"Thar she blows."
"No, not a white whale..It's neither man-made, nor fake...
It's real, undaunting and invisible!
It's the wind!"
Years ago when I was teaching sailing, I would often ask novices to identify the wind during their first class. I asked them to point in the direction from which it came. Some immediately, almost confidently pointed while some tentative students would hesitate and slowly decide. Some even pointed in opposite directions. Some arms would inevitably cross and collide. It was almost laughable as some would alter their arm direction where more self-assured arms stood firm. What I discovered was that frequently half of each novice class was either unaware and/or uncertain about wind direction. They could feel it, but they had little idea about it beyond its existence.
So I would always subsequently ask them how they determined wind direction...what indicators had they used. While I initially discovered some could determine the wind's direction, I also realized many did not feel confident. When I delved further, it was obvious most had relatively little experience developing a deep relationship and understanding with wind. Their answers often lead me to believe their apparent perceptions and misperceptions about the true nature of wind and wind direction needed adjusting if they were going to learn to sail.
Certainly sailors and many of those who grew up near or on the water discover wind's effects rather early. Wind knowledge becomes almost second nature for some; for others determining wind direction and wind speed can be tricky. Because I had a feel for wind at an early age, sensing it came naturally to me. So my biggest challenge became learning ways to communicate my sensory "feel" experience into terms beginners could relate to. That learning was my education as I was frequently reminded not everyone experiences the forces of nature the same way. For some, raising awareness by class demonstrations worked. For others first-hand, confidence-building experiences was needed. Still others need a more logical explanation approach. The combination of teaching approaches became as variable as wind is.
The blue diagram above left is a wind rose; the bar length shows the frequency of winds from each direction. In the red diagram above right the bar length shows the average speed of winds when they come from that direction. For more information, see about windhistory.com
WIND DIRECTION INDICATORS on LAND:
- Weather vanes on rooftops
- Flags atop flagpoles
- Windsocks at airports
WIND DIRECTION INDICATORS in SKY:
- Cloud drift
- Smoke trail
- Kite flight
- Hot air balloon flight
- Airplanes always take off and land into the wind.
WIND DIRECTION INDICATORS on SAILBOATS:
- Masthead windexes
- Sail trim - point of sail
- Anemometers / wind gauges
- sails in irons
- when mailsail is raised, mainsail is luffing and boom is amidships
WIND DIRECTION INDICATORS observing other SAILBOATS
- Sailboats always raise and lower their mainsail into the wind tied to dock or mooring
- Fully luffing sails with boom amidships
- Bow-anchored or moored boats usually point toward the wind when no tidal current exists
- Sailboats with mainsail raised approach mooring or dock head to wind to slow down
- When a sailboat is in irons, it isn't moving because it is head to wind
- Wind generators face the wind
WIND INDICATORS on WATER:
- Wavelets - darker water indicates puffs and gusts
- Waves and their direction
- Spindrift in gale force winds
WIND INDICATORS on PEOPLE:
- Wet finger and then feel difference
- Hat flaps
- Some light clothing
- Facing wind - sounds different from wind going directly into ears.
- Turn your head and hear the wind different as head turns
- Watch flow of long hair in breeze
WIND DIRECTION TECHNIQUES USING NATURE:
- Drop a blade of grass
- Watch trees or branches sway
- Watch falling leaves
- Observe direction of low flying clouds
The wind isn't always what it appears to be. Because of various conditions, the wind we feel and experience isn't always true. Sometimes what is apparent isn't true. The wind can show up and feel differently from what it is. Another relevant blog post entitled: Winded.
Sailing to windward has its challenges. In fact, it wasn't until less than a 150 years ago that mankind not yet designed sailboat that could sail closer to the wind than 90 degrees. Today many boats sail close-hauled within 45 degrees of the wind and some as close as 30 degrees. Some even claim they sail directly into a breeze.
A wind gauge shows true and apparent wind direction.
Note the wind direction relative to the hull image under the gauge.