I am a seafaring captain at heart, and I love to dance with Ma Nature on her dance floor we call the sea. There are times when she beams a calm, sunny smile and dances slow and sensually. At other times, she hurtles herself across the dance floor, full of fury and wrath.
It takes a lifetime to even begin to understand her moods, yet anyone who takes to the sea for their livelihood learns quickly.
On one of my recent day trips, the sea turned deadly in a heartbeat, and I was out there in the midst of it. I saw this change of her mood coming and got back to the safety of harbor just in time.
Let’s consider how to stay relatively safe. The forecasters had missed the call, yet again. I think they were paying way too much attention to their heavily-invested computer models, which too often disagree, leaving the forecasters in disarray.
Some serious advice: If you own a boat, or venture out on private boats (without the benefit of a licensed captain along), learn all you can about safe boating by taking a free public boating safety course from the U.S. Power Squadrons or the Coast Guard Auxiliary.
You will be glad you did, and you will certainly be a much safer boater than you were before the course.
Before I head off to sea, I spend about an hour on the computer checking weather-related resources to gain an understanding of the overall synoptic pattern, plus a feel for current trends in wind and seas.
Yes, I read the forecasts, especially the marine forecasts, yet with a skeptic eye because I know they are relying on computer models which are a work in progress.
I pay much closer attention to the observations from the NOAA buoys, such as the West Santa Barbara Channel Buoy and the East Santa Barbara Channel Buoy. I look at the trend in buoy observations over the past 24 hours.
Three of the things that worry me most are strong winds; tall, steep wind waves; and the possibility of thunderstorms. All can be deadly.
Here is something that really bugs me about the National Weather Service (NWS), and especially the marine weather part of that organization: You see, we boaters are a very visual bunch. We tend to make decisions based upon what we see when we scan the sea.
The presence or absence of whitecaps is a very influential decision factor. Many boaters will decide to stay ashore, or perhaps to head offshore in a different direction when they observe whitecaps. Yet, the term whitecaps is nearly never used by the National Weather Service.
There is something I want them to do, to help safeguard my charter passengers, as well as other boaters. I want them to use their satellites and websites to graphically display an image of our local seascape, with areas of whitecaps visible.
Then, I want that image updated hourly, because our vigorous weather changes frequently. I think this service will help keep people safe. NWS — are you up to the task?
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.