The New Zealand weather forecasts remind us of home in as much as they highlight the maritime nature of the country and, in a place where everyone seems to have some kind of boat, even if it's just a 'tinny' aluminium fishing boat for the weekend, the windspeed and wave conditions they report seem relevant to most Kiwis. Back in Britain the Shipping Forecast on Radio 4 is, for the majority of listeners, a rather arcane but oddly reassuring intonation of strange names and terminology; Dogger, Fisher, German Bight.... For sailors, though, it instantly evokes memories of feverishly scribbling down the words on a notepad made soggy from wet sleeves and dripping hair at a slanted chart table and hoping that the 'Westerly Gale 8' might arrive 'later' (in 12 hours or more) and not be 'imminent' (within 6 hours) as we raced for a sheltered harbour.
Before Graham was born, his father, Geoff, was briefly in a pop group (not sure that's the correct term, a combo might be better?) produced by legendary Beatles producer George Martin; the Master Singers were his other Fab Four. They shot, briefly, to fame but sadly not fortune with a No. 22 hit called The Highway Code. That wasn't just the name of the song, they actually sang the contents of the Highway Code booklet in the unaccompanied style of a Gregorian Chant; clearly something of novelty number (Google it if you don't believe us!). A slightly less successful follow-up, the difficult second single, was The Weather Forecast where, you've guessed it, they sang the Shipping Forecast: Humber, Thames, Dover, et al. It ended, after increasingly loud sound effects of wind, thunder and lightning, with the words: "In short, the weather will be normal for the time of year."
Well, here in the South Pacific the weather certainly isn't normal for the time of year and without the luxury of internet access here in Fulaga, we can't click onto all the weather forecasting sites that we normally use to make sense of what's going on. So we're back to scribbling notes whilst we listen to the static-laden SSB radio for the daily update from NZ, some 1,100 miles away. Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic service but we have to learn a new language and set of weather rules for this part of the world; for a start, the winds revolve the opposite way around high and low pressure cells compared to the northern hemisphere and the fronts bring squalls and downdrafts and something called CB's. Not too sure what they are but they sound nasty.
Anyway a big weather front is passing over us as we speak and the boats at anchor have obediently weather-cocked to illustrate its arrival. The wind, which had been blowing strongly from the SE (the normal Trade Winds direction) has reduced and veered (the opposite way to a northern hemisphere veer) to the NE, then the N and it's now NW (all within a few hours). The atmosphere has become increasingly hot and humid and the heavy rain has just begun; we'll let it wash the decks for 20 minutes then open the lid of the deck filler to the main fresh water tank, just as the villagers are diverting it from their corrugated iron roofs into their tanks. The big unknown is whether the passing front will bring cloud bursts and strong wind squalls so we might have a disturbed night.
Which brings us onto some new-to-us meteorological terms from the radio forecasters. The BBC talks very formally about Force 5 or Gale Force 8, from the Beaufort Scale invented by the eponymous Admiral of the Royal Navy, but the New Zealanders give the windspeed in knots. Occasionally the forecaster at Gulf Harbour Radio will add the delightfully unauthorised illustrative term of 'BLS' (Blowing Like Snot, which we take to be about a Force 6) and we've heard other boats referring to 'BDOC' (Blowing Dogs off Chains, an Australian term, we think, for about a Force 8). At the moment, we're pleased to report, it's 'As Calm As', as the Kiwis would say. Fingers crossed for a quiet night.