top of page

Roaring southerlies – or an northerly fight?

What the experts say about sailing conditions for the 40th anniversary race

Three weeks out from race day it’s officially time to start speculating on what the weather will bring.

“In short, for weather conditions that might result in a race record, especially within the divisions and classes, we want to see easterlies,” says Commodore of the New Zealand Mulithull Yacht Club Greer Houston.

He explains that in strong, sustained easterly conditions the 1996 race went down in history as records across almost all divisions were set – and retained for more than 13 years when supermaxis and faster, lighter multihulls started to make an appearance on the race scene.

“For enjoyable sailing, then any wind from the south will be hugely appreciated by sailors, for comfort and speed.”

We talked with two weather experts and consulted the weather archives of to get their perspective on the forces driving the sailing conditions we might see on race day.

MetService Meteorologist, Georgina Griffiths – herself a long-time Coastal sailor well acquainted with the race, called up weather data for us from selected maritime anemometers relevant to the Coastal Classic yacht race: Tiri Tiri, Mokohinau and Tutukaka Head.

She reports: “All locations clearly show the spring southwesterlies dominate the wind flows - occurring around 50% of the time, on average.

“However, this year doesn’t look ‘average’ at all, with regards weather patterns!” she says.

“I’ve been a forecaster for 30 years, and a sailor for longer than that, and there is every indication that the lead up to Labour Weekend looks set to see an abnormally high frequency of easterlies continue out in the Hauraki Gulf and along the Northland Coast”.

“We’ve seen a whole lot of northeasterly to easterly winds across northern New Zealand across winter. That set up looks likely to continue for the next four weeks (until 20 October, roughly). is a favourite weather prediction tool for sailors the world over and the team downloaded historical data for the month of October for the last ten years.

At the Tiri Channel waypoint it shows south-westerly breezes as dominant for around 40% of the time in October, westerlies for around 25% of the time, and anything from the south-easterly quarter as very rare, just a few marks on the percentage scale.

“It’s probably no news to any of us that south-west is the prevailing wind direction, and given that La Nina is supposed to stick around for the third year, patterns of the last two years should be relevant,” says spokesperson Nick Olson.

Ken Ring’s approach is a little different: he is a long-range forecaster who looks at trends and cycles of moon orbits to predict potential conditions and publishes them through his website Predictweather. Sailors will like what he has to say.

“Labour weekend is expected to see drying up after recent rain. The window of the few days 22-27 October produces the driest conditions of the month, and represents the most ideal conditions for the yachting.”

He says a large high pressure system in the north of the Tasman Sea is expected to extend its influence over the far north and north-west of New Zealand, while across over the southern half of the North Island, windy low-pressure westerlies may be experienced.

“Although most days in the week are overcast, the nights should be warm in contrast to the rest of the month. The atmospheric pressures should average 1015mbs. Winds are expected to blow from the south-west for the first 2 days, then from the west until the 26th, followed by north westerlies which could bring rain about the 28th.”

But with all the best advice in the world at our fingertips, we won’t know until racing. Like Metservice’s Georgina Griffiths says: “The million dollar question is what Labour Weekend will do.”


bottom of page