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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, June 20, 2003

Mariners are counting on 'WeatherGuy'

By Wade Kilohana Shirkey

"Sailors do not need to know where the weather is. ... They need to know where the weather is going to be. And there is where Rick Shema shines!"

So wrote a client and fan of Shema, a Kailua-based meteorologist who has carved a niche as "travel agent to the nautical set."

Also known as the "WeatherGuy," Shema helps yachtsmen, ship captains and others solve those weather and navigational problems that can drive any boater a little dingy.

He'll tell mariners on oceans worldwide the best way to get to their destination. "WeatherGuy gives us the comfort that someone is watching!" one trans-Pacific yacht racer wrote to his Web site, www.weatherguy.com.

Shema can steer you around hurricanes and out of doldrums. He's even delivered a wife's message to a husband whose cell phone had died mid-ocean.

Shema said he has 350 to 400 clients, of whom about 150 are year-round clients. He began his navigational business full-time in February 2002.

His clients run the gamut from the occasional small-craft pleasure boater, to captains of gargantuan luxury liners. Sailors ferrying boats across the Pacific for delivery call on Shema.

He's guided yacht racers in the Kenwood Cup and TransPac to victory. In this year's TransPac, starting July 1, he'll be aboard one boat as crew.

The retired Navy officer, 47, began a love affair with the sea at childhood, sailing Lightnings, Sunfish and Lasers by his teens. Later he was chief meteorologist and forecaster aboard aircraft carriers, cruisers and destroyers.

He said he is one of a handful of professional "weather routers" in the nation; most of the others are based along the New England seaboard.

Shema calls on a varied array of technologies, including public marine coastal and offshore forecasts, ocean buoy observations, satellite imagery, Internet marine fax charts, tide charts, Doppler radar readings — and an experienced sailor's intuition.

"I crunch a few numbers," he said, then recommends a detailed ocean route. It's AAA's "TripTik" gone nautical. For tropical cyclones he provides 72-hour forecasts, storm-track graphics and text, local conditions of readiness — even an ominous-sounding "strike probability."

Sometimes, the problems that confront mariners come home to roost on one's own yardarm. In 1993, with wife Tamlyn, and dog Scottie aboard, Shema's 33-foot sloop Charisma began taking on water. On his radio, he uttered the words he hoped he never would: "Mayday! Mayday! U.S. Coast Guard, Honolulu. ... "

Water continued to rush into the main cabin below, and with a final gasp, the boat submerged.

After a helicopter rescue of wife and dog, Shema was reluctant to climb into the hovering rescue basket; he didn't want to abandon his boat.

Like a nautical Boy Scout, Shema preaches preparedness: "Would you rather be on the dock, wishing you were sailing — (or) sailing wishing you were on the dock?" he asks. "When there is a problem on the water, you can't walk home."

Everything, he says, rides on one thing: Being shipshape.