What would you do with a storm ahead, confused swell and no safe anchorage?

We planned our long-term route along Sumatra’s coast months before our departure, but what about the daily hops? When learning to sail we’re taught to passage plan as far in advance with as much information as possible, so how do you cope with the unpredictable? Squalls, lightning and that big south-westerly swell?

Long-term route planning often involves taking the prevailing winds into consideration. We chose our route along Sumatra in the transitional period in order to avoid strong headwinds. We know of boats who left two months after us on the same journey that got battered by strong south westerlies. So, despite the motoring, we planned it well for a comfortable journey.

But sometimes you just don’t know what’s around the corner.

Lots of you want to know about how we passage plan for longer voyages. Kia Gardner on Patreon and Hope Rules on our YouTube community tab had questions about the bigger picture. It’s a large subject that Liz has covered off here. If you missed it, take a look at how she has planned the eastbound voyage from Thailand to Canada.

But what about daily planning? On Patreon, Danny Basso wants to know how reliable the weather forecasts are.

When we’re offline we use an Iridium Go, a great tool when tied in with Predict Wind’s weather forecasting. From our experience the four models Predict Wind offers pretty much get the broad picture right. It has a whole host of other features like passage planning around weather forecasts (we’ll talk about those in more detail another time) but it was a real boon when planning to work out when to leave one island to do a 200 mile hop to another.

Of course no weather forecasts will tell you when there’s an approaching squall. These build fast, sometimes in a matter of hours, and can be upon you quickly, hitting 30+kts. When we’re online we use the Rain Viewer app, which draws real-time pictures from weather radars around the world. When we don’t have internet connection we’re on our own. And that’s when you must watch the clouds, use your eyes and all your senses to see what’s going on.

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Brian Johnson on Patreon and J Mo on YouTube community tab want to know what we do in the event of possible lightning strikes. Danny Basso asked if we start the engine, which we do. If you get struck it’s likely it’ll take out your starter motor and you won’t be able to start the engine.

There isn’t much else you can do in the event of a lightning strike except the old Faraday cage trick of putting electronic items in the oven.

Brian also asked if we’d abort the trip if we got struck by lightning. That depends where you are. If you get a full strike the chances are every item will be taken out and you’d need to haul and drop the masts for full repairs. Since there’s nowhere to do this in Sumatra you have no option but to run a dead ship. On this passage we’d have been tempted to turn the boat around and take the very long journey back to Phuket.

Kia Gardner and Danny on Patreon asked about contingency plans. Under normal circumstances we have contingencies covering the entire journey but this isn’t always possible. Once we’d committed to the east coast (a per the video) that was it. Normally we’d scope out every possible safe anchorage along the next passage.

We also make sure we have the relevant satellite data to cover us for an entire journey.  Nige Fox over on our YouTtube community tab asked about supplementing the chart plotter with offline maps and satellite data to plan for anchorages. In Sumatra the Navionics charts are sometimes out by up to 500m or more, so satellite images are a real boon when navigating tight passages and reefs.

Chelly Richards on YouTube asked how often we gather info from other sailors. All the time! Sometimes it’s our primary source of info.

Astrid Pallme on Patreon says, ‘Do you find sometimes that the devil you know is preferable over an unknown, staying put at a less than ideal spot while waiting for a more favourable window to a destination further away?’ And Da Prez on YouTube says ‘Each anchorage is so beautiful and amazing. How do you decide when it is truly time to move on? Do you ever feel rushed to keep moving along?’
As you see in the video, our time before visa renewal is short, so yes, we did feel rushed. Not ideal but…

If it’s feasible we’ll choose to sit out bad weather. Even if a deadline is looming. Safety first!

Thank you for keeping us motivated to share our story! Do share your thoughts and comments below.

Peace and fair winds! Liz, Jamie and Millie xxx

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