Rod Heikell's very informal site on sailing around bits of the world and an eclectic collection of things nautical or nearly so.

Climate change   A few articles and odd bits, mostly personal, on how our sailing lifestyles will change with global warming and climate change and it's effects on the seas and oceans of the world

Hurricane Ivan and me

Sailing after tomorrow

Record April temperatures 2007

Carbon footprints



Hurricane Ivan and me



In 2004 we left seven tenths in the yard in Spice Island Marine at the end of March and returned to England for the summer. The hurricane season is usually reckoned to be from the beginning of June until the end of November, though named tropical storms can occur outside of these months. The southern end of Grenada is considered safe from hurricanes, the last one to hit Grenada was Hurricane Janet in 1955 and in the last 150 years only two hurricanes have tracked this far south. Until Ivan that is.

Through the summer when I had finished my daily stint in front of the computer I would log on to the National Hurricane Centre site in the evening and check out the reports on tropical storms. I tracked Charlie which hit western Florida as a category 2/3 and then Frances which hit eastern Florida as a category 2. Then on Thursday September 2nd a belt of unsettled weather 555 miles south-west of the Cape Verde islands started to get organised and formed itself into tropical depression number nine. By Saturday 3rd it had become sufficiently organised to be a tropical storm with maximum winds of around 50 knots. It was named Ivan. By Sunday 5th it had become a hurricane with maximum winds of 110 knots and given it’s WNW track over warm water it looked like it was going to grow. At this stage it’s projected track was over St Lucia a good few miles north of Grenada.

On Tuesday 7th of September the hurricane trackers at NOAA revised the track to pass close to Grenada and a hurricane warning was posted. This late revision of Ivan’s track was to have repercussions amongst the cruisers in Grenada as it was now too late to bail out and head for Trinidad as some already had. The Moorings had rushed to sail most of their Grenadines fleet from St Vincent to Grenada and unwittingly put them square in the path of Ivan.


NOAA track of Ivan, a Cat 4 hurricane, over Grenada 2004. Previously Grenada was hit in 1955 by Janet, a Cat 1 hurricane. Climatologists believe that the intensity of hurricanes will increase with global warming. See Postscript below for Ivan and me.

The eye of the hurricane passed right over Grenada around 1700 local time in Grenada, 2300 BST. Winds of 110 knots with gusts up to 140 knots peeled corrugated iron roofs off houses and stripped trees of their leaves. The inhabitants of Grenada found shelter wherever they could: in basements, in closets, in bathrooms, under beds, anywhere that gave a little protection from the wind and the corrugated iron slicing through the air. Those sheltering from the winds described them as hellish and the prime minister, talking from a British frigate that diverted to Grenada, said ‘…we are terribly devastated … it’s beyond imagination’.

Cruisers living on their boats found them swept away by the winds. An Italian boat with two crew on board was blown out to sea from the anchorage in St Georges and then when the wind turned around it was blown back to the shore and wrecked on a reef. The two crew were reported to be safe. At other anchorages around the southern end of Grenada a number of cruisers had to scramble ashore when their yachts were blown ashore or onto reefs. Usually they ended up sheltering with locals ashore in what was left of their houses. At Spice Island Marine in Prickly Bay where I had left seven tenths most of the boats were toppled sideways off their props and rigs lay bent and tangled all around the yard. It looked like boat soup.

Cruisers are a resilient lot and it was not long before the web site for Clarkes Court Bay Marina was up and running with reports sent out on SSB and a land-line that miraculously was working. Messages started appearing that pointed to massive destruction. I got this message off the web site:

I counted 28 boats in Secret Harbour alone, sunk, aground, holed on reefs. Every boat in the Spice Island Marine is down. Your mast appears finished as I recall…

Reports followed that told of how the pontoons of Clarkes Court Bay Marina had been twisted first one way and then the other until finally they snapped off and boats were deposited on the shore around the bay. In the indented bays around the southern end of Grenada where boats were run up into the mangroves for protection a lot of boats were sunk or badly damaged in what had previously been considered good hurricane holes. Around the lagoon in St Georges boats were piled up on the dock and washed up on the side of the road.

