Learning to Sail with an Electronic Wind Meter

Even if you don’t have one on your sailboat charter – one day you’ll be helming someone else’s boat with an Electronic Wind Meter and you certainly want the owner to be confident at what you are doing. There’s a couple of secrets so read on.

He’s what happened – I took out two guys who were experts at racing at their local yacht club. The trouble for them was they both kept on having to look around the bimini on our 373 Beneteau to get a peak at the wind vane at the top of the mast. I tried to tell them to use the electronic wind meter 18 inches from their face but they’d have nothing of it. It wasn’t pure enough. Then day turned to evening and evening to night. IE no wind vane watching at night … and they now had sore necks.

Wind meters are cool, and given the right calibration they’re pretty accurate. The resolution is greater than eyeballing the wind vane and thus you can be more consistent with your angle to the wind. I’m necessarily saying they are better than wind vanes but I’m definitely saying that being both vane and meter skilled adds to your sailing abilities.

Here’s a typical Wind Meter – it shows that the wind is 42 degrees to starboard. You’ll see a red dot at the bottom. Next to the red dot are the words TRUE and APP (apparent). The dot represents which wind direction the meter is measuring. In this case Apparent. For a discussion on True vs Apparent Wind see the NauticEd Skipper Course. The green and red don’t mean any thing other than green is the starboard side of the boat and red is port.

Typical Wind Meter
Typical Wind Meter

LEARNING TO SAIL WITH AN ELECTRONIC WIND METER – SECRET NUMBER (1): This goes to working with wind vanes as well. When making heading adjustments, keep your head out of the boat. This means DON”T watch the meter or vane as you turn the boat. You’re guaranteed to over shoot your desired new heading. Also it’s dangerous traffic wise. Watching the meter or vane means you’re not looking out for traffic during a turn. IE When driving a car and turning at an intersection you never would look at the speedometer. It’s too dangerous and besides what’s the point, you can best judge a safe speed in the intersection turn by the rate things are going past your car. Same same – watch things outside the boat when you turn.

Imagine this – make a 90 degree turn in your car using a compass and stay exactly in the center of the lanes. Well maybe Al Pacino (acting as a blind guy) in the oscar winning movie Scent of a Woman could do it but me? Never in 100,000 trys. Again – same same why would anyone make a 10 degree adjustment to their heading looking at the wind vane or wind meter. You can’t stay in the center of the lane (new desired heading).

I’ll provide an example scenario: Assume you’re sailing along on 40 degrees apparent (your wind meter and vane point 40 degrees off from the front of the boat). You notice the wind direction changes to give you a 10 degree lift (a lift means the wind direction has changed so that the wind meter or vane points more towards the aft than before – in this case now 50 degrees). You want to turn upwind to bring the wind back to 40 degrees. Here’s how to make the turn: Pick out something on the horizon dead ahead then pick out something 10 degrees upwind from that point. Turn the boat to the point with out looking at the wind meter or vane. Once you are now sailing at the new point, check how you’re doing against that 40 degrees and make another adjustment in the same manner.

This was so basic it’s not too much of a secret, but you’d be surprised … one time teaching in my sailing school I actually had to cover up the wind meter as I could not get my student to stop watching the meter and to watch the horizon instead. As soon as she started watching the horizon her whole sailing world changed. She could hold a course, tack, gybe make adjustments with out over shooting – everything. Her whole problem was that one little point.

Here’s another scenario  similar to a wind meter/vane turning problem – your navigator says to come onto a new heading of 160 degrees. Don’t watch the compass during the turn. First determine how many degrees the turn is, pick out a point on land or even a cloud to turn to.  Make your turn watching out side the boat – then check your heading.

LEARNING TO SAIL WITH AN ELECTRONIC WIND METER – SECRET NUMBER (2): Don’t teach new people at the helm anything about the wind meter or the wind vanes. It’s too confusing – First, just have them focus on sterring to points on the horizon and making turns to new points on the horizon that you pick out for them.

LEARNING TO SAIL WITH AN ELECTRONIC WIND METER – SECRET NUMBER (3): Don’t stare at the wind meter and try to figure out which way you should turn the helm to make the meter move in any one particular direction. That’s too hard because it’s backwards from what you’d think and guaranteed you’ll get it wrong when some one embarassing is watching. And as above, make sure when you’re explaining the wind meter to a new helmsperson that you disallow them from similarly using it to figure out which direction to turn.

Instead, the wind meter should be used to determine how many degrees off the desirable wind angle you are and if the turn should be towards the wind or away from the wind. That’s all. Example – lets say we want to be flying 30 degrees APP off the wind. Using the wind meter above, we’re 12 degrees away from 30 and we are heading too far down wind. So lets pick out a point on land or a cloud that is 12 degrees upwind (the what? Port or Starboard) from our current heading.

The NauticEd Skipper Course is chocked full of tips like this one.  Get started today and register for the NauticEd Skipper Sailing Course

Have you played with our FREE Sailing simulator, NED? We use interactive tools like this to quickly and effectively teach sailing skills.

NED the Sailing Instructor
NED the Sailing Instructor

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