Behind the Scenes: The Clipper Race Weather Guru
13 December 2017
Mother Nature doesn’t make any concessions out at sea which means the Clipper Race Skippers and teams need to have the most up to date information possible. And when it comes to information about the weather, the only person they turn to is Clipper Race Meteorologist Simon Rowell.
IMAGE: Simon and Jersey racing towards Japan in the Clipper 2002-03 Race.
Every day, Simon begins his morning by supplying weather information to the fleet, wherever it may be in the world.
He says: “Every morning I update the six hour scheds (reports from the Skippers) into my navigation software, download the latest computer model output, look at satellite images and atmospheric observation charts, and, most importantly, I compare the actual observations that the skippers send me with the computer output. This is especially crucial in the more remote parts of the world as what is actually going on is not necessarily what the models say.”
IMAGE: Simon in his Clipper Race Skipper days.
It was the Clipper Race that helped fuelled Simon’s love of all things weather. After serving as both a Clipper Race Skipper and Deputy Race Director, Simon decided to take his love of all things weather up a notch.
“As a professional skipper I got really into weather, it's a fundamental part of sailing. Once I moved off the water into more shore-based roles, I got the bug to find out more, so went back to university and did a Masters in Science in Applied Meteorology at the University of Reading.
“With that in depth training, and my own experience of being rained on a lot, I became a Maritime Meteorologist. The Clipper Race started using me in 2011 - I guess as a former race skipper, Deputy Race Director, and Committee Member I had a good knowledge of the event.”
IMAGE: Simon's boat Jersey during the Clipper 2005-06 Race.
As Simon knows from his own time as a Clipper Race Skipper, weather information could prove the difference between an all-important podium and last place, explaining: “Weather information is absolutely crucial for a race like the Clipper Race.
“In a one design race there are not many things that can be done differently. How the crew sails the boat and where you sail the boat are two of these, and where you sail the boat depends on how you understand and apply the weather.
“Each Skipper has their own way of doing using the information I send across, but they use this to help make decisions on a short term and then a long-term time frame for the race.”
Simon believes the last 200 nautical miles of the current race to Sydney will be some of the trickiest conditions that fleet will face in the entire 40,000 nautical mile journey. He explains: “For much of Race 4, the weather's been good - strong reaching conditions that lasted until the teams were past Tasmania.
“The last bit up the east coast will be a lot trickier though, as it'll be varied with some potential for wind holes. Real head out of the boat weather.”
Wind holes have already caused plenty of heartbreak in the Clipper 2017-18 Race. Sanya Serenity Coast was forced to watch as its 200+ nautical mile lead disappeared whilst stuck in a wind hole in Race 3 across the Southern Ocean, something Simon says that is ‘always painful, but not as painful as being in it.’
Looking ahead, Simon thinks Race 7 will test both him and the fleet, explaining: “The race into Sanya will have more variety and more potential for large gains and losses. Whenever you go through the tropics on either side of the Equator life gets very complicated.”