With no food, water, fuel or electricity, a number of yachts made mercy dashes to Trinidad to stock up on essentials and bring them back to Grenada. Cruisers in Trinidad, which was little affected by Ivan, had a quick whip round and went out and bought food, bottled water and anything they thought people might need and ferried it up to Grenada. It was Dunkirk all over again, though at least it was in warm tropical waters rather than the grey seascape of the English Channel.

Hurricane Ivan continued on through the Caribbean basin on a north-westerly track strengthening to a category five hurricane as it fed off the warm waters it passed over. It bruised Jamaica and bounced off the western end of Cuba before travelling across the Texas Gulf to make landfall in Alabama as a category 3/4 hurricane. Waves up to 25 ft hit the coastline and a weather buoy 300 miles south of Panama City registered a wave 50 ft high. It is the most powerful hurricane to hit the Caribbean Islands since Luis in 1995, the most powerful hurricane to hit the Windward Islands, and the most powerful to come ashore in the USA since Andrew devastated Miami in 1992.

 We wait for the yard in Grenada to crane seven tenths upright so a more detailed assessment of the damage can be made. The surveyors are in the yard and cruisers are making their own ways out there to see for themselves what has happened to their pride and joy. When repairs are made we will take seven tenths back to the Mediterranean which, though it can get windy, does not have a hurricane season.



My first impulse was to find the earliest available flight out to Grenada and go and have a look at the damage for myself. It soon became apparent that I would be under the feet of the relief organisations trying to restore order and services to most of the population. Around 60,000, two thirds of the population, did not have water or adequate supplies of food, many did not have a roof over their heads, and most of the island did not have electricity. There were shortages of everything and law and order had completely broken down in places with shops and abandoned homes being looted. Quite a few of the boats that had been blown ashore were being looted as well and St Georges was pretty much a no-go area. A curfew from 6 PM until 6 AM was imposed.

It remains to be seen whether insurance clauses for the Caribbean will be tightened up in the future. I suggested to one insurer that the boundaries for safe havens during the hurricane season might be moved further south of the 12°N that insurance companies have traditionally relied on as a safe latitude for acceptable risk. To my surprise he disagreed and reckoned that insurance companies would still include Grenada and anything south of 12°N as a safe area because the statistical risk of a hurricane hitting here was still low. He didn’t agree that global warming might make the risk higher for this area and insisted insurance companies could cope with this sort of disaster - ‘that is why we are here’ he said. Well as it turned out he wasn’t.


There were 39 deaths in Grenada directly attributed to Ivan.

There were two fatalities from the cruising community spending the summer in Grenada. One man was rescued from his boat as it drifted out of the anchorage in Prickly Bay. He was rescued by a couple on another yacht which then dragged it’s anchors and ended up on a reef. Ropes were rigged from the boat to the shore so that they could go hand over hand to solid ground, but the man who had been rescued must have slipped or been overwhelmed by the sea and he drowned. A French woman on another boat was killed when trying to swim ashore and her body was recovered when it was washed up ashore in True Blue Bay.

One of the most amazing stories was of Giuseppe. Trapped in his boat Red Angelina without food or water he put out a call on his ham radio which was picked up in Cartagena. The ham operator sent emails to some of the forums and people were contacted in Grenada. He was safely rescued from his boat not long after he put his call out.

Hurricane watching

Most of the raw data on hurricanes comes from the National Hurricane Centre, part of NOAA (the National Oceanography and Atmospheric Agency), which tracks tropical storms and hurricanes from Miami. These are the guys with all the data from satellites and radar at their disposal and they send out the hurricane spotting aircraft which fly over the eye of a hurricane to record wind speeds and the size of the eye and extent of the hurricane. Predictions from the NHC were that it would be an above average year with a record number of named tropical storms and hurricanes.

The likely range of tropical storms during 2004 is 12-15, with 6-8 of these systems becoming hurricanes, and 2-4 of these becoming major hurricanes (categories 3-4-5 on the Saffir-Simpson scale).

With the arrival of Ivan the lower range of these estimates was reached and there are more to come with Hurricane Jeanne already running up the Bahamas.

Hurricanes are measured on the Saffir-Simpson Scale

Category One 64-82 knots (74-95 mph). Storm surge 4-5ft above normal. Hurricane Danielle was category one.

Category Two 83-95 knots (96-110 mph). Storm surge 6-8 ft above normal. Hurricane Frances that hit the Bahamas and east coast of Florida was category two.

