Reading the wind, practicalities, while in a yacht charter
Whether you are on a motor cruiser or a sailing yacht you will always have to consider the wind at sea. Every vessel is affected by it, whether a tiny yacht tender or one of the huge €100 million mega yachts that billionaires buy in cash.
Over this blog we will look at the prevailing winds on Greek waters and how to use them to your advantage.
The Beaufort ScaleA detailed description of the Beaufort Scale can be seen on our sailing guide: The weather - basic principles.
Let’s summarise it:
- In Force 1-3 you will often find yourself motoring and if sailing may find things frustrating.
- In Force 3-5 you will have a grin on your face and enjoy the sailing at most points of sail.
- Force 5-7 you’re excited and may get wet on a beat.
- F7-9 is really only for experienced sailors, even on motor cruisers. You will need waterproofs and to know where the safety kit is on the boat and how to use it.
- You shouldn’t leave port in anything above a F8 unless you have at least two people aboard who have experienced nasty weather in coastal waters.
As a general rule you will find that wind gusts can be double the average wind speed.
The Meltemi and Bora
While with climate change we can never be certain of the weather, you will most likely run into the Meltemi or Bora winds while sailing on Greek waters.
The Meltemi is a wind that blows from the north off the Balkans and Hungary, caused by the interaction of a Low pressure area over Turkey and a High over Eastern Europe. Between these weather systems the winds blast south across the Aegean. The Mediterranean is known for its ‘katabatic’ winds, but the Meltemi is unusual in that it doesn’t always stop at night. It may blow consistently at Force 5-7 for a week, day and night.
While for sailors a Force 7 can be very exciting the Meltemi is widely welcomed by Greeks as it cools people off in summers that can hit 40 degrees even with this wind blowing. At Greek yacht charter high season you will almost certainly run into this phenomenon.
The Bora is a more typical Mediterranean katabatic wind that comes off the Greek mainland and across the Adriatic. You will find it starts to build at around 8 in the morning as the heat of the day kicks in, building to F4-5 and then calming down for sunset. If a Greek yacht charter company could invent a wind for their sailing it would be just this – no wind at night and perfect winds in the day!
You will find that expert sailors will be able to have long conversations about meteorology. They are even better than most British people at talking about the weather, as unlike a landlubber they are seriously affected by the weather in all conditions.
Generally on an Aegean sailing holiday you should try to make progress north for the first half of the trip. This will involve quite a lot of upwind sailing into the Meltemi, for much the same reason that you will try to get the nastiest hill climbs out of the way earlier on in a hike – you will be physically fresh and it gets the energetic sailing done early on.
What happens if you’re forecast a F7 for the first few days? You wouldn’t want to tack into that for three days! This is why looking at the local weather forecast is so important as it will dictate where you are going in such circumstances. If the F7 is due for the next three days, you may take a westerly or easterly route.
Winds go around High pressure systems clockwise while winds going around Lows go anticlockwise.
The positions of the Turkish Low and the Balkan High will dictate what direction the winds will blow. Their intensity (denoted by the closeness of the isobar lines on forecasts) will dictate how strong the winds will be.
As a general rule, weather forecasting services will be nailed down accurate for the next 48 hours and then less and less accurate as time goes on beyond:
- Don’t expect the weather to be exactly as the Poseidon System said it will be in 14 days’ time.
- Do expect it to be accurate in around 36 hours time.
The more complex the weather systems the less accurate their forecasting will be in longer term forecasts. If you have a procession of Lows blasting over Northern Europe and mobile Highs then if you saw the forecast on Monday it will almost certainly be different on Friday to what the forecasters say it will be.
If there is a huge blocking High over France and the Jet Stream is well north then things may be a lot more predictable and gentle – though the sailing may be a bit dull!
Reading the skies
Looking at the water you will see the surface ruffle when a gust comes through. Where there is a frontal system coming through you will be able to see a wall of clouds form below the main clouds from a few miles off. This is potentially a sign of a squall coming through and it is better to put a reef in long before it passes overhead.
In bigger winds you may see ‘white horses’ forming with the tops being blown off the waves as spume. Again, keep an eye out for groups of these and how far they extend as the presence of these will predict more exciting winds and perhaps a need to reef.
Your writer has seen ‘white squalls’ at sea where the skies are gin clear but only the seas tell you that something is about to happen. He was nearly killed once when the idiot Third Mate ignored the presence of white squalls that day…
Practicalities of sailing with the winds
No matter what type of vessel you are on you will need to know the weather forecast for the next day or so.
We’ve seen how the winds may dictate your route on your Greek yacht charter holiday on a sailing boat above. On a large motor cruiser with a strong wind at the beam you will have a lot of leeway – you will be blown off course and have to make adjustments to the route to get to your destination.
Going north into a strong Meltemi on the same motor cruiser you may have to go at lower engine revolutions as the heading seas and winds will stress the boat a lot.
On all craft the skipper should give the crew a weather briefing every day. You don’t have to stand and give a speech – you just tell them what it is going to be like that day before you set out. It may be forecast to build or drop during the day and change direction at times (particularly in F1-3 winds where it can be ‘light and variable’).
If the winds are set to be F5 or over you may consider putting a reef into the mainsail before you leave if you have crew new to sailing. This saves people having to stand on the coach roof when the boat is being thrown about in open water.
If the winds are set to build later in the day and the crew isn’t experienced it may make sense to sail conservatively throughout the day with a reef in the main even before it is necessary. Otherwise, the crew should be aware of how to reef the sails before you go – send them on deck to have a look.
Getting the best out of the wind - telltales
For all the warnings and sense we’ve covered above, you have come sailing to enjoy the fantastic weather and to have a good time. You will have that! Getting the best out of your boat means reading all sorts of things from the skies to the sea, to how comfortable your crew is. The final thing to read is the telltales on your sails. These are short lengths of wool or string that are threaded through the sails. They will tell you how efficiently your sail is set.
According to the Kavas Yachting Greek yacht charter sailing guide: “When sailing on an upwind leg - the telltales on both the windward and leeward side of the jib should point aft. If the leeward telltales twirl, the helm should steer closer to the wind. If the windward telltales lift and twirl, the helm should head slightly downwind.”
One of the most common reasons for going sailing is that it is just you Nature working in harmony. Nature can be a fierce beast but if she is watched carefully then you can harness her to have the best possible time afloat.
There will be times on your Greek yacht charter when you and your crew don’t feel comfortable. Speaking after a very windy day on the Americas Cup racing course in Bermuda, Team BAR skipper Ben Ainslie was asked if he enjoyed it? He explained, “I wouldn’t say it was enjoyable, but I would say it was exhilarating!”
Most of the time if you read the winds right you will find it enjoyable – only some of the time you will find it exhilarating.
Have fun folks!