Meeting the Meltemi

The greatest hazard for Olympic sailors will be the Athens winds says GBR meteorologist Fiona Campbell
Over the last four years Olympic sailors have been relentlessly training, competing in events, struggling to qualify, struggling to find money to fund their campaigns and while honing themselves and their gear (where allowed) to the utmost degree. Come start of racing at the Athens Olympics they and their race boats will be about as finely tuned as is possible, yet the one ingredient that could turn the form book on its head are the meteorological conditions to be found in the sailing area off Gylfada. "It is definitely a nightmare for the sailors," confirms Fiona Campbell, who as team GBR's meteorologist has been studying the Athens weather intensively. Athens itself lies in a valley surrounded by mountains and the Olympic sailing area is located some 25km south of the city centre off the fashionable holiday area of Gylfada. Here there are a number of large buildings along the shore and Mount Imittos due east that can affect the breeze locally. The Gylfada coast is oriented northwest-southeast with the Olympic fleets divided into four race zones as illustrated above, the Europes and Lasers on the most southerly, the Finns, Ynglings and Stars on the most northerly. The most likely breeze the sailors will experience in Athens is also the most unpredictable. By virtue of the fact that it both funnels down the valley and across the mountains before hitting the race area, the offshore Meltemi has the ability to cause chaos on the race course. "The Meltemi is offshore, very strong and occasionally very gusty," says Campbell of this north to northeasterly wind. "It’s extremes: there are huge lulls and huge gusts more often than not one directly after the other. The extremes of the day might be 8-28 knots. In other Mediterranean places you go, there’s a sea breeze where