Guidance Counselor Page 3
3: Weather Router Walt Hack
By Tim Clark — July 2001
Sound a little daunting? What sets Hack apart is not just that he can make sense of all these resources; he also has the essential meteorological skills and experience to see where some numerical models or forecasts might have gone wrong, and he is somehow able to apply his insights on an amazingly localized basis.
When I recounted Kessler's Baja story to Hack, he laughed and told me, "That's an area you have to watch for a period of time, so that over a month or so you know what the local shift in the pattern is and what the major shift in the larger seasonal pattern is. A skipper might be able to look at just one of the aspects--perhaps how tough the offshore high pressure is. But in truth you have to look in all directions. When I don't understand something and I see two or three of the models are showing completely different things, I go back to square one, to fundamental meteorological understandings of air mass movements. I find out which air masses are interacting and where they're moving. That will usually give me an understanding at least in the short to medium term."
It's not just Hack's technical skill that has won him such a devoted clientele. Having used Hack's services during a recent trip between Florida and the Bahamas, one of the most experienced skippers I know told me that consulting Hack was like conferring with a spiritual advisor. He had seldom come across such a calm and reassuring presence. Milt Baker, who often uses Hack when cruising on his 42-foot Grand Banks Bluewater, told me, "The feeling I get from Walt is that he's sort of a mother hen and you're one of his chicks. You know that for the whole of the cruise he's focused on you and your vessel's needs, and if a weather system comes up, he'll always provide plenty of warning to get you the heck out of there."
Good weather routers have sometimes been called "shadow" crew members. With Hack the term implies more than just the practical contributions he makes to a voyage. I suspect that as he tracks yachts scattered over the world's oceans, he imagines himself aboard every one of them. "If you're doing this work, you have to have been at sea," he told me. "Otherwise you don't know what a 12-foot, seven-second wave looks like, you don't know what a breaking wave looks like, you don't know what it's like to be in 30-foot seas. These are things your clients could end up in if you don't give them the right information. That knowledge is motivating."
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This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.