Seeing the wind

People always ask me about where to find a good weather forecast. A weather forecast is important for sailing. It's an outdoor sport that needs the wind in order for us to move. Some of us also spend time chasing the wind as strong wind = super fast and fun sailing. However, as a beginner we usually suggest only sailing in wind less than 10 mph. That usually begs the question, how do I know? What does 10 mph look like? Where can I find out the forecast for wind strength?

In this article I'm going to tackle what the wind looks like. It doesn't involve magic powers, all you have to do is know what you're looking for.

Strong wind

An RS Vision fast with the CN Tower in the background and instructors sailingYou probably already have a good idea of what strong wind looks like. Trees bent sideways, big waves and spray. There can be whistling sounds as the wind weaves its way around objects. You might lose your hat or your umbrella could turn inside out.

The water will get darker, dull and the waves will get bigger as the wind gets stronger. When you start to see waves with something called a white cap or a white horse, and you're a beginner, then you should be staying onshore. A white cap is usually on the top of a wave and can be seen as a white streak.

If the area is sheltered as in the above picture, you might not get the white caps. This is when it's hard to tell if it's windy. Go and stand somewhere exposed as buildings and trees can shelter you from strong wind. If it feels too windy and you've never felt such strong wind when you've been sailing before then my advice would be, "don't go" or at least "be cautious". You'll just see very dark water and if it's sunny lots of reflection from the little waves created by the strong wind.

Light wind

A group of three people sailing together in an RS Vision

Light winds (as in the picture to my right) look very different. The water becomes shiny rather than dull. This is because there are no waves or ripples. The lighter the wind gets the more reflective it becomes. That means it behaves like a mirror. In the picture to the right you can quite clearly see the reflection of the three people in the sailboat.

The light the wind the more extreme these things become.

Building experience

Whenever you're outside try to look at what's around you. Look at an app on your phone or a website (I will post other articles on this) and compare what you feel and see to what the weather forecast says. Think to yourself, what strength of wind is this right now? Looking around you in a range of conditions is the best way to build skill at being able to decide, without the help of an anemometer (an instrument that reads wind strength), what strength the wind is.

Typically it's something that sailors like to be able to talk about. "Looks like 10 mph today." "No way, it's more like 12 mph."

What does 10 mph look like?

Sailing an RS Vision in the Outer Harbour 10mph wind

10 mph is before the wind starts to feel strong. Your sailboat will move and you can sit up on the side but you're not struggling. It's that time you remember as being an awesome sail where everything felt right. It's the best condition to go out in as a beginner!

  • You can feel the wind but it's not worrying you.
  • The leaves on the trees are rustling and the flags are flying.
  • There's some reflection on the water but there's definitely dull areas because there's ripples and small waves.

Using an online forecast

I'm going to save this for another post as there's a lot to say here. I'm also going to recommend some of the weather sites that I think are accurate and user friendly. Stay tuned there's more to come!