PredictWind Review – Hamish Willcox – Olympics Coach and Cruiser
I have a couple of stories I would like to share with you about PredictWind.
Some 16 years ago I had the privilege to coach Jon Bilger at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Of course we developed a great relationship having already had tremendous respect for each other based on many years rivalry sailing against in the 470 class boat. For the next 8 years we both worked in similar jobs managing weather programs for different America’s Cup teams. We both finishing up this work in 2010 and Jon started PredictWind. Since this time I have been using PredictWind as an Olympic coach and live aboard cruiser.
During this period of Olympic coaching I worked with NZ sailing teams for the 2012 and 2016 Olympics. The last four years leading up to the 2016 Rio Games I enjoyed a dream run coaching Peter and Blair in the 49er class. These boys won every event they entered in for four consecutive years, establishing a record that will be hard to beat and cumulating with the gold medal. Part of my job was to build their knowledge and understanding of the weather and PredictWind helped achieve this. Having access to 4 global models wherever we competed in the world was amazing. Also enjoying PredictWind’s global weather station observations on their web site made our life easier. It’s important to know exactly what’s actually out on the water before docking out a high performance 49er skiff! PredictWind’s high resolution grib files were very good at demonstrating localised effects due to terrain and heating over the course of the day. That kind of picture tell a hundred words!
I have been cruising all my life starting out as a young 10 year old boy spending many weeks of the summer onboard our family boat almost forty years ago. It’s amazing how weather forecasting has completely changed how we operate from the past. Even ten years ago longer range forecasts were marginal at best. My wife and I have had two previous offshore experiences sailing our boat into the Pacific Ocean, once in 1989, and again in 2003. But all our life we have been planning for the big one, to head off, living aboard as “full time” cruisers. We finally realised our dream by purchasing the right boat in 2014 and moving onboard in 2016. We set sail from Auckland to explore round NZ before heading out into the Pacific, “don’t leave home until you’ve seen the country”. There are very few cruisers who are brave enough to take on such a trip, the weather round the corners of NZ, especially in the bottom of the South Island, can be extreme. It’s not unusual to see 70 knot winds and just last year the worlds highest ever wave was recorded at over 20 meters near Stewart Island.
We spent 7 months moving round NZ and were continually astonished at how accurate PredictWind forecasts were. For communications we purchased the Iridium GO direct from PredictWind, and found this invaluable as often in locations with no mobile phone coverage. Our first surprise was round East Cape, while sailing down Eastland, PredictWind was able to forecast localised events that the local forecast missed. As an example we had a southerly surge eddying up the coast. If we had not been prepared for it this could have caused us some grief being anchored on this very exposed coast. Picking the right time to enter Cook Strait two days after leaving Napier was key as it blows a gale there more than half the year! We sailed into wellington harbour downwind with 15 knots and sun. Leaving the very beautiful and sheltered Able Tasman for Fiordland was equally challenging and we waited 4 weeks for PredictWind to give us the green light. We will never forget sailing in gentle winds past the southern alps and entering Milford sound with the sun out and the waterfalls emptying into the fiord.
We spent over a month in Fiordland before finding a passage window from Chalky Sound to Stewart island. Again thanks to PredictWind we nailed it and woke up in Foveaux channel with gentle winds and calm seas, not far from the world highest recorded wave! We enjoyed another month in Stewart heading south to Pegasus harbour the most extreme southern part of NZ. A place with few tress but amazing scenery. As PredictWind said a brilliant week of sunshine and little or no wind.
In summary our journey round NZ was remarkable in that we never struck any bad weather and we only had a couple of disturbed nights asleep at anchor. PredictWind and modern forecasting methods made this possible. I can confidently say that it is very unlikely to get caught out in bad weather these days, especially if you are patient and prepared to wait for the right forecast.
It’s a few years on now and we have visited Tonga, Samoa, Wallis, Fiji, New Caledonia, Australia and now we are enjoying Vanuatu. Over 12,000 miles of sailing! Thanks for your support Jon and all the staff at PredictWind for helping to make it all such a great experience.
Review by Hamish Willcox – Olympics Coach & Cruiser