Category Three        96-113 knots (111-130 mph). Storm surge 9-12 ft above normal. Hurricane Charlie that hit the west coast of Florida in early August was category three.

Category Four 114-135 knots (131-155 mph). Storm surge 13-18 ft above normal. Hurricane Ivan was category 4 over parts of Grenada and category 3/4 when it came ashore in Alabama.

Category Five 135 knots plus (155 mph +). Storm surge greater than 18 ft. Hurricane Ivan strengthened to category five in the Caribbean basin then dropped back to category four.

To find out more about hurricanes and to look at past tracks and damage go to .


The power of the internet was on display after Hurricane Ivan. Only hours after Ivan hit Grenada two web sites were bombarded with messages asking after loved ones, homes and yachts. The Storm Carib web site posted messages asking all sorts of questions and anyone who had managed to put a phone call through on the one remaining cell phone mast or who had evacuated to another island after Ivan posted their communications in the forum ‘Pleas for Help’. Messages were sent via SSB to yachts in other islands and these cruisers also posted their knowledge in the forum. The other site at Spice Island Talkshop somehow managed to keep up with the hundreds of messages that poured in every day.

After a few days new forums sprang up and some of these were specifically for yacht owners with boats in Grenada. Aerial pictures and pictures at ground zero were posted and I downloaded these looking anxiously for any photographic evidence of what might have happened to seven tenths. All of this information was emailed back and forth between a rapidly growing band of concerned owners of yachts and any information we received from those on the ground in Grenada was soon bounced around a few hundred email addresses. Without the internet and email we would all have been sitting here in a fog of bad rumours and half-truths. carries hurricane warnings and posts reports from island correspondents on the ground. It also runs a forum where you can leave messages or post reports.


RJH 2004


Sailing after tomorrow

I first wrote this in 1997. None of the yachting magazines would publish it. Our readers are not interested I was told and besides - 'it's not really happening is it?' In 2003/2004 I tried again with this modified version and to their credit Sail magazine in the US and Sailing Today in the UK decided it should run. In an age where most of the magazines have adverts for gas guzzling cars, gas guzzling motorboats, and new and ever more energy consuming sailing boats, it is even more relevant. I have a thing about sailing boats that can't be bothered to sail if the speed falls below a certain arbitary but pre-ordained limit (see the section on Sails in the Skylax blog) and it just may be that these technological dinosaurs that we sail, with this millenia old technology, will become the new technology of the future as gas guzzling motor boats and sailing boats that motor all the time find that their fuel costs have gone through the roof.


Sailing after tomorrow

In December 2003 as seven tenths surfed down the watery slopes of an out of season tropical storm in the Atlantic, I remember looking up in awe at the storm cells leaking lightening and dangerous amounts of wind all over the night sky. It was scary stuff and it’s difficult to describe the menace of 50 knots of wind and clouds full of lightening trails. In 2004 I sat in a cinema and watched that same sky in The Day After Tomorrow. OK, so they cooked the thesis on global warming and melded it into a Hollywood confection, but those special effects showing lightening and rain looked awfully familiar to me.

Tropical Storm (very nearly Hurricane) Peter in the Atlantic early December 2003. N=Nerissa   7/10 = seven tenths   BM = Bloody Mary   R = Rejoice




I could be forgiven for thinking that someone up there has got it in for me. In fact climate change has some serious lessons to deal out to all of us who go cruising. In 2003 it was Tropical Storm Peter that battered the crew of seven tenths as it passed close northwest of us with the wind recorded at a constant 60 knots and with a definite hurricane eye. NOAA were just about to classify it as a hurricane before it hit a cold front and petered out. The thing is that this was the first time since 1887 that a tropical storm had been recorded in the Atlantic in December. In March 2004 the first recorded hurricane in the South Atlantic hit the coast of Brazil. In August 2004 torrential rain caused a flash flood that washed dozens of cars into the sea off the high street of Boscastle in Cornwall and buried cars in mudslides in Scotland. In other parts of the UK there was so much rain that the newspapers dubbed us monsoon Britain. Off the Scillies the four crew on the Pink Lady making an attempt on the record for rowing across the Atlantic were fortunate to survive a rogue wave that split their craft in two.

 Nerissa in Point a Pitre Guadeloupe for repairs after Peter.

