The ancient Polynesian navigators of the Pacific were
probably equal to the most close-to-nature sailors the
world has seen. The average modern sailor isn’t likely
to develop or need to develop such skills of observation
as they had.
But one observational skill every skipper or navigator
should develop, even if they don’t go into the ocean,
is the clouds in the sky and the weather they foretell.
It doesn’t matter where in the world one sails, the same
sky formations herald the arrival of new weather systems,
as a front of cold air moves in high above currently
pleasant weather. As the system gets nearer the cloud gets
lower until the front arrives with a severe change in wind
direction and most often strength.
The first indication is the most important to the observer
as it is highest in the sky and, as the photograph below
shows, nearly always indicates the direction from
which the wind will come, which will in any case follow
whatever is the local pattern.
If you think of the high cloud as ‘fingers’ on a hand, the
wind direction is from the palm of the hand.
In our Weathercraft CD we have both a series of photos and
a video showing the approach and arrival of a cold front.
1. Thank your lucky stars
During the recent Cape Town to Rio race the watermaker
aboard Spirit of Izivunguvungu broke down, with the yacht
1,400 nm from its destination. Another competitor,
Extra-Link, diverted to her side and transferred 20 cans of
sports’ drinks and 140 litres of water – enough to safely
finish the race.
On Spirit’s return voyage to Cape Town the problems faced
by the crew of four were far more serious.
Firstly their satellite telephone stopped working. Then
their satellite tracker system failed.
Meanwhile race officials were monitoring yachts on their
return voyage from Rio. They put a call out for ships in
the vicinity of Spirit’s last known position to keep a look
out. How many ships would you expect in the South Atlantic?
Then the satellite tracker restarted, showing about half
a knot boat speed and giving its location – about 140 nm
north of Tristan da Cunha.
Lucky for them a Liberian-registered ship found Spirit of
Izivunguvungu, a yacht sponsored by the City of Cape Town
and skippered by an instructor and crewed by graduates of
the Izivunguvungu Sailing Development School.
The yacht had been dismasted, which had damaged her rudder,
her engine had failed and the hull was holed and she was
taking on water.
We’re glad we weren’t on board.
2. Video corner: How to sail ‘quicklier’
Watch this four-part interview to learn important tips
from Buddy Melges, designer of the Melges range of
In the first video, he talks about the importance
of physical fitness and mental concentration. And of
the need to present the boat to the wind, “not wait for
her (Mother Nature) to get on the boat and then make a
In their own words: OLD NORWEGIAN ADAGE
There is no such thing as bad weather,
only bad clothes.
These days there’s a massive range of clothing – from
thermals through all the layers out to foul weather
gear – available to suit all kinds of sailors – from
the occasional inshore cruiser to the racing
My advice has always been to get the very best that
you can afford. But also seek the opinions of
experienced sailors, not just the sales staff at