The Countdown Has Started
- Looking at the weather for a return passage to Thailand.

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(This story has also been posted in the Blog section, on March 18, 2011)

The last face of our preparations for a longer passage is looking for weather and deciding on the exact date of departure. We have been doing that for a couple of days now.

The winds in the NE Indian ocean are usually NE from December to May and SW from June to November, with variable winds in the transition months. The currents basically follow the winds.

(Click on the map for a lrager version)

An eastbound passage in March-April will very likely have both adverse winds and currents, but there may just as well be a lot of very light winds, calling for many hours of motoring.

The plan is to sail straight to Phuket, but in case of bad weather it will be possible to divert to Galle (Sri Lanka) and/or Pulau Weh (Indonesia) and/or Langkawi (Malaysia)
Distance from Male to Phuket is 1,500 nm.

The ideal time to set sail for a passage from the Maldives to Thailand would be at the beginning of the SW monsoon, which usually should take place at the end of May. This means that we, theoretically now are two months too early. This year, however, it appears that the monsoons have not been as strong as usual. At least the NE monsoon, which should have been blowing with considerable velocity and determination for the past months, has been fairly benign.

Therefore we have decided not to wait any longer; we plan to set sail on Sunday, March 20. Although the forecasts do not show any strong NE winds, which is good of course, the conditions are not favorable for smooth sailing either. Very little wind from variable directions and, on top of that, adverse currents all the way. However, there is no guarantee that there will be any better opportunities during the next two months either. Steady SW winds can not be expected until June anyway.

Our principal way of keeping an eye on the coming weather is looking at the GFS forecasting models. Presently it is easy, because we have access to the internet by mobile broadband. We are collecting the forecasts from three sources: The Indian Met Office, Passageweather.com, and particularly by getting the Grib-files using Sailmail. Once we are under way, and have no internet, we will rely solely on Sailmail, but by then we can only retrieve the forecasts using a slow connection on the HF-radio. All these services provide forecast charts for up to 168 hours (7 days) ahead.

Both weather charts above show forecasts for March 22nd. The one on the left (issued on March 18) is from a grib-file received with Airmail software using Sailmail-connections and the one on the right is a forecast (dated March 17) downloaded from the web site of the Indian Met office. On the left chart I have indicated Male, Galle, Pulau Weh, Phuket and Langkawi. As you can clearly see, there is no sign of steady NE winds that should be typical this time of the year. (Click on charts for larger versions).

And how did it go? Read about what happened when we set sail for Phuket ...

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