Offshore Sailing and the Wind

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How can wind affect my offshore sailing trip?

Offshore Sailing and the Wind

One of the major forces affecting sea sailing is wind. You may think you have a mastery of sailing, but if you don't understand all the different ways that wind affects your offshore sailboat you may find your self lost at sea and wondering why. Here are some tips for watching and managing wind while you are offshore sailing:

  • When air is heated it becomes less dense and rises. As cooler air replaces it, wind is created. While land is heated fast, the sea changes temperature very slowly. By looking at the water surface, you can tell a lot about the presence of wind. While ripples mean that wind is present, don't confuse them with current. Bigger waves may indicate the approach of stronger gusts of wind. Racers have learned to look for dark patches in the water and can therefore predict how that approaching wind will affect a sailboat.
  • To learn more about the wind when offshore sailing, study other boats in the distance. Watch the direction of their heel (tipping in the wind). This can tell you what a wind will be like when it reaches you. Also, watch for changes in that wind. When sea sailing, the wind can change rapidly.
  • Winds caused by fast-changing weather systems are especially important when offshore sailing. Wind blows clockwise around a high-pressure system. It blows counter-clockwise around a low pressure system. When determining the way in which a system will affect your offshore sailboat, imagine your boat moving through it rather than thinking about how it will move past your position.
  • Pay attention to gradient winds as you get closer to shore. These local and geographic influences can upset any wind pattern you have noticed. The closer the lines of equal pressure are together, the stronger the gradient wind will be.

   

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