Climate Change

With all the terminology flying around it can get a little difficult to sort out what anyone is talking about when they mention climate change, global warming, the greenhouse effect and anthropogenic influences.

Global warming refers to an increase in the overall average temperature of the world that is at least partly the result of human activity (the anthropogenic bit). In the past there have been cycles where the climate heated up or cooled down, but most climatologists now agree that our industrial age is significantly affecting the climate. The big culprit in all this is carbon dioxide emissions which have increased significantly since the industrial revolution began in the middle of the 19th century. Carbon dioxide stays in the upper atmosphere and while it lets light through, it does not let very much heat out. This is the greenhouse effect. It is just one factor, though a very significant one,  in climate change which can be affected by all sorts of things, but it is an important issue because of the influence global warming is having on weather patterns today and the catastrophic affect it will have in the near future. Global warming and cooling has always been around, but what is significant here is the scale of the change over a comparatively short period of time and how that will affect the weather that we as yachtsmen take to be the norm.


Is it really happening?

Without going into all the ramifications of the debate it is possible to say that most climatologists believe that global warming is occurring and that some general conclusions can be drawn from the data that is available. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set up in 1988 by the UN and the World Meteorological Organisation concluded 5 years ago that: 'The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate'. Studies of El Nino off the South American coast point to the longest warming of waters from 1990-1995 in 130 years of records, an event expected to occur only once every 2000 years given normal conditions. As I write this I see NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the USA, has said that this years record hurricane year is due to warmer water in the Atlantic. And me: I’m looking at the NOAA site that tracks hurricanes and Hurricane Ivan is passing over Grenada where my yacht is hauled out.

In the last century the average global temperature rose by 0.5°C. A conservative estimate of the rise in global warming by 2100 is for temperatures to be 2°C higher than 1990 and for sea levels to be 50cm higher than present levels. This might not seem much, but changes in temperature of less than a degree Centigrade can lead to dramatic changes in the weather. And most scientists predict that the temperature changes will be much more than current estimates.

Even more disturbing is the prediction that when the ocean's temperatures start to change, it takes a long time to stabilise them. One model looks at ‘the conveyor belt’, the gulf stream current that curls around northern Europe to give a benign climate a long way north. If this ‘conveyor belt’ is disrupted then northern Europe might start to look like the icy wastes of Labrador at the same latitude on the western side of the Atlantic. Once started global warming will be around for a long time to come even if carbon dioxide emissions are stabilised or reduced.

For those yachtsmen who imagine that global warming will lead to a pleasant Mediterranean climate in northern Europe or the northern states of the USA and Canada, the bad news is that it does not work this way. The effects of global warming for northern waters is that weather patterns become more disturbed with big fluctuations between hot and cold temperatures. Rain becomes less evenly distributed and there is a high likelihood of torrential rain followed by long periods of no rain at all. And marine weather in terms of depressions and storms becomes less clearly defined between the seasons. Does any of this sound familiar?


Tropical storms and mid-latitude hurricanes

There are no clear predictions here. The simplistic model is that because tropical storms breed in waters with temperatures in the region of 26°C and above, then an increase in sea temperature could mean that tropical storms will increase in number and affect areas not normally within tropical storm zones. What does appear to be happening is that tropical storms are happening on the edge of seasons and even out of season. As sea temperatures get warmer there is also the possibility of tropical storms originating in areas not normally associated with them.

Hurricanes and typhoons grab the headlines, but mid-latitude hurricanes or extratropical storms which originate outside normal hurricane breeding grounds are of more concern to the yachtsman as they affect seas and coasts not normally in hurricane areas. Coasts and yacht harbours can be devastated by the effects of a hurricane as happened with the October hurricane that hit Britain in 1987. In March 2004 a tropical storm hit the coast of Brazil and American meteorologists labelled it the first recorded hurricane in the South Atlantic.

Much of the data also points to an increase in storm intensity and a trend to increasing winds and wave heights in the North Atlantic since the 1980's. At a meeting in Dublin this year evidence was presented of an increase in the number of rogue waves in the North Atlantic over the last few years. Just the thing the Atlantic rowers on Pink Lady didn’t want to hear as a rogue wave broke their boat in two.

