Wind awareness is a very important skill to learn, essential when it comes to sailing a boat safely and efficiently.
Knowing where the wind is coming from will allow you to plan your passage more effectively. Knowing the wind direction enables you to trim your sails to decrease your passage time and in some cases make the boat more pleasant to sail.
The wind direction can be obtained in a number of ways on board a boat. A lot of dinghy sailors will simply use the way the wind feels on their face to work out where the wind is coming from, however if you are new to sailing using an instrument to show you the direction can often be easier.
Boats can be fitted with a windex or burgee on top of the mast, a simple flag or arrow similar to a wind vain designed to point into the wind, enabling you to see visually where the wind is coming from. Some yachts will have instruments that allow you to view the direction at deck level, which is useful on larger yachts as it saves you straining your neck looking at the top of the mast.
Once you have a good idea of the direction of the wind relative to your boat you can start to look at your course relative to the wind and how best to trim your sails for that course.
Sails work in a similar way to an aircraft wing, creating an area of high and low pressure which creates lift;
You can try this yourself by taking a spoon and running it under a tap. The spoon will be sucked into the flow of water because the water on the curved side of the spoon in forced to flow faster creating lower pressure.
When lift is combined with the resistance of the keel the lateral forces are turned into forward propulsion and a sail boat moves forward. The lateral forces are similar to taking a wet bar of soap and squeezing it, the result makes the soap slide out of your hand
When a sail is over or under trimmed it disrupts the flow of air causing it to stall and to work less efficiently. On an airplane this can be disastrous, but on a boat it results in a lack of speed and increased healing, making your journey longer and more uncomfortable.
It’s easy to see when a sail is very under trimmed, it flaps. The first part of the sail to flap will be the leading edge or the luff of the sail. Just remember a flappy sail is an unhappy sail.
Over trimming a sail is more common than under trimming as an over-trimmed sail does not flap and so look trimmed. Over trimming a sail causes the boat to heel more making it uncomfortable for everyone on board and it slows the speed of the boat. A sail is trimmed correctly when the flapping just stops and the tell tails on both sides of the sails are flying horizontally. For more information on sail trimming, please look at our Sailing Manual.
Remember every time the boat alters course you need to alter the trim of your sails.
Improving wind awareness
Practice is the key and being out on the water, the more experience you have greater your wind awareness will become.
If you regularly sail larger yachts you may wish to consider trying dinghy or keel boat sailing. Both dinghy and keel boats react more instantly to correct sail trim and highlight small mistakes, this will result in a steeper learning curve of understanding.
Covering up your wind instruments and trying to sail the boat just using how the wind feels on your face and the tell tails on the sails forces you to think more about the wind direction.
Equinox Sailing run regular refresher weekends throughout the year, if you would like to practice your sailing skills, contact us on 020 7002 7676 email [email protected]