Posted by: rosyroadsadventures | March 8, 2013

Meeting the WeatherTrack People

N 9° 36.79′   W 79° 35.09′

Isla Lintón, Panama.

We left the San Blas ten days ago, taking advantage of some lighter weather to make our way to Turtle Cay Marina, about 30 miles west of Porvenir on the north coast of Panama. Where to find quality fuel was the next consideration and after checking out the facility Bob felt comfortable filling up with diesel there.  We caught up with sailing friends Jim & Jean, had a terrific night out at the little marina restaurant (our first real restaurant meal since December), then moved eastward 20 miles to Isla Lintón to wait out a strong northerly blow.

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Approaching the anchorage at Isla Lintón. Our spot near the front of the group has provided good shelter from the wind and surge. Those farther back and more exposed to the westerly entrance have not fared as well, some rolling madly with incoming swell from the 10 to 14 foot seas outside.

We are surrounded by other cruising boats, a very tiny and poor town and some annoying, quick-moving flies.  We catch glimpses of monkeys and a camel (??) ashore and hear strange jungle noises coming from the hills.  We have also caught up with the WeatherTrack people.

We had been in the San Blas for about a month when Bob told me that we needed to be on the lookout for the WeatherTrack people. This was new information to me. Who were the WeatherTrack people? Why were we looking for them and how would we know when we found them?

I learned that Bob and Jens-Uwe and Dani had connected online through a Panbo blog post Bob wrote that mentioned how much he liked their product, WeatherTrack. Through internet forums related to boating topics and lithium battery technology research Bob has made contacts around the world in places like Europe, Australia and China. They trade ideas and support and sometimes venture into social topics but have never met in person. Probably the type of relationship that will be even more common in the future.

Germans Jens-Uwe & Dani are liveaboard cruisers and our paths were destined to cross in Panama. After trading more emails we met them and their lovely sailing vessel Arwen here at Isla Lintón. We had a delightful time getting to know each other better and the chance to get a sneak preview of some of the new features they are incorporating into their already great product.

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The Ebaughs meet the WeatherTrack folks

Traveling in places where there are not good local weather forecasting capabilities like we have in the US and where internet access is poor led us to explore different options for cruising weather planning. Initially we tried listening in to audio forecasts on the single side-band radio when we couldn’t get online.  That just didn’t work well for us, and for me, trying to interpret reports that rattle off latitudes and longitudes then a stream of numbers, often in a hard-to-hear and distorted voice was an exercise in frustration.  Not to mention the fact that I might set the alarm to get up early to catch a certain report, only to find that it is running behind schedule, the forecaster is having his own connectivity woes, or worse, that we can’t receive the signal at that moment. Ugh!!!

Bob tried some of the free iPad apps then decided it was worth spending a few bucks for better quality.  WeatherTrack is our app of choice.  One of the features we really like about WeatherTrack is the ability to view a meteogram at any specific point of our choosing. The meteogram graphs how the particular elements you want to monitor are forecast to play out over time.  The app displays data for a wide range of scientific weather models and we can choose which models we want to look at and compare the data to form our own conclusions.

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You can tap any location on the WeatherTrack map to access a meteogram with the data you want to view, a very helpful feature for passage planning where you can get detailed information for points at sea. We pulled up this wave height map to see what kind of weather Mom would be encountering on her return cruise ship voyage from the Caribbean to Baltimore. Storm system exiting the east coast of the US. Looks like a rough day at sea. Glad she is on a big ship!

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The WeatherTrack meteogram captures the forecast over time at the specific point you have selected. Wind strength and wave height are usually our top areas of focus, but we might also review the wave period, precipitation, pressure gradients and currents.

If internet access is limited to sat phone only at our particular location, Bob can send a data request and receive a grib file within minutes.  (Okay, it is not that simple for we non-techies, with 22 steps involved to hook up all the devices and execute the process. For him it is a piece of cake.)  WeatherTrack takes all the raw information and nicely converts it into the same easily viewed meteograms.  I have a hard time getting the iPad out of Bob’s grasp but we usually sit down together to look at the data when planning any major passage.  Being a visually oriented person, I find the graphs make it easy to process a large amount of information.  The result is that I am more comfortable with the decisions we make on passage timing.

Bob got to play with the newest version of WeatherTrack that Jens-Uwe and Dani are finalizing for release very soon.

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The new release will enable you to plot a route and enter your estimated speed then pull up a meteogram to show the forecast along your entire route. The RTOFS ocean current model depicted on this map shows a southerly course will result in a more favorable current.

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We plotted a course from Providencia to Honduras, one of our upcoming 3-day passages, to pull up a sample ship-specific meteogram for this route

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The meteogram shows the forecast for the weather at the matching location and time along the route including a translation of the winds to show their relative position based on vessel heading. The meteogram can be updated with the ship’s location, speed and the latest forecast as the passage progresses.

This really cool route feature will be very useful on our upcoming trek from Panama back to the US. Good work, Jens-Uwe and Dani!

Our conversations expanded far beyond WeatherTrack. Life aboard, travels, boating systems, local information . . . the usual cruisers topics. I was intrigued that Dani, a fellow seasickness sufferer, has traveled many more offshore miles than I and we shared our favorite coping strategies and remedies. She is an amazing woman, speaking 7 languages, which has been an asset to their travels and their international business. Jens-Uwe produces as wonderful results in the galley as he does with product development and programming and he treated us to a delicious pasta meal one evening.

The app we could have used for the 20-minute dinghy ride from Panamarina’s French Restaurant was not aboard when we needed it.   The allure of a third restaurant dinner in a week, plus the great company, led us to cross the large bay, zig-zag around several small reefs then duck through a mangrove channel to our culinary destination. All was well until we tried to make the return trip on a moonless, starless drizzly night. Shifting winds changed the position of a ship we had used as a landmark . . . building seas splashed over the sides of the dinghy . . . then we struck a reef.   Bob says it was just a “bump”, adding to the collection of scratches on the dink engine lower unit. Scary it was, and with rain dripping down my glasses I could see nothing but pitch blackness.  We could have used the iPad + GPS or one of the new Smart Phone navigation apps.  Or perhaps just a simple hand-held compass.

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Across the bay and through the mangroves . . . not thinking the return trip would be such a pain

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Neat restaurant, delicious meals and a fun time except for the return dinghy ride. Captain says no big deal, we found our way, but for a brief time I thought this was going to be my last cruise . . .

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