Aprender a navegar a vela para saber de dónde viene el viento
How to know where the wind comes from
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One of the problems that all sailmakers usually go through in their first days, is one that is related to a basic concept that you have to know before sailing. All students usually ask something basic for the monitor, but for them it is elementary to understand. Even before hearing any kind of theory. Even long before you even prepare a boat to start going out to sea.

Introduction: Where does the wind come from?

From the moment students, regardless of their age, come to a yacht club to learn how to navigate, the first thing they will do is ask where the wind comes from. It is something that can seem and basic. But the first day of class, which is going to be theoretical, it is impossible to start without explaining where the wind comes from.

So I think that the first day of class does not have to use the blackboard. You do not have to sit them all on the chairs and start the class. You have to take them outside to walk and take a walk. In the case that you are the students, the same people who are reading this, you can ask them to give you a tour of the area so that you are familiar. Not only you will see how is the environment in which you are going to practice this beautiful sport, but you will see something as basic, fundamental and as important to learn as the engine that will make you advance: the wind.

We, who are going to sail, will depend totally on the wind, for good and for bad. If we have a problem it will be related to the wind. We will not have the engine to return to earth, so our gasoline or our fuel will be the wind. That’s why we have to understand it by giving a playful twist. We will also make friends.

Before going out to sea

From your house to the sailboat

If we are very green with the subject of navigation and do not want to have problems, what we have to do is try to understand where the wind comes from before going out to sea. All this will be part of a very healthy prevention that will help us to be able to mount our boat safely, leave the port; the marina or the Yacht Club; and get into open waters ready to navigate safely. So on the way to our sailboat, what we have to do is to start looking at what we have around us.

Many cities have flags placed on handles on top of emblematic buildings. This can give us the first reference to know where the wind comes from. In addition, it would be a plus of information to take out the mobile phone and look at the flag to which side of the compass of our mobile is addressed. That is, to which place the building’s flag points according to our Smartphone’s compass. If the flag is focusing towards the south, after looking at our mobile phone, it means that the wind comes from the north. Therefore, when we are in open water, the wind may come from the north. Remember that within the clubs and during the start there are turbulences. In this case, we will have to see if in the middle of the sea we have a point of view to the north completely clear; towards an infinite sea; or we have our own city. This will be the difference between having waves because they come from the open sea, or having the sea flat because in the north we have our own city that will not let waves come in.

That is, while we are on the way to our sailboat or our sailing classes, we will have to imagine that we are in the middle of the sea. If there is an infinite wind, there will be more waves. If from where the wind comes there is land we will have less waves.

Nautical club flags

At the moment in which we arrived at our Yacht Club, what we have to do is look at the flags and there is usually in the upper part of the yachts. In general, they usually have the flag of their own yacht club and the state flag. How can you see both flags fluttering and waving in the same direction? This address will not indicate where it comes from if not where the wind is going.

To know where the wind comes from when we look at a flag we have to look at the stick that holds it. The stick will be that part through which the wind enters. This part of the flag will be the one that indicates where the wind comes from. The part by which the candle flies will be the part that does not indicate anything. What’s more, the flags are usually broken by this part. For the part that moves more and flames that is where they tend to unravel.

Mallets of the masts

Once we are entering the Yacht Club, what we have to do is look at the sailboats that surround us. From here, what we are going to do is look up and look at the top of the masts. Most sailboats have in their upper part, called biscuit, a candle that is also known as windex (vane in English). To know where the wind comes from, we do not have to look at a single weather vane. What we have to do is look at most of the vanes.

Within the nautical club there are many turbulences so we will have to do is to draw a general scale of what most windex indicate. But, although it seems incredible, look at the wind vanes of the sailboats and it will indicate where the wind can come from when we have to make maneuvers to leave the Yacht Club. Because if we look at the vanes they are located at a height that coincides with the upper part of the breakwaters that cover Club Nautico. Therefore, that wind is very similar to the real wind it makes outside.

