Please visit our home site at

Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Friday, May 17, 2019

The 'Wiz': I Can't Come Back, I Don't Know How It Works!

The Humbug spreads his wings

You call this the future?? HA!! Where are the rocket packs? Where are the disintegration rays? Where are the floating cities? I mean LOOK at this! We still have WEATHER?! Give me a break!!

-- From Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson

The 'Wiz': I Can't Come Back, I Don't Know How It Works!

SCENE: The Great and Powerful Wizard of Oz drifts heavenward in his hot air balloon, prematurely released by his assistants. Dorothy, arriving late for her ride home, implores him to come back!

“I can’t come back,” he replies, “I don’t know how it works!”

Sailing engine free is kinda like that. 

In our case, we have a fair handle on how our vessel / balloon works. Its operation and more importantly its limitations. Yet we set forth into the unknown, with never more than our best guess at time spent underway to our destination.

We don’t understand Weather. And among ‘we’ I include the Great and Powerful Wizards.

One year, we sailed a whole September to go a measly hunnit and fiddy miles. That’s two long but easy days' sailing with a decent, fair wind.

Every day of that month, the weather reports were virtually perfect in their mirror image error. Predicted blow low; it would blow high, and the reverse. Fair winds promised, head winds delivered, or none. Rain; shine. Clear; fog. You name it. If they’d predicted ‘no Oobleck today’, we’d have been up to our Cubbins in it! [Dr. Seuss -- Bartholemew and the Oobleck]

The next summer, we met one of NOAA’s house wizards (NOAA attempts to predict weather in our parts). Trying to be sympathetic, Anke allowed as how ‘it must be hard to predict weather in Southeast (Alaska).

His reply? “No. Why? We’ve got models!”

In a day when satellites view weather systems from on high… when super computers crunch data in their super conductive teeth… when fluid dynamics enable undreamt of flights of fact vs. fancy… it’s still hard to beat a handful of weather wisdom sayings and a look to wind’ard.

This is not to disparage the wizards. Hubris is (when present) their humbuggery… certainty in their predictions and models not unhumbled by the surprise of rain in their face.

Weather is chaotic, a science and awareness born in meteorology. That famous butterfly, fluttering its wings in Beijing can indeed cause a whoofin’ headwind on our nose.

Chaos is only ever partially tamed by rules-of-thumb. And then, be sure of surprises.

Meanwhile, vast forces push and pull at one another. They fractalize into turbulent sworls along their intersections. Wind, water, land and cloud, tango in passionate beauty. Trading partners and cutting in. Sometimes fierce and violent. Sometimes soft as a Lover’s caress.

We look up in awe, sail on as best we can, and reef sooner than later.

PS. As I write, we hang in a lee that turns out not to be, in winds that are blowing opposite the forecast with triple the speed (about eight times the force). Nothing serious (yet), but it sets ya thinkin’.


  1. I totally agree, even on the East Coast weather models seem to be correct less than half the time. And we've had plenty of days where weather is the exact opposite of predicted. The best example that comes to my mind is last June we were anchored in Delaware Bay waiting for a clear window to sail North. The morning we hauled anchor, all models agreed that weather would be sunny with 10-15kts out of the South. Instead, we got 0-5kts out of the North and heavy fog for the next 24 hours. It's seems like models are only very good at predicting major weather pattern shifts. So we read them with a grain of salt, use our eyeballs and always plan for the worst. Most importantly for coast-wise sailing, I think, is to always have one or several back-up anchorages for taking shelter if weather is not as expected.

    Fair winds! - Mark

    1. Hi Mark,

      Yes, those back-ups - one or more for every eventuality - are great insurance. Pre-evaluated and visualized before crunch time.

      We've been practicing lee anchoring techniques, and are starting to feel relatively cocky. Lots of little outcroppings along our waterways.

      We look for a smoothish beach (although it may be composed of small boulders) thrown up by big weather. Most often, there seems to be a 5 to 10 fathom shelf below it of sand or mud, even when it quickly falls off to unanchorable depths. Run down, duck behind the outcropping, check for decent depth and good holding... if yes, drop, if no, run to the next one. Shoreline if it seems necessary. Enter findings in log and chart.

      Sure helps the ol' confidence to have a string of possibilities!

      Dave Z