I am yet to call myself a sailor even though I live the life fulltime. I am not sure when I will claim the title but recently I have stepped closer to the right by joining a new church. It was only as an after thought did I realise I now worship a new deity, King Neptune and his family of eight winds. I have become obsessed with wind. Where is it coming from, how strong, how long, how many days or weeks will the current wind grace my life. I look at clouds with new wonder and respect, each have become a conversation point.
“Oh Hail the Wind” Not a new religion, for centuries, fisherman, sailors and those left on shore, have prayed to Neptune for good fortune, especially for us crazy souls who enter the winter seas of the Mediterranean. As a committed full fee paying card holding member of the wind union, there are rules and obligations by which I must abide. I am expected to follow the “truth” or face the consequences.
Truth One: Know My Name
At first I thought it was odd when we arrived in Europe, all the winds had their own names. These names were spoken with reverence and quiet tones of respect. For some time I was confused, never before had I heard the terms Mistral and Tramontane, whereas here they are spoken of, as something akin to wine varieties. Then to confuse matters more each country give the winds their own name. It was living and moving by each wind, that I have come to know them by name and greet them as they come to tempt or torment me depending on their nature for that day or moment.
Truth Two: True and Apparent
Sailors measure wind via two systems, true and apparent wind.
True wind assumes you are not moving and the wind is what it is. Apparent wind factors in the boat speed. Apparent wind is my new sword by which I measure the wind. True wind is not ignored by me as this is the wind I personally use when the wind gods are too strong, I want to make myself feel better by making the wind sound less than what it really is. (The Captain thinks this odd.) When the wind starts to go behind you then you are subtracting the the boat speed from the boat speed.
To help keep things simple across the world we all measure the wind in numbers and often the wind is talked about as a force number. The higher the number the stronger the wind. Rear Admiral Francis Beaufort, devised the scale in 1805 to measure the effects of wind on sea. Beaufort’s scale was based on land observations so his predictions are “true” but each sailor will hang their hat on sailing by his numbers when we discuss the ocean. Thus far we have gone out in a gale or two , hopefully this remains our high point!
|Beaufort scale number||Descriptive term||Units in km/h||Units in knots||Description on Land||Description at Sea|
|0||Calm||0||0||Smoke rises vertically||Sea like a mirror.|
|1-3||Light winds||19 km/h or less||10 knots or less||Wind felt on face; leaves rustle; ordinary vanes moved by wind.||Small wavelets, ripples formed but do not break: A glassy appearance maintained.|
|4||Moderate winds||20 – 29 km/h||11-16 knots||Raises dust and loose paper; small branches are moved.||Small waves – becoming longer; fairly frequent white horses.|
|5||Fresh winds||30 – 39 km/h||17-21 knots||Small trees in leaf begin to sway; crested wavelets form on inland waters||Moderate waves, taking a more pronounced long form; many white horses are formed – a chance of some spray|
|6||Strong winds||40 – 50 km/h||22-27 knots||Large branches in motion; whistling heard in telephone wires; umbrellas used with difficulty.||Large waves begin to form; the white foam crests are more extensive with probably some spray|
|7||Near gale||51 – 62 km/h||28-33 knots||Whole trees in motion; inconvenience felt when walking against wind.||Sea heaps up and white foam from breaking waves begins to be blow in streaks along direction of wind.|
|8||Gale||63 – 75 km/h||34-40 knots||Twigs break off trees; progress generally impeded.||Moderately high waves of greater length; edges of crests begin to break into spindrift; foam is blown in well-marked streaks along the direction of the wind.|
|9||Strong gale||76 – 87 km/h||41-47 knots||Slight structural damage occurs -roofing dislodged; larger branches break off.||High waves; dense streaks of foam; crests of waves begin to topple, tumble and roll over; spray may affect visibility.|
|10||Storm||88 – 102 km/h||48-55 knots||Seldom experienced inland; trees uprooted; considerable structural damage.||Very high waves with long overhanging crests; the resulting foam in great patches is blown in dense white streaks; the surface of the sea takes on a white appearance; the tumbling of the sea becomes heavy with visibility affected.|
|11||Violent storm||103 -117 km/h||56-63 knots||Very rarely experienced – widespread damage||Exceptionally high waves; small and medium sized ships occasionally lost from view behind waves; the sea is completely covered with long white patches of foam; the edges of wave crests are blown into froth.|
|12+||Hurricane||118 km/h or more||64 knots or more||Very rarely experienced – widespread damage||The air is filled with foam and spray. Sea completely white with driving spray; visibility very seriously affected|
Truth Three: Not All Wind Is Equal
There are eight points of wind on the compass and all wind points are equal just some are more equal than others.
It depends on where you are and where you are going as to which is important. A strong wind that pushes you towards the shore demands more respect and attention than one that pushes out to sea. A wind you beat into is harder than a wind that pushes you where you want to go but it is not the fastest point of sailing.
