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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Weatherwise, BVS!


Weather is serious stuff. If there is one thing outside of the boat that could make or break this voyage, it is the weather. You need to read it, interpret it, predict it and play it. One wrong decision could end up with you losing your mast or sanity.

One of the followers of the voyage asked about weather and weather prediction. I have been using BVS (Bon Voyage) for the last three years and I am more than impressed by their weather prediction abilities. They are so accurate in short term that I can set my watch to their predictions.

I asked Jerry Hale to tell my readers more about their software and weather prediction systems. He quickly sent a write up that has made even me sit up and take notice of how they go about their business of weather predicting. Read on!! (for the impatient, there is a video that should explain everything)

AWT appreciates the opportunity to provide some information to those following Abhilash Tomy on this circumnavigation of the world.

AWT is the leading provider of award-winning weather routing products and services. These include: BVS, the industry’s leading onboard voyage management software; GlobalView™ and Fleet Decision Support System, graphical, information rich shore-based fleet management service; as well as a variety of shore-based routing services.

AWT’s BonVoyage System (BVS) is an icon-driven graphical marine voyage optimization system that provides on-board and around-the-clock weather routing information. It has a sophisticated yet user-friendly interface, and is both comprehensive and cost-effective, making it an indispensable tool. Because of BVS’s ease of use, captains are more likely to take advantage of its capabilities. To view a video interview of captains about BVS, click here.

To minimize communication costs, BVS provides the vessel with the most current data by email in a highly-compressed format. BVS generates color-enhanced maps and graphics that allow the captain to easily view and interpret this data.

BVS has state-of-the-art features that place it far above other products. First, AWT enhances weather model wind, current, and weather data to provide highly accurate forecasts. With this data, BVS creates detailed forecasts that enable both tactical and strategic voyage planning. In addition, BVS provides an interactive tool that enables captains to avoid dangerous conditions and determine the best course of action to keep vessels safe. Through its advanced technology, BVS can also optimize voyage routes for time or fuel savings.

Effective weather routing depends on the quality of the data used to determine and predict weather conditions. Weather model data provided by government sources such as NCEP provide a good basis, but it falls short in terms of accuracy of results for tropical storms and the limitation of three-day forecasts.

To address these shortcomings, AWT transforms data with sophisticated, state-of-the-art wave modeling that produces more accurate results and 16-day weather forecasts that show storm trends and weather patterns. AWT modifies the raw model pressure and wind output in a number of locations to achieve the best results. For example, around tropical cyclones we make edits to the isobars around a tropical cyclone to better represent the actual wind speed. This wind data is used to initialize the wave model giving our clients the best possible data around these dangerous systems.

Above, the image on the left shows a raw data model depicting winds of only 50 knots and waves of 4 – 5 meters for a typhoon that in fact had winds of 125 knots. After AWT’s enhancement (on the right), the wind field is more accurately depicted with maximum winds of 125 knots and waves up to 14 meters.

Viewing High-Resolution Data

Not only is AWT data better, but it is also easy to visualize. With BVS, the captain can see high-resolution data in order to get a more accurate view of weather conditions in areas that are most critical to the voyage. When captains request weather data for a geographical area, they can specify regions within that area where they want to see detailed, high-resolution data. With high-resolution data, captains can better see weather and current conditions in the selected regions and take precise tactical action.

The example above shows standard wind data on the right region of the display and high-resolution data on the left.

The example above shows standard current data on the right region of the display and high-resolution data in the left.

Using high-resolution current data, captains can take advantage of positive currents and avoid adverse currents during a voyage. Even small course alterations can save substantial time and fuel.

Another area where AWT modifies the raw model data, to ensure the most accurate information, is around India. The southwest and northeast monsoon conditions are certainly the principle weather events that impact that region. In short, the monsoons are driven by air temperatures over Asia in relation to the sea temperatures. During the summer the air over east/central Asia is hot, the rising air creates surface low pressure drawing in moist air from the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The flow in July and August can frequently bring the southwest winds up to Beaufort Force 8-10 across the western Arabian Sea.

The above image is taken from BVS showing an area of enhanced gale force monsoon conditions from 25 July 2012. As you can see in this image the core of the heaviest winds were over the far western Arabian Sea. The long fetch and duration of these conditions however allow significant waves of 4-5 meters to extend all the way to the coast of Pakistan and India.


On the other hand, in winter, when temperatures are cold over east/central Asia the air tends to sink creating surface high pressure. This prevailing area of high pressure results in a dry northeast wind across the waters surrounding India. Generally speaking the northeast monsoon does not generate the same wind strength as the southwest monsoon.

The periods of time between the southwest and northeast monsoon (April, May and June then September, October and November) are marked by light and variable conditions as the gradual transition from one primary wind flow to the other takes place.

While monsoon winds are clearly the primary influence on weather in the waters surrounding India, the impact of tropical cyclones can’t be over looked. Tropical cyclone activity is of concern mainly May through September through the Arabian Sea and Bay of Bengal. In the Arabian Sea the concentration is highest in May/June then again in September. The intensity of the southwest monsoon can inhibit the development of cyclones in the Arabian Sea during the summer months. This region of the world is not the most active area for tropical cyclones but when they do form the impact can be catastrophic. Many coastal areas have extended low elevation plains extending far inland. This topography allows destructive storm surges to flood enormous areas when they come ashore.