Anyone who has been in hurricane force winds will know what the seas and winds are like. They create a devastation against which there is little man can do except hold on and try every heavy weather tactic in the book. If predictions for increased intensity and variations of extratropical storm tracks do occur and hurricanes affect areas that do not normally experience hurricane force winds, the results could be catastrophic in terms of destroyed yacht harbours and damaged yachts. And you or I might be out there when these out-of-season storms come through just as Peter did for me last December.

Sailing seasons

One of the consequences of global warming is likely to be less settled weather in the summer season or the cool winter sailing season for the tropics. Are the seasons becoming less settled or is the weather pretty much as it always was.

At a gut level I and others, some who have completed several circumnavigations over the last 20 years and others who have spent similar periods sailing in cruising areas like the Mediterranean or the Pacific, believe that weather patterns are shifting, although not to the extent some believe. It is always difficult to sort out the local lore which invariably comes up with 'this is the worst year ever for sun/rain/wind' from the local Captain Ahab waving his seaweed in the air.

Coming up through the Red Sea to Egypt in late winter in 1997 the Arabian peninsula had it's coldest winter for 50 years and it did seem odd to me to be freezing cold and pelted with hailstones next to the Sahara desert. The number of depressions passing through the eastern Mediterranean in the late spring and early summer also seems to be on the increase. The Azores high seems to take longer to stabilise. The trouble with all this stuff is that it is short term and statistically means little over the longer period.

Some of this has to do with a shift of the weather pattern so that the seasons seem to occur about a month later than they used to. This is all personal observation on mine and others experiences, but there are enough people with relatively cool heads out there saying the same thing and in the end, without recourse to statistics over a sufficient period of time, gut feelings mean a lot when you are caught out in bad weather at times you did not expect to be from past statistical databases.



One thing the models for global warming can predict with some accuracy is a disruption to normal rainfall patterns. Rainfall already appears to be conforming to predictions with heavy precipitation over short periods becoming common and a shift in regional precipitation patterns occurring. Global warming means that there will be more rain overall and it will fall in different regions and in heavy downpours.

So what? the yachtsman says, how does that effect me? In a number of ways as it happens.

Flooding of river estuaries will become more common and flash floods like that at Boscastle can cause a lot of damage to craft moored in an estuary and to marinas within rivers and estuaries. After a period of dry weather large amounts of rain inland can back up until a flood wave sweeps down the river carrying trees and other debris with it to an estuary where yachts may be moored.

For yachtsmen cruising to lower latitudes water shortages are likely to become a real problem. While global warming brings more rain, it will mostly be distributed in high northerly latitudes. Water shortages in places like the Mediterranean are a likely scenario, indeed are already a reality in some places, and it will be more and more difficult to find good potable water. There is a solution in the form of watermakers, but this is not an option for a lot of smaller yachts and on larger craft carry an environmental cost in as much as you need to run the engine or a generator producing yet more carbon dioxide.


Sea levels

The rise in sea levels that has already occurred and predictions for future predicted rises in sea levels comes not from the melting of the polar ice caps as is commonly supposed, but because water expands when it is heated. There is not a dispute over the fact that sea levels are rising, but over how much they will rise in this century. Nations which live on atolls like the Maldives (rarely more than 2.5m above sea level) and a number of Pacific atolls are concerned that they may disappear off the map and large areas of low-lying and reclaimed land like parts of East Anglia and the Netherlands could become unusable. This is not because the land will be underwater, but because storm surges coupled with an increased sea level will make it unusable.

For the yachtsman it is likely that some yacht harbours will be destroyed by the combination of higher sea levels and storms of increased intensity producing highly destructive storm surges. In the Maldives storm surges caused much damage in 1987 to the capital Male and to the harbour. In the 1987 hurricane which hit the south coast of England storm surges again caused much damage. Add to this an increased sea level and damage is likely to be greater in the future. It is of course possible to build sea defences, but this will only add to the overall costs of yachting.

