It was by far the highest levels of sustained stress I ve experienced in all my years @ sea on this first leg from Osaka, Japan to Australia via ‘typhoon alley’…
Sometimes, ignorance can be bliss but it can also get you killed. While opening a GFS GRIB weather file with a prediction of a developing typhoon on your nose gives you ample time to ponder the predictment and your life as a whole!
You could say breaking my families ‘Golden Rule’ rule to never sail in hurricane/typhoon season was a lack of my better judgement on my part…
However, I m sailing on no ordinary boat nor with no ordinary co-skippers. Our ride is none other than the all carbon fibre Reichel Pugh 49 ‘Optimus Prime’. She recently raced the double-handed Melbourne to Osaka race. She is definitely one if not the not top rated racing yachts in Western Australia.
Meanwhile, the co-pilots are none other than ‘World Distance Record-holder’ Jon Sanders and solo sailor Linda Pasquarielo. Their names are synomoumous with success offshore.
But does ten circumnavigations, half a million miles between us and a technological marvel of a yacht trump Mother Nature’s most powerful creation? Answer: NO. The race of our lives was on figiratavely and literally speaking. Win to live and sail again or lose = likely death in the Philiphine Sea.
‘Optimus Prime’ versus a typhoon would be akin to going into battle with a RPG versus nuclear weapons. Sheer force would simply out muscle elegance, speed and a team’s vast experience at sea full stop.
Foresight coupled with speed were our ‘armaments’. Their’s no winning a ‘dog-fight’ in a hundred knots of wind. ‘Stand-off kill capability’and Mach speeds to use the vernacular of America’s air superiority fighter aircraft – the F-22 Raptor…would be our water born equivalents.
And like the F 22, the key to winning the un-winnable fight while outnumbered is to see and kill the opponent before he sees you. Our version of the aircraft’s electronic warfare system is the GFS predictive weather model.
Gone are the days a hundred years before 2013 when sailors relied solely on looking at the clouds outside the cabin windows or banging the rusty chrome barometer on the bulkhead with your fist as weather conditions deteriorated in advance of the storm.
Our crystal ball, is something sailor’s a hundred year ago would have killed to have, for safety but more importantly ‘enhanced passage times’ to & from the ‘Spice Islands’ and overseas trading ports. The GRIB weather model is generated by orbiting satellites in space and the world’s fastest supercomputers.
I remember while spending six years during hurricane seasons cruising the South Pacific with family when I was a child, how prognostic accuracy looking three days out was then considered ‘black magic’. Today, we’re approaching the seven to ten day mark…
I’m no stranger to it’s wonders nor was this any of our first rodeos! So it was with a small sense of dread when I opened that little message via our ‘Thrane & Thrane Sailor’ Internet connection aboard. It was showing a storm that would be born in five days – possibly before we could reach our ‘pit-stop’ in Saipan or Guam right on our bow and on our direct rhumb line south:
Tropical Storm Yagi
Duration June 6 – June 12
Peak intensity 85 km/h (50 mph) (10-min) 990 mbar (hPa)
Tropical Depression 03W formed east of the Philippines on June 6. It intensified into Tropical Storm Yagi on June 8. Conditions were favorable for further development as vertical wind shear remained low, soon the center of the storm became more defined and tightly wrapped and soon reched it’s peak intensity of (52 mph) 85 km/h and with a pressure of 990 mbar (hPa). It dissipated on June 12.
It could perhaps be the first race versus a storm in which the contestants headed directly for each other from opposite directions…
Luckily, after nearly a week of hard work fighting upwind while passing the island of Iwa Jima on port tack, we gained the needed easterly ‘altitude’ to safely pass the developing typhoon in the night. Along with the fact Yagi didn’t fully mature into a massive typhoon, it was a victory won with abundant foresight, anticipation and speed aboard S/V ‘Optimus Prime’.
With all due respect to my youngest solo circumnavigation and Jon’s multiple round the world record’s on our odometers – we must never grow complacent, jaded, nor stop using all the tools at our disposal – particularly new ones.
Otherwise, everyone’s luck runs out. The odds are forever stacked in favor of the house (ocean;) versus the most illustrious CVs on the planet. This is why gamblers, poker players and Olympians practice obsessively to edge the odds just if even slightly in their favor.
Jon’s strategy for the delivery had been a direct route – or as he says, ‘ “shortest course making board”…However, after obsessive research, we revised the initial nav strategy with Jon’s blessing. The new plan was to go east with pit-stops via Saipan or Guam.
This kept us in the easterly trade-winds versus variable to no wind all the way to Indonesia. It’s not ideal to be a sitting duck in the middle of typhoon ally with no propulsion (wind) or exit strategy!
