Wind – Not Just Propulsion…
As sailors we’re always thinking about & talking about the wind. It was strong, it was weak, it was steady, there wasn’t any, the discussions go on for ever. One of the great things about ocean racing is that you see the wind in many more of its states than usual, and your whole existence becomes entwined with its nature. The best example I’ve ever seen of this was racing from Galapagos to Hawaii back in 2022 as part of the Clipper Round the World Race. The Galapagos are just south of the Equator, Hawaii up around 20N, so to get there we needed to negotiate Trade Winds either side of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone, the ITCZ itself and then the local winds around some very big islands.
At the start we actually dipped south to get down to about 5°S, and then were firmly in the SE Trades coming up from the South Pacific. These were great – between about 18-28kts, so broad to beam reaching with the spinnakers peeled as the breeze eased up and down through the day & night. This is when we first really got into living with the wind – on deck it’s obvious, trimming, helming, weight distribution, all that sailing stuff, but down below the rhythm of the boat was also governed by the elements. My bunk was on the port side, so with each gust I’d be pressed slightly harder into my lee cloth, and if I was asleep and it got a bit much, I’d be straight away awake, listening to the sounds of the yacht, listening for changes and feeling for different forces. In the galley too it was very wind-dependent - how full could you get the mugs, for example, and whoever was cooking always wore oilskin bottoms in case of spills, not the most obvious tropical garb down below, but prudent. After about 10 days of this we had eked out a couple of dozen miles ahead of the fleet, and we were now looking to gybe north through the ITCZ into the northeast Trades of the Northern Hemisphere. We chose our moment when the ITC was thinner than usual and moving south, gybed north, and the next day were flying along still ahead of the fleet, now on starboard gybe with me happily asleep against the hull in my now downhill bunk.
This fabulous downhill spinnaker run carried on until the majestic (and I don’t often use that word) peak of the Big Island in the Hawaiian chain appeared above the clouds. This is where it was going to get interesting, as were now a bit further north and a cold front was making life more complex, changing our beautiful driving Trades. I looked at the forecast and decided – we’d go through the islands as the front was coming and we’d get into the southwest first. We piled into the first big channel, then into an (expected) drift through a big lee. It’s at this point that I took my eye off that most important thing – the wind. We ended up just the wrong side of a wind line and sat in it for 2 hours watching the breeze pile on just 400m away. If I’d said “tack” just 200m earlier, we’d have been fine. We did get put though and flew into the finish line only 5 miles away – but in 3rd. We were downhearted for about 5 minutes, but then realised what we’d seen and done, about 4 weeks of the best downwind sailing possible, through lulls & gusts and squalls and sun, and finally still made the podium even though not on the step we’d wanted. That one race made us live in and by the wind more so than just about any other, and was glorious.
To find out more about the wind and weathe while at sea here is his book, Weather At Sea