 The Conveyor Belt

This is the affectionate name scientists have given to the clockwise circulation of water in the northern Atlantic. The warm Gulf Stream flows up the east coast of the USA and then turns eastwards to the UK and Ireland. This keeps northern Europe warm when on the opposite side of the sea there is an icy wilderness where the sea ices over in the winter. London is situated on approximately the same latitude as the top of Newfoundland and the bottom of Labrador. Off Europe the heavy salt-laden current sinks and travels clockwise down to the Tropics where it warms up and begins it’s circulation along the east coast of the USA again. Melting polar water dilutes the gulf stream in the north with fresh water from the melting polar ice sheets and at some (unknown) dilution this can act to turn the current off. This was recently used as the basis of the Hollywood blockbuster The Day After Tomorrow, and though the result of turning the current off is sensationalised in the film, the analysis and the science are real. Unlike the film meteorologists are not expecting a catastrophic ice storm to engulf the northern hemisphere, but it may be that changes could happen over a decade or less if the ‘conveyor belt’ is turned off or damaged. This is not sci-fi, but a possible scenario and the problem is that meteorologists don’t have past models to work with and therefore don’t know how long or how short time scales are.

(Coda: This scenario now seems much less likely. RJH 07)

 Destruction of natural habitats

Sailing, for most people, is as much about arriving at a quiet beautiful place as putting up sails and pulling on ropes. Increased sea levels also effect natural habitats like estuarine wetlands and it is likely that many of these will disappear along with the bird and marine life associated with them. In tropical waters coral reefs are being affected by global warming as warmer tropical waters kill the algae which reef animals use for food. Coral reefs are already disappearing at a frightening rate from man-made causes (one tenth of all reefs have been destroyed and the WWF predicts another third will be lost in the next couple of decades) and global warming exacerbates this destruction. A few years ago in the Seychelles I noticed that large areas of reef were dead and reports from places like the Maldives and SE Asia indicate that coral is dying there as well. Coral reefs are formed over tens of thousands of years and though they look robust, especially if you accidentally nudge them with the boat, in fact they are delicately balanced ecosystems susceptible to slight variations in water temperature.

In the Mediterranean there has been some discussion over whether weed growth has accelerated in the comparatively shallow water where yachts anchor. This is difficult to measure without a serious study, but many believe weed cover has increased and this may be due to global warming. One of the things which has occurred is algal blooms which in


Direct costs

As weather patterns become more variable and storm damage more frequent, the costs of yachting are to likely escalate. One of the obvious areas is marine insurance which will rise dramatically and may become unobtainable in some areas. After the particularly bad hurricane season of 1994-1995 in the Caribbean, some yachts have found it difficult to get insurance for the hurricane season in this area. If extratropical storms become more intense and variable in their tracks as predicted, marine insurance could escalate or be withdrawn. Cyclone Val in 1992 prompted the withdrawal of insurance agencies in the Samoan Islands and after Hurricane Andrew in the Caribbean eight insurance companies went bankrupt due to the massive claims made in the aftermath.

The insurance companies themselves have recognised the costs of climate change and are starting to factor it in to premiums. In the last five years, storm and flood losses in the UK have totalled £6bn, twice the amount of the previous five years. One recent estimate put the cost of devastating storms caused by climate change at $150 billion a year within the next ten years.

Yacht premiums will likely rise substantially, not just in hurricane prone areas, but in most other sea areas as well. Some yachts, especially smaller yachts, may find it difficult to get any insurance at all. In case you think this is somewhere far off in the future, the bad news is it is already happening and a number of insurance companies have recently pulled out of insuring yachts on ocean passages or in hurricane zones. The day after tomorrow is going to add significant additional costs to sailing.

 And the future?

We are all responsible. We drive cars that emit carbon dioxide and other pollutants, we have houses that are energy guzzling, and we have boats which are made of petroleum by-products and powered by engines which emit carbon dioxide. We are all culpable. It is all too easy for us to dismiss the arguments above as the ranting of a lot of crazy green activists, the sort of doom and gloom that the 'sandals and yoghurt brigade' trot out every few years. Well this piece is not sponsored by Greenpeace or Friends of the Earth and most of the predictions are from panels of scientists concerned with global warming. There are a lot of ifs and maybes, but that is the nature of the beast. Climatology is a complicated discipline with a lot of inadequate models, but also a lot of data that is hard to dispute.

The Kyoto Protocol, to which 150 countries have signed up (with the notable exceptions of the USA and Russia) wants greenhouse gases cut by around 8% by 2010. "It's sad," said a weary Florida Governor Jeb Bush. "I don't know quite why we've had this run of storms. You just have to accept that." (After the fourth hurricane smashed into Florida). Maybe someone should tell him and his brother the president about climate change.