Smoke from houses and factories

It depends on the time of the year in which we are, we can see many signs of smoke that will indicate where the wind is coming from. Although it also depends on where we live, smoke signals will always keep the same direction as a flag. The part by which the smoke begins to rise will be the one that marks where the wind comes from. And the part by which the smoke begins to become thicker and more diffused will be the part by which the wind is going away.

The nautical anemometer

There are nautical clubs that have anemometers at the top. If you are lucky and your yacht club is one of these, what you have to do is get used to the dynamics that professional sailors have. What it is like to get to Club Náutico in the morning and the first thing they do is look at the anemometer. The anemometers are made up of different needles but lately they are replacing the old ones with digital ones.

So, you can directly look at some value that ends with KN, which means knot or knots in English, to know the intensity of the wind and, right there, there will be some needle in constant motion that will indicate where the wind comes from.

With this, the anemometer of the place of departure, you can start thinking about your exit from your club. In case you leave a marina or a port this will go wonders. Because you can calculate on which side you have to leave without taking zigzagging directions. If you are a big boat, you will go out on the motor, but if you are a light sail you will have to make boards on the side that you least bother or that you can go faster. Always on the right.

During the departure of the port, marina or yacht club

Many years ago, at the time of leaving a yacht club, a marina or a port, the Civil Guard was attentive and ready to put a fine in the event that you will take a different direction to the rectilinear. They called it a zigzag course. And you fell a hell of a fine. Since then things have changed a lot but what has happened is that they have put speed radars to prevent the lacnhas from going too fast inside the ports. So the speeds to leave a port are usually between 4 and 6 kn (knots).

Eye: In this case we will be talking about speed knots, not knots of wind.

So if we are not light sailing what we have to do is avoid going with the engine too fast. In the event that we sail, regardless of whether we are a large ship or a small ship, we will have to take this moment to look at the wind vanes of the sailboats and the flags of the yachts. Since the larger yachts, the larger the banner hanging from the stern.

Tip: Remember that stern is the back of a ship.

Whenever we can, we’ll go right out. This means that we must draw a central imaginary line through which we will leave the port, the marina or the club and place ourselves on the right. Always trying to make the minimum number of tacks possible.

Flags in the crossheads

When we look at the flags of the masts of sailboats we have to look at the difference between each flag. Between the one located in the part of above of the boat, in the stick or mast, will be the one that indicates the place in which is the sailboat, with respect to the course of the flag that there is in the back of the boat, that indicates the nationality ship’s. Where is the sailboat?

As a curiosity we can see that these two flags have a little difference between them. The one above is always going to be a little more to the side of the one below. And this occurs because the wind, the higher, more power usually has and a different direction too.

Boats entering their dock

The boats that enter must be emproarse (look at the wind) to lower (lower) the sails. This will be a good time to look at where your boat is heading. That will be the place where the wind comes from and that we will have to take into account when leaving the port. Because it will pull us or bring us to dangerous places such as land, docks or pontoons. Always leaving the imaginary channel on the right, but keeping a course away from the stones to have room for maneuver.

We have already gone out to sea

Once we are on the outside of the facilities where we have moored the sailboat, we can look at several objectives that will tell us where the wind comes from and then act accordingly. The position that we will have to adopt with the boat to start raising or raising the sails will depend on it. But this is another issue that we will develop at another time.

Direction of the waves

The first thing we will notice will be the waves. In general, without going into details, the waves will come from the same direction as the wind does. What’s more, the waves have density in terms of their color.

If we look closely at the color of the water that surrounds us, we may see spots or clear areas and others darker. If we see that the waves come from a certain direction and that area is darker than the one that surrounds us, that area can have a gust of wind. That is to say, that the wind does not have to be perfectly homogeneous in all the sea that surrounds us.

TIP: Dark areas of the sea can indicate that a lot of wind is coming suddenly.

