I'm grateful for all of you for pointing out this blind spot in my thinking. It's not that I don't think about what the wind is doing, and what it's going to do, when I'm racing. But it is somewhat worrying that it didn't come to mind when I made that list. I'm going to try and explain this omission and it may come off as a bit defensive. But bear with me as I try to explain how I currently approach this whole issue and then, by all means, tell me if you think I need to make some improvements.
First of all, let me explain that most of the racing I do (in Lasers) takes place on relatively short courses in relatively short times. We are not talking Newport to Bermuda here. We're talking about windward legs of up to a mile or so (often less) and total race length of no more than an hour or so. So the wind effects that are important are on a relatively small scale both in distance and time. It's of little use to me to be told that the wind blowing on the coastline is probably going to shift twenty degrees to the right some time this afternoon. What I need to know is what the wind is going to do during the next ten minutes in the stretch of water half a mile upwind of me.
So although I do study weather forecasts available from various public sources, my gut feel is that they don't often help me very much. A dinghy sailor needs to understand micro-weather patterns and you're typically not going to find that from any regular weather forecast.
OK, you say, so you need to study Walker's book where he does explain the causes of various wind patterns and deal with small-scale wind effects too. Then you would be able to predict what's going to happen to the wind on your racecourse. Now Dr Walker is a superb sailor and is highly knowledgeable about many aspects of sailing, but in my opinion his prose style is often turgid and impenetrable. Take this for example...
It has recently been recognized that one of the most common form of large-scale, boundary-layer convection is the horizontal convective roll. HCRs develop when wind shear causes a rising column of heated air to twist into a horizontal helix. Continued rotation entrains additional air so that such helices, approximately aligned with the surface air flow, ultimately extend downwind for miles. Because adjacent rolls counterrotate, persistent bands of vertical flow (alternately upwards and downward) develop in the regions between them; bands of altered surface flow, backed or veered and strengthened or diminished by the direction of the adjacent vertical flow, develop beneath them.
Hmm. I think he's saying that some times the wind is "streaky". But I already knew that.
At the Laser Masters Worlds in Spain three years ago, the regatta organizers arranged for a professional meteorologist to brief the sailors before each day of racing. So a few dozen of us trooped into a meeting room each day and watched this guy's PC-based presentation of weather patterns and predictions. As I recall, half the time his predictions were wrong.
So let me summarize. Basically I'm saying that conventional weather forecasts, and even study of the theory behind weather, are of very little help for the kind of racing I do. However, practical observation on the race course, prior to and during the race, can provide a lot of valuable information about what the wind is doing and what it is likely to do.
But what do you think? Do you find you are able to gather useful information for your racing from a weather forecast? Does your theoretical understanding of weather make you a better racer?
Next post: ways of checking out the weather on the course...