BVS is under a continuous state of improvement to bring the latest science to our users. From India to Alaska and all across the globe we aim to provide quality information that mariners can use to make effective decisions. We are proud to support Abhilash Tomy on this circumnavigation of the world and look forward to his success.


Click here for the video

Monday, October 22, 2012

Goodbye Re, Goa!

The boat and I bid a final farewell to Goa and the River Mandovi on the 19th of October. It was a languid Arabian Sea we sailed into.

Goa had been as hectic as could be. Though contracted work finished well in time one must understand that work in the boat is mostly akin to that of a housewife- there is too much of it and it is endless. Thankfully, we have Ratnakar. Not only did he spare his men and his own time and advice, he also helped with stocking up the boat on essential spares too. He has even promised to make himself present at Mumbai a few days prior my departure to help is as many ways as he can. More than anything, he is a confidence booster.

Within days of our arrival at Goa, Cdr Donde joined us. It meant just one thing- a doubling of experience and tripling of working hands. He busied himself fault finding and chiding before getting his hand dirty with repairs. That is the kind of shore support one would need at this juncture and that is exactly what I have. Vishal Sharma, who had sailed with us to Malaysia had joined sometime in October and augmented the working hands.

It was on the 5th of the month that I had a couple of surprise visitors who had travelled all the way from Mumbai just to see the boat. Swapnali and Mugdha left a box of chocolates and a lot of wishes behind.

One of the weekends, Ratnakar and his friends threw a party to bid farewell. In the end they gifted me a tee shirt with personal messages from each and everyone present. Work carried on at hectic pace even as we did two sailings for media. There were India TV, India Vision, ToI, Nat Geo among others.


The following Sunday the boat was thrown open to visitors at the Captain of Ports Jetty. The response was nothing short of overwhelming and there was no moment when the boat was not filled to capacity. Visitors who came alone in the morning went back to get their family, friends and relatives. Children got brochures autographed and many adults got their tees signed. One of the visitors was a seven year old who left a hand made post card with directions to carry it around the world and mail it to him at the end of the voyage. No wonder, Goa is still a seafaring people at heart and I hope they remain so for ever.

On the 15th I had to travel to Delhi for a final round of briefing. It was an Air India flight which had a halt at Mumbai enroute. One of the naval commanders who was flying in the aircraft alerted the captain about my presence and he walked up to my seat to personally wish good luck for the voyage. That was followed by an announcement in the onward flight from Mumbai.

Truly, adventure is not dead in the hearts of Indians. I have not met with anyone so far from any walk of life who has been pessimistic about the voyage. If this is a sign of changing times, I am sure we will soon have a population that will play an active role in the resurgence of the country.

On the 19th we bid farewell to Goa and the River Mandovi that had been home to the boat for as long as we can remember. Weather predictions, as is the wont had changed suitably to gift me with relentless head winds. Neha and Ashima from Nat Geo and Mayank from the Sunday Indian formed part of the crew. Neha was an old hand for she has already sailed on this boat from Goa to Mumbai in 2009. As far as Ashima and Mayank are concerned, I do hope they enjoyed the company of the boat and the sailing as much as we enjoyed “Ashima’s company".

DSC_0014After testing almost every equipment on the boat in the two days she was at sea, she entered Mumbai for her final preparations. Till now we were counting days. Now we are counting hours.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Docking Report

A crucial part of any boat's preparations is the dry docking she has to undergo. She is hauled out of water and a lot off work that cannot be attended to when she is in water gets a thorough look. We had planned a 15 day docking at a naval ship lift. The work package was minor and included a check of the underwater hull, a fresh coat of bottom paint and a change of underwater valves.
She came out of water on 15 September and the first thing we checked for were tell tale signs of movement of the keel. This was something so crucial that the voyage might have been called off if there was even the smallest evidence of cracks along the join of the keel to the hull. But then she is a well built Indian  boat and despite her 60000 miles her keel is still intact and well secured.
With that concern out of our mind we proceeded with the rest of our work. Her bottom was relatively clean but the stay in harbours and infrequent sailings in the last one year had left a think film of barnacles and other marine growth. They tend to slow down the boat a bit which could convert to a delay of days and weeks in a voyage of six months. We scrubbed and jet washed the bottom clean and applied five coats of anti fouling paint.
Possibly the only thing that sea cannot corrode is the human spirit. Everything else whithers away. Three years in the harsh  marine environment was long enough to corrode valves so much so that most of them had jammed. We replaced them before they could cause any further trouble. Similarly various leaks in the engine compartment had corroded its shock and vibration mountings. That took a bit of time because engine and shaft alignment went haywire with the new mounts. It was not something that we had expected and well prepared for.
All work happened with precision and in double quick time. The naval  ship lift carried out a very precise docking and undoubtedly this has been the safest dry docking of the boat till date. Things worked out so well that we did not need to stay out of water for the duration we had anticipated. By 26 September we were already on our way to our usual mooring in the Mandovi river .
With under 30 days to go work is on in full swing. The throttle has been pushed all the way and late nights are going to be the rule. Cdr Donde has promised to join me now that things have moved into the proverbial last mile as far as preparations go. I am looking forward to his presence for no one knows the boat better than him and possibly there is no one better qualified in getting her ready for a non stop.
Check out her hull underwater..