A weather eye on Rio 

Simon Rowell more features

Team meteorologist Simon Rowell offers his perspective on conditions at the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic venue

As we look down onto Guanabara Bay from Sugarloaf Mountain, I see lot of big lumps of rock sticking up all over the harbour and for me that’s the really interesting thing about the weather in Rio. 

Because Rio is quite tropical, the weather here is quite energetic – there’s lots more heat and lots more energy around so things can change quite rapidly. 

But with all those rather scenic and rather lovely lumps of rock sticking up all around the place it also makes for very interesting conditions on and around the race courses.

Where I’m sitting at the moment, midway up Sugarloaf, is probably the single biggest significant lump of rock in the harbour because, depending on what the wind direction is, the wind over the various race courses will either swirl a bit, or just not be there at all, or change quite suddenly.  It’s really quite a tricky place to sail!

As a sailing venue, I think Rio is great.  It’s a nice big harbour, there are lots of different varieties in the course areas.  It’s quite tidal as well, or it can be.  I think it’s brilliant, and apart from anything else, it’s so beautiful.  Every time you get on the water you look around and it’s just lovely.

There are three course areas inside the harbour – Bridge, Sugarloaf and Escola Naval – and there are three course areas outside the harbour which are Niteroi, Copacabana, and the latest new one, Pai.

Rio Panoramic

Each course has its own characteristics, even though they may be only a mile or two apart on the water.  Because of the land around them and the depth of water underneath them, they can be quite different.

Bridge, or Ponte – the most northerly and so-called because of its proximity to the enormous road bridge connecting the east and west sides of Guanabara Bay – is more protected by the land around it, in but can actually see quite strong winds because the winds tend to funnel up towards it.

In the middle of the Bay is Escola Naval – that tends to be more affected by land nearby, and gaps around the land nearby, which allows interesting gusts to come in.

On Sugarloaf, which is where the medal races will be held – right up close to the beach and right underneath Sugarloaf – there are lots of sticky up bits of land (a very technical term!) around there which makes for some challenging racing. There’s a great phrase in sailing ‘head out of the boat’ and I think the Sugarloaf course is probably the most ‘head out of the boat’ course around the event.

Outside of the harbour, the big difference here is the swell.  We are in the south Atlantic here, not that you’d believe it, and at the bottom of the south Atlantic is the Southern Ocean and that’s where some really quite sturdy low pressure systems are.  Every now and again we do get quite a big southerly swell.  Of the three of them, the new one Pai is the least surrounded by land.  This year will be the first time we’ve sailed on it.  Niteroi is quite close to a couple of islands, and Copacabana, named due to its proximity to the beach, tends to be fairly open, except when the wind is coming from one particular direction when the wind gets messed about by islands. 

I have the co-ordination of a breeze block, which is why I don’t personally go sailing on something unless it has a keel or a kettle, but I really enjoy working with the British Sailing Team.  The organisation as a whole is very professional and very hard-working but practically so.  It’s also extremely good fun! 

I’m looking forward to spending more time in Rio over the coming year.  Not only is it beautiful here, it’s professionally very interesting and just a very enjoyable thing to do.