I have copied below a couple of questions with answers regarding weather and sailboat racing by two of my favourite sailing mentors. Dave Dellenbaugh of the Speed and Smart Newsletter https://www.speedandsmarts.com/ who asked the questions and Chelsea Carlson https://www.sea-tactics.com/ who has answered based on her knowledge as a qualified Meteorologist and successful sailor.
If a racing sailor asked you for one weather tip that would be most helpful for their long-term racing success, what would you say?
Long-term success comes from continual learning. You can pick up some quick racing tips here and there, but my advice is to focus on learning concepts about the wind and weather. This will help you understand how the wind behaves wherever you go.
If I absolutely had to give one (and only one) word of advice, I’d probably say ‘Look up at the clouds!’ The clouds are full of good clues about the wind.
Is there any part of weather forecasting that sailors should not worry about so much?
A lot of people rely too much on a favourite weather app on their phone. Technology and models will generally not give you much of a competitive edge (unless you are using custom tech at a high level).
An app can give you a big part of the weather picture (i.e. ‘the wind direction will slowly shift right all day’), but it won’t usually tell you the key, subtle information that makes the biggest difference in your race performance.
That info comes from your brain on the racecourse when you see clouds and all the other local clues that tell you what the wind is doing.
When you’re racing, how much time do you spend actually looking up at clouds?
Probably more than you’d think, but it depends a lot on my crew role. When I’m not driving, I am usually responsible for weather, strategy and keeping track of the compass numbers.
I make a conscious effort to be ‘head out of the boat’ (i.e. looking at the sky and wind) as much as possible. One of the best times to sky-scan and think about the weather is on the sail out to the course.
Then I continue this while we are tuning up, and I spend a solid five minutes watching the sky and clouds shortly before the start.
During the race I’ve also made it a habit to scan the sky every few minutes for changes.
What are some good clues about future changes in wind speed and direction?
Sometimes there are easy clues, sometimes not. The best indicators of changes in the wind are usually clouds, which are certainly the easiest to see.
If you understand how the wind works around clouds, it can be a game-changer.
For other clues you might ‘feel’ them rather than see them – like a change in air or water temperature, which may signal a potential change in the wind.
A good rule of thumb is that warming air indicates more ‘overturning’ in the atmosphere, which means a higher chance of shifts and puffs.
Cool air means the layers of air are more stable, so it’s less puffy and shifty.
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