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Old 11-30-2006, 02:35 AM   #1
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Default El Nino........?

Whilst building my boat I used to post on this forum as PaulJ. The boat is now finished and we are now enjoying the cruising life so I have re-registered under the boat's name......

We crossed from the UK via the Canaries to the Caribbean last winter and are currently cruising the Island Chain with the intention of heading west towards the Panama Canal in the New Year. The plan is to transit in March and then do the "Coconut Milk Run" via the Galapagos, Marquesas etc.......

I have been Googling for info about El Nino/La Nina and there seems little doubt that 2006 is a weak to moderate El Nino and is expected to continue into early 2007. A subsequent La Nina is not expected.

Ok that seems fairly clear but what I cannot find is any mention of what that means in PRACTICAL terms to someone hoping to sail across the Pacific next year.......

Is there anyone on the forum with enough knowlege about these things to offer an opinion as to what effect this year's El Nino is likely to have on the Pacific winds and weather next year.....?

Fair winds,

Damarri.
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Old 11-30-2006, 03:48 AM   #2
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Paul, congrats on making your cruising dreams happen. Hope you're enjoying the Caribbean.

What you actually might want to read up on is the ENSO cycle, which incorporates two related phenomena. An excellent summary of ENSO, which does include a description of the climatic conditions, can be found as the introductory 'Article 1' in the SoPac pilot charts. You'll find it at:

http://www.nga.mil/MSISiteContent/StaticFi...07/107artcl.pdf

BTW downloading the SoPac pilot charts might be a good idea for you when you have convenient/inexpensive bandwidth. You will have them aboard whenever you need them.

Keep in mind that ENSO predictions have never been known as highly reliable. In the end, you will have the weather you have, no matter what the seasonal f'cast might be. Good luck to you.

Jack
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Old 11-30-2006, 06:56 AM   #3
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An easily read discussion of El Nino can be found in Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Ni%C3%B1o

There are lots of discussions of El Nino, most of which I found way over my head, but none of them seem to do much for telling people how

1991-1992, 1993, and 1994 were all El Nino years - unusual. We were in the S. Pacific from 1992 through 1995, crossing from Ecuador to Australia in 1992 - 1993. In 1994/1995 we sailed up to Papua New Guinea, east to the Solomons, and then E to Vanuatu and Fiji before turning around and sailing back to Oz in November 1995 (clearly, no gentlemen are we!). With a few exceptions, we did not experience weather as unpleasant in the S. Pacific as what we experienced in the Caribbean.**

We did not suffer from the Queen's Birthday Storm (1994, a horror of a storm that you can read about in "Rescue in the Pacific" by Tony Farrington) - that affected boats leaving New Zealand and sailing up to Tonga or Fiji. Was that part of El Nino? I would say that such a storm is just a freak, as was the "Perfect Storm" in the Atlantic, or the Fastnet disaster in 1976 (?).

The Earth's climate is so complex that it seems meteorologists are hard-pressed to make anything other than very general predictions. However, freaky weather is not constant, and when the weather turns unpleasant, sometimes the prudent choice is to turn back and seek shelter. Our worst trips were when we weren't wise enough to do this - one of our worst crossings was from Western Samoa back to Pago Pago, American Samoa in 1993. Awful, and we were too stubborn to turn around and go back - we're just fortunate that discomfort was all that we suffered.

A friend almost lost his life in a horrible storm on his sail from New Zealand to Australia back in the 80s. It was not an El Nino year.

Storms or less than perfect weather occurs in El Nino years. Storms and less than perfect weather also occur in non El Nino years.

The Pacific is a huge ocean, with long passages, which makes it a bit scary. For many cruisers the passage to the Marquesas is their first long passage (more than two or three days), which I think is amazing. I would suggest that you be prepared for bad weather - practice in shorter hops in all kinds of weather provides a great deal of experience that can't be replaced with weather charts and lots more words on paper. If you have a well-found boat and are confident in your abilities, mentally as well as physically, the bad weather you encounter will most likely be an annoyance, not a survival experience. Then the perfect sails will amaze and delight you.

**We once sailed into Fort-de-France, Martinique and as we passed one of the boats anchored in the harbor, a fellow came into the cockpit and yelled over to us, "where did you come from?" We replied "St. Martin". He then asked how rough a passage had we had, to which we replied, "not at all, it was beautiful!" We had to shrug our shoulders at him when he told us that they had been stuck in port for more than a week because they were told the weather was very bad out there. Well, there was a lot of wind, but not a WHOLE lot of wind compared to what regularly blew in the Caribbean. With a few exceptions, mostly when we were outside the tropics, we found the Pacific winds to be generally less than what we regularly encountered in the Caribbean. So go to the Caribbean and sail. a lot. You'll be prepared for almost anything then.
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Old 12-02-2006, 11:18 PM   #4
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Thank you both for your replies. It has been and still is our intention to cross the Pacific next year. Of course you can never be sure what you will encounter on such a voyage. We as confident as we can be about the boat's abilities..... we have already crossed the Atlantic and so far we have been very pleased with her.

There was much sucking of teeth about El Nino when we mentioned our plans to one apparently "wise old seaman" recently so I wanted to be sure that we were not about to do something stupid. You get what weather you get and you do your best to cope with it. However no prudent sailor would set off KNOWING that he would be sailing into dangerous conditions and that is why I asked the question......

Thanks again for taking the trouble to reply.

Paul.
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Old 12-07-2006, 04:38 PM   #5
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So far as Australia goes El Nino years seem to affect a years climate - wetter or less rain, it doesn't seem to cause localised storms but we do get them in 'the season' and the odd one out of sequense. I would think that on an ocean passage in the Pacific the weather you encounter will be what you get and be it El Nino or not won't make much difference.

Hope you have a rewarding and safe passage in the Pacific.

Regards

Peter
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Old 12-07-2006, 10:28 PM   #6
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Link to S. Pacific Pilot charts: http://www.nga.mil/portal/site/maritime/index.jsp

go to bottom and choose publication for download.
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