…I remember a cyclone season with my family in New Caledonia when we weathered four direct hits while in our ‘protective’ hurricane hole inside a mangrove swamp. And I remember the hairs stand up on the back of my then 13 – year-old-neck when we listened to a Japanese race boat on the SSB radio headed south past Vanauatu toward New Caledonia as a cyclone approached them from astern.
Meanwhile, on the next radio check in there was nothing but atmospheric disturbance noise. The cyclone had passed directly over the the 50 plus foot yacht witha crew of more than eight. They were never heard from again…
Luckily, we didn’t have any more scheduled dance sessions with cyclones en-route to our final destination of Darwin, Australia via Guam and the Torres Straight on our little five-thousand nautical mile delivery from Japan!
PS: Some interesting facts uncovered in our research…
Western Pacific Typhoon Superlatives
Most Intense Typhoon
This, of course, was the famous Typhoon Tip, largest and most powerful tropical storm yet recorded anywhere on earth.
Super Typhoon Tip formed in the western Pacific on October 5, 1979. Slow to develop and exceedingly erratic in its early movement, Tip eventually grew into a monster with a circulation and cloud formation 1,350 miles in diameter.
If such a storm were centered in the Gulf of Mexico, it would extend from Miami, Florida, to Amarillo, Texas. Tip’s gale-force winds extended out from its eye in a radius of 683 miles, about five times greater than a typical Atlantic hurricane. At its peak on October 12, the air pressure in the eye fell to 870mb (25.69”) the lowest ever measured at sea level on the planet, and the equivalent of what normal air pressure would be at an altitude of about 2,500 feet. Winds circulating around Tip’s eye were blowing at a sustained rate of 190 mph with gusts probably well over 200 mph. The eye wall extended up to 55,000 feet, where infrared temperatures were measured at an incredible –135°F. Fortunately, Tip never made landfall, although it took a shot at Guam, swerving at the last moment to the west and thus sparing the small and vulnerable island.
By October 18, Tip had accelerated towards the northwest and was rapidly losing power. By the time it brushed Japan on October 19 and 20, it was much tamer with the wind blowing in gusts at only 88 mph along the runways at Tokyo’s airport…
Tropical storms and Typhoons by month,
for the period 1959–2011 (Northwest Pacific)
Month Count Average
Jan 25 0.5
Feb 12 0.2
Mar 23 0.4
Apr 34 0.6
May 63 1.2
Jun 90 1.7
Jul 205 3.9
Aug 296 5.6
Sep 262 4.9
Oct 210 4.0
Nov 133 2.5
Dec 66 1.2
Annual 1419 26.8
Nearly one-third of the world’s tropical cyclones form within the western Pacific. This makes this basin the most active on Earth. Pacific typhoons have formed year round, with peak months from August to October. The peak months correspond to that of the Atlantic hurricane seasons. Along with a high storm frequency, this basin also features the most globally intense storms on record. One of the most recent busy seasons was 2004. Tropical cyclones form in any month of the year across the northwest Pacific ocean, and concentrate around June and November in the northern Indian ocean. The area just northeast of the Philippines is the most active place on Earth for tropical cyclones to exist. Across the Philippines themselves, activity reaches a minimum in February, before increasing steadily through June, and spiking from July through October, with September being the most active month for tropical cyclones across the archipelago. Activity falls off significantly in November. The most frequently impacted areas of the Philippines by tropical cyclones are northern and central Luzon and eastern Visayas. A ten-year average of satellite determined precipitation showed that at least 30 percent of the annual rainfall in the northern Philippines could be traced to tropical cyclones, while the southern islands receive less than 10 percent of their annual rainfall from tropical cyclones.
Tracks of all tropical cyclones in the northernwestern Pacific Ocean between 1980 and 2005. The vertical line to the right is the International Date Line.
Most tropical cyclones form on the side of the subtropical ridge closer to the equator, then move poleward past the ridge axis before recurving north and northeast into the main belt of the Westerlies. When the subtropical ridge position shifts due to El Niño, so will the preferred tropical cyclone tracks. Areas west of Japan and Korea tend to experience much fewer September–November tropical cyclone impacts during El Niño and neutral years. During El Niño years, the break in the subtropical ridge tends to lie near 130°E which would favor the Japanese archipelago. During La Niña years, the formation of tropical cyclones, along with the subtropical ridge position, shifts westward across the western Pacific ocean, which increases the landfall threat to China and greater intensity to Philippines. Those that form near the Marshall Islands find their way to Jeju Island, Korea.