Knowing how to Read the Wind

Knowing how to Read the Wind Nov 10, 2021

You can’t see it, but it’s there.

By Dusty Miller

In first learning how to deal with the wind, you must find some way to visualize this element. No, I have not gone a little crazy. You cannot “see” the wind in the way that you might see rain or snow, but you can see the effects that the wind has on other objects and use these clues to gauge the wind’s intensity and direction.

The movement of the water about you will accurately paint a picture showing you the wind’s intensity and direction. You will notice things such as the depths of the troughs in the ripples appearing to be a darker colour than the crests. Moreover, as the wind increases, the troughs deepen in colour.

Now, do not make the mistake of looking at flags further down the harbor or even at flags two or three boats over from yours’ It is the wind that is directly around your vessel that will affect your boat. Remember that the wind is ever changing and is affected by many different things so watch the water immediately around your vessel.

Reading the wind is just half of the equation. The other half is putting that information to use and working with the wind at the beginning of each boat handling course that I teach, I get my student to stand on the bow of the boat or on the dock for a few minutes to observe the surroundings.

I ask the student to examine the direction of the wind and to consider that information in view of the angle in which the vessel is sitting. Then I ask if each of the lines were let go individually, how would the boat be affected.

I try to get the student to anticipate the movement of the vessel and to plan for it. It is important to identify the downwind lines (that is, those lines that are furthest away from the direction of the wind), the springs, and the up-wind lines (those lines closest to the wind).

Keep in mind that there is a right way and a wrong way to release your lines. The last line to be released should be the upwind line since that is the line that will best hold your vessel. Get used to the idea of reviewing Your current wind conditions and then planning a systematic release of the lines based on Your assessment of the wind. This simple planning Process can take the panic out of your departure.

So far, we have reviewed the procedure to move away from the dock but since few boaters have a straight shot out from the dock and into open water, we also must look at making those first critical turns to get out of the marina.

It is important here to keep in mind the direction and velocity of the wind because this will help you gauge how far into the channel you must proceed before beginning to make your 90-degree turn. The speed in which Your vessel is travelling is also a factor to consider.

Try to stay as high upwind as possible thus affording your vessel lots of room to maneuver. Continue to watch the ripples as you proceed out the channel, keeping your bow headed slightly into the wind to compensate for the wind’s effect or the drift.

When coming back to the slip, use the same set of principles to read the wind. However, when you approach the dock, do it from a downwind position. If you find that the wind is off the dock, examine the angles of approach and try to balance the angle and momentum against the wind.

At times, it may be necessary for you to keep your vessel in a stationary Position in confined quarters. The best way to do this is to determine the direction of the wind and then bring your stern up into the wind. Once You are Positioned this way, the wind travels down both sides of the vessel with equal velocity thus allowing Your vessel to maintain a stationary position.

You can stay still this way indefinitely even if the winds become very high just by touching in and out of gear thus making minor adjustments to Your position without getting underway. This position, called the “Safety Position”, is the only way You can safely hold your vessel in a con-fined quarter. Try it out the next time You are forced to wait for a Place on the gas dock or for a pump-out.

Approaching and maneuvering in confined and narrow Passages such as locks are another specialty case’ Because the winds in these areas are greatly affected by large obstructions, it would be misleading to determine the wind direction by looking at the flag at the top of the lock.

It may be blowing one way up there, but the winds coming out the lock door may be blowing in a completely different direction. I cannot emphasize it enough: read the direction and velocity of the wind right around your boat, not the wind 20 ft. or 30 ft. away.

So do yourselves a favor, start to work with the wind a day in which the winds are light. Try maneuvering your boat around a bit and progressively work your way up to stronger winds.

Remember the angle of the wind applied to your vessel tells You exactly what is going to happen to your boat and knowing that you can predict and make your corrections before anything happens.

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