Vocabulary of Wind

Has anyone else wondered why, if the Eskimos allegedly can have hundreds of words for different types of snow, we sailors don’t have an equally interesting wind vocabulary? We have adjectives to describe strength and that is about it.

So here is my remedy starter for 10.

“Crack Cocaine”
An addictive wind and tide combo, invoking Murphy’s Law. Waves are perfect, breeze is perfect, you are planing/surfing along in seventh heaven. It’s what you go sailing for. You are addicted. Sadly, a belting tide is underneath you too and the mile plus leg takes about twenty seconds before it’s all over. The conditions will have changed for the next lap/race – it will not be as good again.

That infamous juxtaposition where, no matter what the wind direction or time of day, the sun is always right on the kite luff, blinding the crew/trimmer.


“A huge waste”
A perennial favourite in Fowey when I was young. Again, a perfect breeze, warm, windy, altogether fantastic. Except that the harbour sheers the direction, a fact the the OoD invariably fails to recognise. So we get outside the harbour for a triangle comprising a run and two too-tight fetches. Arrghhhhh!!

A specific strength of wind, dependent on the boat type and its crews’ skill level but only applicable to symmetrical spinnaker boats. Identified by situation where the kite is hoisted, but only for showing-off effect, as it is hidden behind the mainsail to ensure its power contribution is negligible, there being more than sufficient without it. A slightly greater wind-speed then becomes a “Just Deserts”, leading as it does to a swim that could have been avoided with a little more discretion. The Lark is a perfect Bravado boat, but only if your crew-work is up to snuff.

A massive wind-shadow caused by passing shipping. I first discovered this at Weymouth many years ago. We were bimbling back from a Weymouth Olympic week race in the 470 in a force 2, sitting on the side and chatting thru the race post-mortem without much of a care in the world. We kindly waved to the gawping passengers on the car-ferry as it passed tens of yards to windward. At which point the (surprisingly large) wind shadow caught us and we gracefully rolled in to windward. Embarrassing. Rarely found inland though.

A breeze that is full of promise but never delivers. You see a lovely looking gust scudding across the water towards you. But it flickers about and completely fails to deliver the power you anticipated.

“Buggin’s Turn”
On the occasion of my first duty as an OOD at FPSC, I set the perfect course, comprising interesting beats, reaches and runs. Sadly for the competitors, each of these components appeared on every leg, interspersed with periods of absolutely no breeze at all. The name derives from the observation that everyone will at some point have a turn with their own private zephyr whilst the rest sit motionless and powerless to do anything about it. Top tip is to somehow save up your turn until just before the end of the race.

Closely related to the Buggin’s Turn, but with some wind always present. Characterised by 45 degree windshifts rather than the 180 or even 540 degree changes in the Buggin’s, accompanied by useful strength increases. Of course, when the shift is in your favour, that was skill, sailed-for. The converse provides the test…

“Nick White”
Subtle and malevolent. Named after the proponent of the best response I ever saw to this. Nick had built himself a chocolates-winning finish position thru excellent racecraft in an apparently pleasant, sensible breeze. He then found himself sitting in a hole for minutes, yards from the finish line, whilst the whole fleet cruised past. Nick simply jumped overboard. Priceless.

“Don’t-hike blaster”
Wildly gusty relative of the GSOH Tester, varying from force 3 to force 7, often shifting instantaneously thru 45 degrees. Hence, those who hike hard up the beat are rewarded with an enjoyable dunking as the light-speed 45 degree header blasts them into a windward capsize. Meanwhile, the sit-on-the-side-ers cruise by with the mast oscillating at only 45 degrees to the vertical which may be preferable in the circumstances but is hardly text-book. The Frensham Frenzy always features a period of DHB.

A surrealist DHB. Still dumps you in to windward, but before you can blink, blows you back up again, just like a sailboard water start. Believe me, I’ve done it.

Wind blows vertically down over the hills/trees, hits the water and spreads out in a circle, causing all sorts of interesting effects, one of which is that the more the boat heels, the greater the exposed sail area, so the greater the heeling force.

