Looking for visual clues for reading the wind is a talent that all the most skilled sailors have in abundance.
One of the first things a new sailor is taught is that sailing revolves around the wind. The thing that they must study and become skilled at is knowing the direction of the wind and its strength.
This information is the cornerstone of our sport and dictates where the boat can sail and how fast you can go in a specific direction. It also dictates what sails you can put up, how you will set the boat up or whether you can go sailing at all.
When you are racing, being able to react to changes in the wind is the difference between winning and losing.
Whether you are sailing a short windward leg to a mark or a much longer leg in an ocean race, being able to predict what is going to happen during that leg is essential to give you an edge over the competition.
In an around the cans race, what worked on a previous windward leg may not be the same the next time you do that leg.
Keep Your Head Out Of The Boat
The ability to use your eyes to see the wind is a skill that all sailors need to develop.
Seeing the wind has been referred to as being able to see colours on the water. The lighter shades are caused by fewer ripples in areas with less wind. The darker shades are caused by more ripples which are an indication of more breeze.
The secret is to have someone with their head out of the boat looking for more pressure at all times. More colour means more pressure which means more speed.
Other Visual Clues
Other boats on your course whether they be in the same race or even a different class or size give excellent clues. Their angle of heel will indicate wind strength and of course, where they are pointing will indicate wind direction.
Be sure to consider the different attributes of the boats you are observing. Also, make sure that you are referencing racing boats and not boats that are out day sailing or cruising.
Look around for other clues such as flags, and smoke. If you are close to shore you can get clues from the way trees are being blown about or dust rising in the air.
In your quest for “seeing the wind,” practice makes perfect and even when you are out enjoying a sail with friends always be casting your eyes about to practice this skill.
When you are at a race venue, especially one that you have not sailed at before, travel to a high point and observe the wind pattern from there. The higher the vantage point, the easier it is to see the wind on the water.
There are cases in lake sailing where stronger wind from higher up will sink down to the surface. This makes a distinctive shape on the water called a cat’s paw. The wind direction on the left side of the cat’s paw will be a right shift compared to a boat on the right edge.
Clouds – Looking for visual clues for reading the wind
There are times when you can notice a consistent trend by watching the clouds and their position relative to you.
It pays to watch the sky at the same time as watching the water to build your race strategy.
The direction clouds are moving and the speed of that movement should always be factored into your course planning. The water’s surface always has the best clues though but don’t discount what is going on above.
Keep Your Plans fluid
Sometimes what you observed when you first got out on the course pre-race may not now be relevant.
As with all plans and strategies keep revising right up to and after the start gun.