Meteo France

I have just have the most amazing day at Meteo France headquarters in Toulouse. My head is buzzing and I have a massive list of things I need to practice and research and yet again I am thinking about what a fantastically strategic, sport offshore / ocean racing is; and how much more that applies in the mini, where the luxury of computer and routing aids is strictly not allowed.

As part of the CEM package, we have our own meteorologist, Silvan xxxxxxxxxx who is one of the two meteorological sailing experts who work within Meteo France.

Earlier in the week Silvan came to La Grande Motte to give us an afternoon lecture on the basic principles of weather systems. Though interesting this was mostly revision for me as before my OSTAR I spent some time with Chris Tibbs, hammering home the basic principles and I think they are fairly well stuck in my brain now.

Today we made a school trip with Classe mini, to Toulouse and Silvan gave us a briefing on the weather we can expect for the Transat itself.

We split the course into three stages, The first was the exit from the Bay of Biscay, and how to get past Finisterre with the mast still up and pointing in the right direction; second was the passage through or past the Canaries and the Cape Verdes, then the progression to the Doldrums, and finally the approach along the Brazilian coast to Salvador de Bahia.

We covered many different scenarios, looked at the problems and lived the course so vividly that I could practically taste the coxhi (a ball of potato with fish or meat inside – one of my favourite Brazilian street foods) and Caparhnia by the time we had glided into the finish.

Though Silvan is not good enough to tell us exactly what will happen during our race (do I need to point out that no one is!) it has thrown up some very interesting points re upwind and downwind sail choice, which I shall write about at a later date.

Our next topic was how and where we will receive forecasts and weather information, how to record and interpret them.

This will mostly be in the form of bulletins on the SSB radio and our own weather observations. We all need to practice listening to forecasts and drawing what we see, then trying to predict what will happen in the future…………. And only six months to perfect it.

The end of the day was a trip to the hub of Meteo France, we looked down from a gallery into the room where all the forecasts are prepared; a small room with six desks, all surrounded by a multitude of computer screens.

One desk for maritime, one for aviation, I can’t remember what the others were as I was distracted by one of the forecasters very bright and stripey jumper; I would have know him for a meteorologist or maybe an archaeologist anywhere! (No offence to any of you I am in awe of you really!)

We then descended to the bottom of the building to where the super computer is based; a massive room full of cabinets with flashing lights and important looking people. It is an awesomely powerful computer, capable of performing a huge amount of calculations simultaneously – this quality I have learned is measured in Gigaflops!

Class mini got in their cars and returned to La Grande Motte, but it is my birthday this weekend so I am off home.

Silvan gave me a lift to the airport and I had a chance to ask him about his work and the organisation at Meteo France.

There are two forecasters at this government run organisation whose job it is to work with the major races and record attempts that leave from France.

Silvan has worked with the Vendee, the Jules Verne and on the Figaro circuit.

During the Vendee globe both he and his colleague worked full time for the race, one making bulletins and charts which were sent to all the competitors by the race organisers, and the other dealing with the media.

His colleague is now doing the routing for Sobedo as Thomas Colville attempts to break the single handed non-stop round the world record. This man will spend around 50 days on his own, working day and night on this routing, making his own tour of the world, without recognition but also without getting wet.

Again I was struck by the value the French place on this sport, the fact that these two specialists exist within a governmental organisation seems quite amazing to me.

It has been yet another inspirational day and general feeling is that I have a huge amount to learn, better get reading!

Mistral conditions

The mistral features a lot in our lives down here in the Med so I thought I would take a little time to explain what drives it and why it has such an influence on our sailing.

Essentially it is simply a massively strong northerly wind that can reach up to 60 knots offshore.

The mistral is created (as with all wind) by a difference in pressure, typically when there is high pressure over the north of France and the UK then an area of relative low pressure forms close to Sardinia in the Med and a Northerly flow is established between these to areas.

This wind is then funnelled through the mountain ranges in France and Spain, which accelerates it and as it drops down to the Mediterranean coast, the result is a mountain chilled super charged wind, with crystal clear skies and bright sunshine.

In La Grande Motte we tend to be right on the edge of one of the areas of strong Mistral, hiding just under the lee of a mountain way off to the north. We can experience winds of 40 knots , with flat calm waters in shore but a lumpy tell tale horizon letting us know it’s a whole different ball game further out.

These flat conditions but windy conditions have to now been a great benefit to me as they have allowed me to go out and push the boats limits, in a flat but windy environment. I have learned how tough my little boat is and how much of my foolishness it will put up with.

However now, I am eagerly watching the Mistral for a different reason. Soon I shall make my 1000 mile qualifying solo passage for the transat and as the course will take me well offshore this is not a wind I want to meet.

mistral wind map

surface analysis for mistral conditions

Le mistral est arrivée

No sailing today.

Overnight the skies cleared, the temperature dropped and the wind started to blow down from the mountains.

A clear and crisp beautiful day unfolded with 30 knot winds from the North and the full power of the mistral arriving by lunch time; A dry and freezing mountain wind, howling down though the valleys and accelerating towards La grand motte to keep sailors in the harbour.

No great drama for me as my keel repair is not quite finished. I am suffering from the cold temperatures and my final coat of hi-build primer, to fill in the small cracks and holes and ready the bulb for antifouling, is struggling to dry in the low temperature.

The rest of the sailors also found plenty to do an enforced day off the water is never a wasted one, as most of us have a massive drive to sail ALL the time, yet boats need love and time spent repairing, preparing, optimising and just as valuable as training on the water.

I saw our team chiropractor last night and was signed off from any heavy exercise for a little while as my neck is still very sore from a bicycle accident I in the new year. I am now only allowed to run, but I cannot complain about this. My route is up a completely empty, endless sandy beach, watching either sunrise or sunset and normally sharing my space with no one.

Below are a few snapshots of the days activities – what sailors do when they cannot sail.