Perhaps we should follow the example of the editor of ST who has sold his gas guzzling Jag and uses a motorbike to get around and sails whenever the wind will give him a few knots rather than turning on the engine if boatspeed falls below three or four knots. As Ratty said: ‘There is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats’. If I can add a bit to that it is that there is nothing better than ghosting into an anchorage under sail and letting the anchor go or the satisfaction of getting a boat set up so you are making the most of that energy blowing around our planet. And the only sound is the wind in your ears.



RJH 2004



Three weeks after I sent this article off Hurricane Ivan tracked west across the Atlantic. By the time it got to Grenada it was a category 3/4 hurricane with winds of 120 plus knots and gusts up to 140 knots. The eye of Ivan went straight across Grenada and scored a direct hit on the yard where I left seven tenths for the summer. Of 180 boats in the yard only a few are left standing and the first photos posted on the internet show total devastation. The yard looks like a bomb has hit it. At this time I only have preliminary reports of the damage to seven tenths: there are holes in the hull where the props have gone through, the mast is bent and the rigging damaged, there is damage to the keel and rudder, and deck hardware has been ripped off or bent. In any case damage to yachts is of minor consideration when 70% or more of Grenadians have lost their homes and most of their possessions.

Grenada is historically reckoned to be safe from hurricanes with the last hurricane (Janet) passing close by in 1955 and Ivan is counted in as only the third hurricane in the last 150 years. The National Hurricane Centre in Miami puts this busy and ferocious hurricane year in the Atlantic down to increased sea temperatures, as much as 5°C higher than recent averages, and while cyclical changes over the last 40 or so years can probably account for some of this, it is likely that global warming figures in the equation somewhere. I never thought when I was writing this article that I would end up a casualty of global warming in such a short time.




Record April temperatures 2007

From the Skylax blog with a few additions from July 07.

Record temperatures

This April the UK has seen record temperatures a whopping 3.2ºC above the average. And no rain. I've just added a page on the site with an old article on Climate Change and a bit on my experiences of Hurricane Ivan in Grenada where seven tenths was parked up in Spice Island Marine. Since the origin of that article 10 years ago things have hotted up, both literally and politically, over climate change.

Now in early July 2007 there have been weeks of torrential rain in northern England and towns and cities like Sheffield are still under a metre or more of water. The entire monthly average rainfall fell in one day in some parts and now three weeks after the event there are still hundreds of people who cannot return to their homes because they are still under water. Four tornados were reported and I have just had a phone call from a friend in NZ describing a dozen or more tornadoes blasting through parts of the western North Island. Climate change models predict this sort of wild weather with downpours of monsoon-like intensity over short periods instead of even rainfall over longer periods.

And yet there are still nay-sayers out there driving around in gas guzzling SUV’s and churning up our waters in gas-guzzling motorboats.

I have a bit of an axe to grind here over large motorboats that eat up the diesel in a day that I take a season to use and that's not even a very large motorboat - say around 15-20 metres. There has to be a reckoning on these environmentally damaging behemoths that leave their polluting trails wherever they go. Ever noticed after one of these toxic tossers has gone past that the water has an unnatural sheen to it. This is particulates and some unspent fuel. Petrol engines are of course a lot worse and two strokes the worst of the lot with some estimates that 25% of fuel in unburnt and deposited on the water. Apart from pollution entering the marine environment there is the issue of burning a scarce resource at this sort of rate. North Sea oil is running out and elsewhere we have the nonsense of the Gulf War, indigenous tribes fighting for their rights over oil in Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela turning the screw on price and supply, and the world economy itself gobbling up ever more of the stuff.

