MASTER AND COMMANDER
Ken Campbell has been forecasting weather for race teams and private yachts for over 30 years and in the Volvo Ocean Race 2008-09 he was the weather guru for PUMA. Campbell is probably better known to most of the sailing fraternity as one of the men behind Commanders' Weather, which has kept many a yachtsmen out of harm's way on the oceans.
Campbell and his business partner George Caras have a long history of providing Whitbread/Volvo teams with weather information. Clients included Yamaha (1993-94), Swedish Match (1997-98), Assa Abloy (2001-02), Brasil1 (2005-06) before il mostro came calling.
"My primary goal is education," says Campbell. "Teach them about the types of weather they may encounter, what it looks like on the GRIB (Gridded information in binary form) files and satellite imagery, my previous experience with that weather and how best to use that weather to our advantage. In short, I try to educate my guys."
Skipper Ken Read and general manager Kimo Worthington contacted him early in the PUMA campaign to secure his services. "I started out with some weather data and comments for the designers," he says. "Then we held a two-day weather seminar in Newport with the team the summer before the start."
His wife Brynn, who is also a meteorologist, and he both travelled to each of the stopovers to work with the team. "During and prior to the in-port races, I was either on the water with the team or on some hill or mountain overlooking the race course," said Campbell. "I would let them know where I thought the best breeze was and why. Prior to the leg start we had a daily weather briefing. We started seven days before the leg start, so we had plenty of time for questions and answers."
After nine months of the race, Ken and Brynn returned to running their business - Commanders' Weather - a bespoke weather service for racing and cruising yachts, in New Hampshire. "There are very low taxes in this state," says Campbell. "And a very stormy and wonderful climate. Weather people are not content with sunny, warm, weather day after day. I went to University in Florida and worked to the National Hurricane Centre, so I know sunshine and warm weather. Kinda boring!
"The company has over 6,000 clients, both racing clients, mega yachts, and plain cruising and deliveries. We also work with America's Cup syndicates like Artemis, Azzurra, and Synergy during the Louis Vuitton Trophy in Nice. We are under agreement with Team Origin for the next America's Cup, whenever that occurs.
"George is in Key West for Race Week as we have around 60 to 70 clients in that regatta. We are also providing weather routing for Oman Sail on their trip around the Indian Ocean."
Following a chance meeting at the America's Cup in New Zealand a few years ago, Campbell is now also involved in the film industry. "When I was in Auckland for the America's Cup, I met the owner of the company, which did the on-the-water scenes for the movie Titanic.
"We hit it off and we have worked on numerous other film projects all around the world. We also worked on the US TV show Survivor. We have also just finished routing Jim Phyfe, an American, whose lifelong dream was to sail from New Zealand to Cape Horn. We started talking about this in 1999. Well, he has only just finished the trip. Things like that are great fun."
Campbell's place of work is mild compared to the conditions he advises on, but does he ever get out on the water? "I am not a sailor and never will be," he says. "I have done a few offshore races and found them very interesting from a weather and tactics standpoint, but that was it.
"I won't be doing any more racing other than on a weather consulting basis. I love to route the yachts from the warmth and comfort of my office."