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!