Tuesday, September 12, 2006

More Windy Ramblings

The thoughtful comments to my post on Sailor's Wind blew me away. They may have only been a slight flurry in number but they packed the punch of a hurricane. They brought a breath of fresh air to my own thinking about weather and sailboat racing, and quite took the wind out of my sails.

I was impressed with the discussions of how other sailors are able to integrate weather forecasts, understanding of the science behind weather, local knowledge, observations and even visualization to inform their decisions on the racecourse. It's not that I didn't know that I ought to pay more attention to all those issues; it's just that I haven't developed the habits to do it consistently. Definitely very helpful input on a major way to improve my sailing. Thanks guys. You see I was right -- you can be my coach.

Somebody mentioned local knowledge. Ah, yes. The racing sailor's home field advantage. But even local knowledge isn't 100% reliable. Here's ab from Split Tacks telling us about a Laser race last weekend and revealing that although he knows that in the prevailing conditions the right side of the course should be advantaged, it's only true about 70% of the time. And here's another example where a sailor checked out his assumptions based on his local knowledge and found out that things were different from what he expected.

So even if you have local knowledge you have to check it out and can rarely afford to bet all the chips on your supposed inside information. And if you don't have local knowledge what can you do? How many ways are there to check out the wind conditions and get some information to form a race strategy? Here are a few. I'm sure you can think of others.

1. Sail the course before racing. Check wind directions, wind strength and tide conditions around the course. Is the wind oscillating or in a persistent shift? Is the wind or tide more favorable one side of the course? Are there curves in the wind near headlands or other land?

2. Split tacks with a buddy and see which side of the course is favored.

3. Watch the fleets that start before you. Which side of the course, if any, seems to be favored?

5. Look up the course in the final minutes before the start. What's happening? Are there gusts coming in from one side of the course?

6. Keep an eye on the rest of your own fleet up the beat. Are the guys on the other side of the course gaining, sailing faster, pointing higher?

7. Take a checkpoint at the windward mark. What worked? Which side did the leaders come from?

Or if you really must have local knowledge, then just ask the locals.

Or eavesdrop on them. One of my best races ever was when I overheard one of locals on the racecourse telling his buddy that although it wasn't yet the time of official high tide, the tide actually turned 45 minutes earlier in the part of the bay in which we were sailing. As a result I guessed that the morning's strategy of hugging the shore in light winds and adverse tide wasn't going to work any more and that I should tack away from the shore on the next race. The few brave souls who chose the same strategy were definitely in the minority but we made out big time. Hey, good intelligence is key.

So what have I missed? What other methods do you use to check out the wind on the racecourse?


Carol Anne said...

What was method 4?

Anonymous said...

3 is useful, but won't work at the highest (World Masters) level because there won't be a fleet starting ahead of you.

ab said...

I can still remember a race from a few years ago where one guy went hard left at the start when the rest of the fleet sailed up the middle. There was no indication in the forecast that the breeze would change that day. Of course, it swung hard left and he won the race by five minutes.

After the race he told me that he had seen a cruising yacht four miles away with a spinnaker up seemingly sailing directly into the wind, so he went searching for the different breeze it was in.

Since then, I've tried to follow an similar approach to what you've described. First, continually question what the wind will do next on a local level - never take anything for granted. Second, observe everything around you to gather data. Third, try and make sense of the data to answer the question.

Problem is, with everything else going on, I often forget to pay attention to the weather. Yet another thing to work on.

AdriftAtSea said...

Method 4 is the secret one that works the best, and he's holding it back to keep a competitve edge.

Tillerman said...

Good question carol anne - what was method 4? Darned if I can remember.

Good point anonymous there isn't always another fleet before your start. But at the Masters Worlds I have sailed there has been more than one fleet starting on the same (trapezoid course). For example in Cadiz we sailed in 4 fleets with the Apprentices and Masters on one course, and the Grand Masters and all the Radials on another course.

Tim said...

I would echo the comment about observation, it is always wise to 'keep a weather eye' as my dayd would say but sometimes a new wind can come from the opposite direction and so it pays to keep a lookout all around.

In regards to local conditions not always as expected, I think the answer is not to go too far away from the fleet in the expected direction of the advantage and keep an eye on your relative position to other boats in the fleet. In other words don't be greedy.

I once was leading a race and noticed that we were in a header and so tacked. What I failed to notice is that the header was a persistant shift and because my nearest competitor held his tack when he did tack he came out ahead. I should have been content with the lead that I had and kept with him until he tacked or ubtil I got close to the layline.

In regard to tides, it is worth checking out the local area as you do get quite diffferent effects. As a general rule the tide always turns in the deep water channels before it turns in the shallows.
Also the tide can flow in quite different directions on the race area at any one time and at differnt stages in teh ebb or flood.

I have made a point of check the flow at bouys with the compass at differnt times relative to high tide so that I gradually build up my knowledge of the tides in the area.

Carol Anne said...

Looking at other boats is key. Even if they're not racing, what happens to them gives a good clue about what the wind is doing. ab has it right on.

JP said...

Its worth checking several web sites for forecasts as they can vary a lot. There are a number that give GRIB data either in binary or graphical form.

Then check the pressure chart to understand what the numbers mean and get a better feel.

Then imagine the wind blowing over the land and try to work out how that might change its direction.

Finally keep you eyes peeled on other boats. On the round the island this year there were lots of wind holes but in general better wind for the start and finish on the island side and you could see that in the boats doing well.

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