairness to the author, you can argue that reading the book properly should give you the knowledge to figure these things out on the fly anyways, but I held out hope that a book targeted towards sailors would delve into this a little more directly. I'm a fan of direct... take enough shots to the head with the boom, you need direct.

Also, I felt that the book falls short relating the information to the sailing that the majority of us will be doing. It's a relatively small group of people that will be going offshore, so I was hoping that the local/near-shore sections would be the majority of the book -- it turns out that there is a lot of more professional/offshore information, so many of you may not use a solid percentage of the information in this book. The information that you will use, though, is certainly worth finding; plus, when it comes to the weather, there really isn't such a thing as "knowing too much" -- just ask the guesstimators at the National Weather Service.

Overall, I found the book interesting -- it's not a page turner by any means, but if you take the time to read and learn the information contained on its pages, you'll know more about the weather than at least 95% of the guys around you. Considering that it's weather that makes your boat move, that's probably a good thing. It's well laid out and there are a number of appropriate images and diagrams to help illustrate the concepts.

Overall Grade: B+

Available at APS by following this link: North U. - Weather for Sailors

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