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Raymarine's Round the Island Weather briefing

Details of where to get information as Libby Greenhalgh and Richard Puddifoot share their tips

Wednesday June 15th 2011, Author: Georgie Collett, Location: United Kingdom

It looks like a return to traditional weather for the 80th anniversary of the Round the Island Race, as the long term forecasts are already being analysed by Raymarine’s Round the Island Race Weather Briefing meteorologists, Libby Greenhalgh and Richard Puddifoot.

According to Greenhalgh and Puddifoot, the weather for the UK and Northern Europe in recent months has been governed by high pressure conditions, but it’s looking likely that the country will be experiencing a change in conditions between now and the first start of the 2011 J.P. Morgan Asset Management Round the Island Race, at 0600 on 25 June. While it can take some time for a new trend to establish, the long range probabilistic weather model data so far suggests that we may well see a return to southwesterly winds and less settled weather as we move closer to race day.

Southwesterly winds are perhaps the most traditional of Round the Island Race weather conditions. This means we can expect a quick beat in favorable tide off the start line, down towards The Needles, followed by a lot of spinnaker work round the south side of the island, hugging the coast to avoid the foul tide. The final leg up the eastern Solent is traditionally a long beat along the Ryde Sands.

From 22 June, Raymarine will be hosting daily video updates on their website here. These will bring users daily analysis of the weather patterns as they build, set against tidal predictions which can be used to start to build strategy ahead of the game.

It is also possible to sign up to receive forecasts via email and SMS here.

To produce these forecasts, Libby and Richard will be monitoring the European Center Medium Range Weather Forecasting (ECMWF) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) long term synoptic forecasts to get a feel for the stability of the weather patterns.

For competitors, visualising each leg of the race with the forecasts in mind will help to plan the correct strategy and sail plan for each leg. Even though things are bound to change during the race having this information beforehand will help provide an edge. In any case, 80 years of racing around the island tells us that, whatever the weather, success in the race is nearly always a trade off between tidal gain features and wind features. Knowing when either one is likely to be the determining influence is key. If the wind is below 10 knots for the majority of boats, the tide will tend to be the dominant factor and the race will be decided by certain tidal gates. When boats manage to get around The Needles and St Catherine’s point will have a huge bearing on their overall position.

The first leg of the race down towards Hurst incorporates one of the best opportunities to make use of a tidal advantage. The tidal stream running out of the Medina continues as a narrow river down the Western Solent nearly all the way to Hurst. Getting into the extra flow that this creates can provide a significant advantage. From the start head for East Lepe buoy and then Sconce buoy; and then over to the Hurst side of the Channel and down the edge of the Shingles Bank. This should keep boats in the maximum ebb flow.

On the other hand, hunting for clean wind off the start line is really important, especially with 1800 other boats around! The smaller your boat, the more important this becomes. It’s a relatively short beat to The Needles, but looking for clean wind can help a crew pick its way through the fleet, particularly as the fleet converges at The Needles.

Strategy from The Needles onwards will depend on the time a boat reaches there. Regardless of this though, the tide will undoubtedly become the dominant factor at this stage of the course, so crews need to be aware of how it will change as they round the point and emerge on the back side of the island. Chances are the wind will increase as you approach the Needlestoo. Have a plan in mind based on these likelihoods, but be ready to alter it if the conditions require; being able to change gear slickly will pay dividends.

If the southwesterly winds prevail, sailing too far inshore can leave crews sat in a calm patch, as the breeze will lift over the high cliffs backing Scratchells Bay. Rounding St Catherine’s Point, the tide once again becomes a the governing factor; staying inshore here will help crews stay out of the adverse tide as well avoiding as the steep waves that will result from wind over the tidal overfalls off the point.

Rounding Bembridge and turning back into the Solent, it is usually best to stay as close as possible to Ryde Sands to avoid foul tide, while being be aware of the exclusion zone that is in place once again this year, marked by a series of inflatable marks extending from the north end of Seagrove Bay.

Passing Ryde Sands, the wind often decreases; if it’s southwesterly and blowing offshore it will be gusty and could become anyone’s game. Keep your nerve as you approach the finish, where the wind and waves can change out of rhythm very quickly.

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