“What the …”
You’re a sailing along on a broad reach in a nice puff when, for no reason, the sails blow back at you, completely empty. In a loose footed sail like the Laser, the foot actually rises up as well as back, suggesting the breeze is blowing backwards out of the water! Smart-alecs will of course have identified this as what happens when you catch up with the back of a down-draft. But sometimes, it just isn’t.


“Your round or mine?”
A flexible catch-all for a number of diverse conditions across the wind and temperature range where adjourning to the bar is the infinitely wisest choice.

“Eyes down”
Category of large gust, encountered whilst sailing downwind, which an assessment of bend in the rig would dictate can only end in a big bang and bigger insurance claim. You’ve enough to think about keeping the boat upright, so don’t bother looking up, it will only cause alarm and the distraction will probably guarantee that swim.

“ ‘ere ‘ang-on”
A Fowey harbour classic. You look over your shoulder and find the boat sailing close-hauled, and parallel to you, 20 yards away is on the opposite tack. By some strange phenomena, as soon as one of you comments on this, you will both tack, without either boat changing direction at all. A variation on this, including an expletive in the title, occurs when both boats are on beam reaches.

As for ‘ere-‘ang-on, typically involving something like a Troy (Fowey’s keel boats which sail with at least 60 degrees of heel most of the time). Applies only if the boat on the left is on Port and that on the right on Starboard. Those 30 foot masts don’t half stick out a long way.

“The Asymptote”
A particularly malicious shift pattern, whereby, from half-way up the beat, you find that no matter which way you go, the next shift will again make the weather mark directly upwind. On a really perverse day you can find yourself beating to the mark after that too.

“Plaintive wail”
This phenomenon manifests itself virtually weekly; I suspect it must be some function of localised global warming caused by the contrast between week-end and week-day human activity. But what is the Plaintive Wail? Simple – it is that syndrome whereby there is always a much better breeze the day after. Most commonly appears on Mondays just to annoy week-end sailors, except on Bank Holidays when it waits until Tuesday. You get the idea. If you have not noticed the Plaintive Wail before, you will from now on.

“Castle Curve”
A localised condition, named after the huge starboard-tack lift at Polruan Castle in a south-westerly that can see you headed in virtually a westerly direction. Often appears to hide from the knowing, only showing itself for the undeserving. Not related to the…

“Swiss Cheese”
…which is an often personalised but static hole in the wind. Tim Fells use to have one of these all of his own at Barnt Green. No one else could find it – so Tim would show-off his discovery each week by means of a yelp and a splash.

“Walnut whip”
One of my favourites; the burgee spins five of six times before settling down. Having lulled you into a false sense of security, the wind immediately fills in from completely the opposite direction and the boom whacks you on the head.

“Streaky Bacon”
Not Dennis Connors’ favourite I guess as getting into the dead streak made him the first American to lose the Americas Cup. Fab if you can get into the stronger pressure stripe on the run though.

“Towerblock tempest”
Ever noticed how the wind fairly howls between high-rise building in city centres. Also useful on the run if you can get into such a funnel. Close relative of…

“One cliff wonder”
…as appearing at Riva del Garda. Touch that wall as you gybe baby.

Now it appears to be the way of the world that the proposer of a thesis like this one outlines their ideas, for others do to the laborious, systematic task of filling in the gaps and categorising everything to great acrimony and debate. I have no problem with that, provided it does not get in the way of the sailing. However, just to give the categorisers something to ponder, I’d propose the following four genuses; Locality Quirks, Clean-Breeze Corruptions, Murphy’s Law Derivations and Beaufortian Distinctions. I can imagine someone trying to create a schematic, trying to be cute by using the five inter-locking Olympic Rings. This would be a nonsense of course – Walnut Whips and Castle Curves being rather far from the standard Olympic syllabus.

Now I reckon this just scratches the surface – surely between us we can do better than that Inuit language for snow. For example, I am a simple dinghy sailor – I don’t do off-shore or night sailing where there must be material to be harvested. The only qualification I’d suggest for a new definition is that it should be, in someway, interesting or amusing; anything else would, quite frankly, simply be sad.

© Clive Eplett 2005

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