Around the World Veteran Libby Greenhalgh Shares Her Expertise On Offshore Trips
Libby Greenhalgh has navigated around the world twice with the Volvo Ocean Race; she’s a director with the Magenta Project and has an offshore resume that ranks her among the top sailors in the world. In addition to her racing legacy, Libby has delivered and cruised all over the world. Her experience has given her an exceptional eye for weather. Greenhalgh sat down with North Sails to share her steps for planning a trip offshore.
NS: How far in advance do you start checking the weather from when you cast off the dock?
LG: When I’m approaching racing or delivering a boat, it’s an ongoing process, I’m looking at the weather from at least ten days out. The main reason being that it gives you a concept of how things are moving and how consistent the models are. It will also help you build confidence in the forecast as you approach that day. How confident you are can affect your decision making. You will know if you have to cover a specific wind range or just take a certain set of sails out for the day.
NS: Talk us through your process in the days before heading offshore.
LG: I’m looking at the weather every day from ten days to about two or three days out, and then I’m checking in the morning and evening to see how the models have changed as the time frame gets more narrow. I’m looking for crossover in the sail package and the potential percentage of time that we might be in different wind zones. If we are only going to see 25 knots for half an hour, I’ll make the call to tough it out with whatever sails we have up versus gearing up to be perfectly prepared for that. You’re always making decisions and compromises. And I ask, what sail set up is going to cover the most dominant wind range?
I think it’s psychological too. Not having the right sail set-up at that moment gets very frustrating. But obviously, if you’ve done your preparation, you feel much more relaxed about it.
NS: When you are getting a boat ready for passage, what things are you looking for?
LG: Reef points and making sure your furler is working. When you are sailing and you see something on the horizon, maybe it’s a big cloud you may set up for a reef or a furl. We may wait it out and see what the first part of the system looks like because it might just be an increase in the wind, or an increase in wind and a header. We consider how long it takes to make the change, versus how long the system will last.
The ability to reef, and having several reef points is ideal. Being able to manage your mainsail quickly and efficiently is important. I would have a furling front sail so you can put it away or make it smaller when you need to.
NS: What about when you are underway, what clues are you looking for that the weather could be changing?
LG: If the wind strength is increasing, can we see why? I’m always looking for visual clues. Things you can see out on the water will help identify what you’ve seen in the forecast that is going to happen. Is there a front coming in, or is it just a steady increase? There’s a lot to be said for looking into the weather and understanding why and when the changes are going to happen. There’s technology now that is hugely powerful and bringing the weather directly to people, but it also means people have less of an understanding of the background. I always look at the charts and the local weather service provider. Another great tool is radar and apps that allow you to see rainfall around the world.
NS: Any weather-related story you can share with us to live vicariously through your experience?
LG: The weather never fails to surprise me. This past edition of the Volvo Ocean Race, we ended up doing routes that were far from what we had planned. Particularly, racing Melbourne to Hong Kong, we were going to try to get east, and then north across the equator, but when we got to the equator, there were massive thunderstorms. The weather system was entirely localized. We ended up with a westerly that allowed us to turn the corner and point at the finish line.
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