The pleasure of each trip very much depends on the direction of the wind. “Beating up into strong wind” is as unpleasant as it sounds. Beating or pointing into the wind is not directly into the wind and the best our boat can do is point towards the wind on a 40 degree apparent angle. No boat can sail directly into the wind. We seem to have had the lion’s share of wind behind us as we have travelled, this is called a run. On a run your boat will go slower than other points of sailing and this is particularly true on a catamaran. While you go on a run you also have to be more careful making sure you don’t jibe. A jibe is when the wind comes from the other side of sail and flips the mainsail and boom across to the other side of the boat. If you know it is happening it is called a controlled jibe, if it comes as a surprise it is called an uncontrolled jibe and can cause danger. I’ve been known to say “Shit what the hell just happened!”
Having wind “on the beam or a reach” is when the wind is 90 degrees off the side of boat. This is the faster point of sailing on a catamaran and easiest as you don’t have to worry about jibing. On our recent sail when the wind was too much from the beam we needed to “spill the wind” and “depower” our main sail and genoa by letting the sails out to spill the wind, we have been told it is good to turn the boat down wind as this reduces the apparent wind. Warning though, this needs to be executed with care as you can run the risk of an unintentional jibe.
Truth Four: Mediterranean Neptune Has An Altar
The Mediterranean altar to King Neptune is the Gulf of Lyon/Lion. Here the winds roar and prowl the ocean with a ferocious intensity that can make any sailor genuflect. The Gulf is a large bay stretching from Toulon in the north to the Spanish French border. The Gulf has more storms, more damage and more drama than any other region of the Mediterranean, it is the undisputed capital of windy weather. In the winter the loudest most dominate wind is the Tramontane wind. Winter is his time to roar. It is for this reason when it came our time to cross the gulf many a sailor said be careful, take care, strangers wrote to us saying give respect as respect is due. Currently as we sit in Cane en Roussillon I am grateful for making the crossing without incident.
The day we left, we paid the king and he let us pass unhindered, others were not so lucky. It was sobering to pass a submerged yacht on our trip across the gulf and we gave thanks for a safe crossing.
Truth Four: All Hail The King!
Modern translation – Shut up Bitch this is my neighbourhood and I’m King, Daddy, Boss.
I left my old life on the sea with an illusion of being in control, I now know this is a lie. I sail the seas at the courtesy of the wind and water and can only do my best to ensure safety as I go. Neptune is not an unjust god and gives warning via wind, cloud and water. It is our responsibility to read correctly and be prepared. When we bring our vessel to his playground, we must abide by his laws if we wish to remain safe. Thus far our journey highlights my lack of knowledge, I have also learned much. At times my learning curve has been steep, at other times I think impressive. Schedule and timetables are made and Neptune will laugh. It is said “Man makes plans and God laughs” life is unpredictable. Discomfort and fear are part of the equations as are the heady highs that are on offer. Trade off is, you are required to take risks, take action and move into the church of Neptune.
It continues to fascinate me that so many boats are named after winds, as I type, the two boats directly behind me are called Mistral and Gust of Wind. Each of us pays homage in our own way.
Truth Five: The Wind At Times Is A Whinging Pain In The Arse
“I hate the wind” declared the Captain. Each time he would go outside to work he would soon be driven inside retreating from the noise and cold. It was day 5 of a Tramontane wind from the North, blowing constantly. On this day the wind was forecast for 113 kms and 4 metre waves so it was windy. Bloody windy! This wind was grinding us both down. We were in a sheltered dock and the winds were a constant 30 knots and the highest wind was 45.2 knots. We kept counting our blessings we were not on the water. The wind is better than any Charles Dickens Christmas Spirit, the wind was moaning us into submission.
The continuous howling is disturbing, no wonder poets and authors warn readers of the danger of the wind war zone. “If you want to learn how to sail, you better first learn how to kneel.” “every sailor knows the sea is a friend made enemy … drowning is no sin.” U2
Truth Six: The Wind Makes Cold Colder
I feel cheated as I believed the tourist guide reports of mild temperature in winter for the southern region of France. They lie, as the temperature is measured protected from sun or wind. The French Tramontane funnels north from the Italian/French Alps to the Mediterranean so this wind is freezing. That’s wind that wiped off the snowy peaks and flung down into the ocean, icy bone chilling, peel your skin off if you linger too long chilly. Wind chill factor just doesn’t cut it in wind that can cut you.
The grim news is, this is only the first weeks of winter though I have been reassured that the weather on the non windy days is “nice”.
Truth Seven: Gratitude For King Neptune
My final truth/benediction is one of homage to the sea. Neptune appreciates sailors who are grateful and full of wonder. Even when the weather is too windy, or too cold, it is still easy to be filled with gratitude. There is no joy like sailing. Sailing is like stealing moments of perfection. Upon the water you are dancing with your eyes closed surrounded by the music of the wind. There is nothing but purity, movement and speed. The duties and pull of the land is absent as you fly across water. Even when the slumbering King is awoken and raging he is a far better master than a Monday Morning drive to the office. At the risk of sounding corny this liquid highway is beautiful and worthy of any discomfort, homesickness, or fear encounted thus far. Hopefully this gives gratitude where due.
Cheers and Fair Winds, the Miss.
PS Sailing for 2014 comes to an end for us as we set about having the items fixed on our boat ready for the New Year.