DID YOU KNOW … In the America’s Cup races a few years ago, there was a sailor at the top of the mast. Yes, there on top, moving from side to side while holding the mast. His mission, so many meters high, was to search and find areas of high wind for his boat to win. One of the things I looked at was dark sea areas. These dark areas could be clusters of wind that, turning the surface of the sea, made it dark. Of course, the next thing is that the waves begin to break and form small crests of foam. Called waves, according to the territory, sheep. So with the very dark sea with a lot of wind, white sheep can appear.

TIP: The sheep are the foams on the crests of the waves.

Movement of the clouds

Fourth are the clouds. So in general and a boat soon, without entering into subtleties, the clouds will move according to the direction of the wind carried by it. Moreover, many sailors before their tests what they do is see the color and density of them. Even if they are developing vertically in some concrete part of the sky to know if the wind will come from there in the next few minutes. That is, they make a forecast to ojímetro. The more you advance, the more chances you have of winning the regatta.

If we look at the sky and see that there are clouds on our right and there is no on our left, there may be wind where there are clouds. But what you have to do is look where they move. Where they come from will be where the wind comes from.

Waving flags on land

From the middle of the sea we have a 360 degree vision. It will be a good time to look at the ground and, in the case of having flags, watch how they wave to see where the wind is coming from. There may be above the nautical clubs, that is, from our own facilities or at the mouth (exit mouth) of the port. This will help us if they are too high. Since they will wave above our shelter. Typical situation before leaving in the middle of the sea that serves to protect the boats that are moored.

The top vane of your mast

Our wind vane or windex that we can have in the upper part of our sailboat will indicate where the wind comes from. In the case that we are mounted on top of a light sail, we can always place a small vane on the top of the mast or on the front part of the boom.

For example, in the event that we leave with a 420, some sailors place a weather vane on the top of the pole or mast, others in front of the boom also on the pole and others in the bow. Although in this last site, a big wave might start it off. Even when we do a submarine. This, we will say that it is in another page, we can briefly say that it consists of accidentally submerging the bow in the sea with its consequent instantaneous loss of speed or directly a dump of the sailing dinghy. And we may go behind and also fall.

The anemometer of your sailboat

Get an anemometer and you will only have to look inside your bathtub (the boat’s management area) to see what wind it does, expressed in kn (knots) and what direction it has. With this you will know what position you will have to adopt in open water to raise the sails.

Merchants anchored at sea

The third thing we can do to situate ourselves is to see if there are ships anchored. That is, if the anchor is pulled. In this case we will see the chain that comes out of its prows; or front parts; towards the water. The type of anchored boats that we can find may be very diverse but they will have a common denominator: they will all look at the same address. All will focus their foreparts or bows towards the wind.

Eye, because when we develop the anchorages, we will see that, if a sailboat, boat … mechanical propulsion boat … to sail …, has more than one anchoring, the boat will not look at the wind. But this is another topic from another entry.

Merchants move very slowly. And this movement around the mooring chain is called Borneo. And borneo is slow because they are very large and heavy vessels. Then the wind will affect them slowly. And it is very good to look at them because they will indicate the direction of the wind in a reliable way in comparison to all the rest of anchored boats.

The touch of the wind on your face

The second thing we will notice will be the wind on our face, which, without going into details, we can tell the boat soon that wherever it comes from we will notice it because we will not be able to look at it with our eyes open. They are going to cry. This is very general, and depends on many factors that we will tackle one by one, but as a general rule and to learn how to sail from scratch, we will do very well.

Conclusion: Know where the wind comes from

If you want to know where the wind comes from so that you can sail with your sailboat, when you are in the middle of a lake or the sea, you should look:

  1. Waves: Where they come from.
  2. Touch: Feel and look at the wind on both sides of your face equally.
  3. Merchants: The other anchored boats look at the wind.
  4. Clouds: Where they are moving from.
  5. Weathervanes: Add one above your mast.

If still there are things you do not understand … leave your question in the comments. See you at sea!