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?