What is weather for you? In our every day life, weather just tells us how to dress, if we should get the umbrella out of the closet, and if the barbecue party will be spoiled.
As kayakers, the weather will tell us a lot more things. Of course we will be interested in temperatures, sun or rain, as well as winds, wind speed, wind direction, if the wind is building up or decreasing in strength.
When we are paddling, wind is our biggest concern because 90% of our boat and our self are on the surface of the water, so paddling against the wind can be a limitation. Wind also influences the sea state, creating waves, choppy seas or ripples. If you exclude Tsunami waves, all waves you’ll see on the ocean are results of wind. That could be the wind blowing in your backyard or thousands of kilometers away on the open water.
Will influence the way we dress and the time it will take us to dry if we happen to take a dip. Adapt your outfit depending on temperature and on how much you are planning on challenging yourself that day (I dress for water temperature when I go training).
SUN AND RAIN
Well, rain will call for warm clothes (windshield factor + wet clothing will cool you down pretty fast), waterproof top and hat, warm drinks and beautiful paddling!!!
Sun…. sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, light outfit and lots of water to drink.
It will affect how far you can go, in which direction, how cold you might get, and finally just if you’ll go or not! Strong winds just mean you might want to go paddle on the other side of an island, or practice in the marina for that day.
So what are strong winds? I’ll give you the Canadian Wind Speed Scale used by the Marine Forecast.
Canadian Wind Speed Scale
- LIGHT WINDS: 0-11 KNOTS
- MODERATE WINDS: 12-19 KNOTS
- STRONG WINDS: 20-30 KNOTS
- GALE FORCE WINDS: 34-47 KNOTS
- STORM FORCE WINDS: 48-63 KNOTS
- HURRICANE FORCE WINDS: 64 KNOTS AND MORE.
- SMALL CRAFT: 20-33 KNOTS
- GALE WARNING: 34-47 KNOTS
- STORM WARNING: 48-63 KNOTS
- HURRICANE FORCE WIND WARNING: JUST DON’T GO!!!
So what are strong winds for us? As kayakers, it really depends on our skill level, but paddling into a 20 knots wind will be tiring and slow moving!
For the purpose of the course, we will say that 10 to 15 knots is a good point of reference. When the wind reaches that speed, you will see White Caps appear on the water. They are good references because they’re really easy to spot.
And usually they come on the top of little waves, which means we just left the flat water part of kayaking, and your comfort zone is probably behind you by now.
Don’t worry; this will change with a bit of practice and some experience. Let’s see for now why 15 knots starts being challenging.
When you’ll start practicing strokes and giving different directions to your kayak, you’ll basically be taking control of your boat. In flat water, it is just between you and your boat, and you’ll soon be the boss. But when wind and moving water get involved, you’ll be taking control of a boat that has ideas of its own, as the wind and waves will give it directions as well.
So you have to master your skills on flat water before you can go fight with the elements for the control of your boat.
Anyhow, if you feel comfortable, you could always go with a paddling buddy and follow a shore line to be within reach of land but still experience the “little push” of Mother Nature.
We will talk at length about all that during the course and everybody will find his/her own comfort-zone after some paddling.
Ok, so we have an understanding of what weather means to us, and we know what information we are looking for. Now where do we get our weather forecast?
WEST COAST MARINE WEATHER SERVICES
Environment Canada offers boaters the Marine Weather Forecast.
You can access it by phone, through internet and with your VHF radio (you can find the website address in the Resources section).
A few facts and some vocabulary:
The marine forecast is issued 4 times daily (0400, 1030, 1600, and 2130). It is divided in 6 sections and gives you predictions as well as real observations at different times and locations.
Here is how the marine forecast is presented:
- Notices and warnings: the forecast starts with any warning for extreme weather or hazard on the water (from Small Craft Warning to Hurricane)
- Synopsis: it gives you the “big picture”, describing weather systems all over the coast of B.C., their directions and intensity.
- Area forecast: it is the prediction of weather for the area mentioned during the forecast. They are pretty accurate, but the timing and intensity can be a little off. Area Forecasts cover wide areas, and you might need to make your own interpretations concerning the little area you will be paddling in. Local knowledge and experience will help with that
- Light house reports, – Automated reports, – Ocean buoy reports: Reports are real observations made at a time and location that you will need to record (for example: at Race Rock, at 0830, NW wind of 15 knots, Humidity, atmospheric pressure 1013 and rising, noprecipitation).
During the course we will cover those 6 sections in more detail, but we can imagine already that there will be much information to be recorded and quite a bit of work to make sense of it.
The biggest challenge comes from learning the locations that are referred to during the forecast, and how they will affect us at our paddling destination.
For example, there is no special mention made about Cowichan Bay and so it is left to us to record and analyze the forecast, and deduce what weather to expect in this little bay.
GOOD TO KNOW when we hear, North West wind of 15 knots, it means a wind coming from the North West at 15 knots.
On the West Coast Marine Weather map, the names in RED represents the AREA FORECAST, and the names written in lower case are Report Stations (light houses, automated reports, ocean buoys).
The forecast will start on one side of the island and follow along the coast, so once you are familiar with the locations you will know when you are getting to information relevant to your area of interest.
Understanding the weather and how it affects our paddling experiences allows us to keep away from conditions we are not skilled enough to deal with. Weather is the ultimate factor when the time comes to make decisions to ensure an enjoyable trip.