Weather - Sailor Beware!
By Jim Murrant

I remember one absolute drifter where there was almost literally no wind. The class racing was Flying Dutchman, which, as everyone knows, will move in a wind of only a couple of knots -- and yet all 30 or so boats were practically becalmed.

A Private Storm

We all had our spinnakers up because the course was a short reach to the start of the work to weather. I happened to look across at a boat to starboard of us just as the water around it -- and only round it -- began to wrinkle, then pucker, then work into a miniature storm. The poor fellows aboard had no chance. They capsized immediately, the spinnaker filled with water, and when the wind did come properly they were in so much strife that they withdrew from the race.

That treacherous bit of private weather will stick in my mind for the rest of my life because of the object lesson it gave. If weather could be so local, and so unpredictable -- then yachtsmen should learn all they can about it so even if they can't avoid that kind of capriciousness, at least they can be prepared for the more usual forms.

Weather, which includes wind -- the yacht's fuel -- is complex, temperamental and vital. And nobody knows the half of what it will do. But you can learn what is likely to happen in a given set of conditions. If
you're right only half the time you'll do better than the skipper who just takes what comes.

Advantages of Local Knowledge

For boats which race usually at one club for most of the season, a sort of pattern emerges. More often than not the race is sailed in the prevailing wind of the district, and after a couple of seasons skippers have a fair idea what to expect. Many rely on this 'experience' knowledge and nothing else. This might be all right as far as it goes, but if a skipper correlates the weather that has just happened to him with the weather he expected from newspaper weather maps, his own barometer, his observation of cloud formations and the forecasts issued by the local Weather Bureau, he is going to build a more accurate, detailed and predictable 'experience' knowledge than the others.

It is not terribly hard to sail decently when the conditions at the end of a short race are the same as they were at the beginning. The longer a race, the more often change is likely and the more important is a record of weather patterns. But the men are really picked from the boys when the conditions change halfway through.

So get to work. Follow the weather all through the week, make your own observations, and perhaps you'll become the person that exists in every yacht club -- the legendary skipper who can 'smell' the wind.