Over the years I've felt I had to be nice to our motoring cousins on the water. No more. Apart from polluting the waters I sail on in excess of what a few people on a boat should do, modern motorboats create wash that disturbs the sea and makes it uncomfortable for others on it, cause wash in anchorages that set everyone rolling around and cause damage to those berthed on a quay (why do you never slow down), noise pollution (often the only noise I can hear is a motorboat hull down on the horizon), and in the form of powerful RIBS and waterbikes you zoom around anchorages irritating the hell out of everyone and also endangering anyone swimming or messing around in small tenders. You also exhibit moronic behaviour (two syllables are difficult for you) when we ask you to slow down. So no more.                                                                            


Those of us on sailing boats are also to blame. GRP construction uses large amounts of hydrocarbons and energy. Wherever I go I find sailing boats motoring in what are perfect sailing breezes. These things we navigate around the waters of the world will sail in almost any wind, though at times it may take us longer than planned to get to our destination. So what? The whole idea of this sailing thing is to harness the wind as efficiently as possible and then enjoy it, whether it means a thrash to windward or a gentle dawdle downwind. Just last month we pottered upwind towards the boatyard to haul at a dreamy 2-3 knots going to windward. Time to settle back, make aimless conversation, put the kettle on, and slide gracefully across the sea leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible.

You can find figures on pollution in Andre Mele's book Polluting For Pleasure and though it is a little out of date now, the argument is still valid.

 Style, grace and much less wash from a retro-styled motorboat. At this speed (around 8 knots) you get to see where you are going, everyone loves you and you don't look like Homo Moronicus in the previous photo.

Posted on Wednesday, May 2, 2007, 06:41 PM (UTC 1)



Carbon footprints


Recently we had the Live Earth concert in London, an effort by Al Gore to get everyone thinking about Climate Change. It seems to me that this was yet another chance for fading pop stars to rejuvenate their careers (Madonna, Foo Fighters, James Blunt) and some committed, but other misguided pop divas, to promote their environmental credentials in public. The problem with all of this was the huge carbon footprint generated by pop stars flying in on private jets and a lot of people salving their conscience by going to a concert. The idiocy of it all has been pointed out by many and was dubbed by some other committed environmentalists ‘Private jets for Climate Change’. One estimate of the carbon footprint for just the London concert was 31,500 tons, more than 3,000 times the annual footprint for the average Briton.

All this criticism, and it is justified, got me to thinking about what my average carbon footprint is and how it can be reduced. As it turns out after using several carbon footprint calculators, it is around the average for the UK at somewhere between 10 and 11 tons annually. And I reckon I have a pretty clean record. I’ve had green tariff electricity with Good Energy for eight years. Our mileage in the car is next to nothing as we both work at home and our average mileage in a year is around 2000 miles. We use the bus and train a lot to get around. At home we are just as mean with water and electricity (well, nearly) as we are on the boat. Our only real minus points are flying out to the boat and back, though as it turns out we are still about average on that anyway.

One of the things the carbon calculators don’t really take into account is the fact we live on the boat for longer than we are back here in the house. So an average quarterly fuel bill is calculated for the year which distorts the overall figure. That said, neither does it take our energy use on the boat into account. And living on boat does consume energy and contribute to the overall carbon footprint we leave behind, so I’m a little worried that our footprint is average.

How do we get it down?

I have ranted on before about sailing boats that seem to motor everywhere, even when the sailing conditions are ideal. We do sail most places, even when the speed gets down to a couple of knots. It’s a skill which seems to have been lost and as the old saw goes: any fool can sail when there is a lot of wind, but it takes skill to sail when the wind is light.

Oyster 82, all 45 tons plus of it, sailing in around 5 knots of wind. If he can ...

We do need to run the engine for around an hour a day to charge batteries, cool the fridge which has an engine driven compressor, and heat water in the calorifier. When day-sailing this usually corresponds with leaving and entering a harbour or anchorage. On passage it coincides with the radio net ‘chat show’ as the old SSB needs at least 13-13.1 volts to transmit well and given it uses 20-25A when transmitting, that means the engine needs to run to keep the voltage up and at the same time cool the fridge, heat the water, etc. Still that’s a 55HP diesel using around 2-2.5 litres/hour and that comes to around 6 kgm. So if we use the engine for one hour a day for 3 months’ that comes to just over half a ton of carbon. That’s a lot and my estimate would be that we run it more often than that motoring when there is no wind at all.

To all of this we need to add the energy costs and carbon emissions from the original construction of the boat, the energy costs of boat equipment like sails and electronic gizmo’s, bottled gas used for cooking, and any mods we have done like repairs to woodwork (invariably in teak) and old oil and filters from the engine service.

Below there are links to three of the calculators I used to calculate my carbon footprint. Suck it and see.


 Motorin', as they say, but with zero emissions and just those white things dragging Skylax along.


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