This continues a discussion on the El Faro thread concerning the utility of anemometers.
When I went to maritime academy we were taught how to determine true wind direction and speed using an anemometer, a maneuvering board and vector diagrams (remember those?). Well and good. Then I graduated and began working in the Bering Sea. We had anemometers. Sometimes they were to be trusted. Sometimes not. Sometimes they “worked“, but the reading was patently false. Venturi effects and wind channeling peculiar to the wheelhouse structure affected the anemometer on certain courses at a certain wind speeds.
Few skippers really cared, because most of them determined true wind by looking out the window and at the gyrocompass. The angle of the waves to ship’s heading told you wind direction. The faculty of judging of wind speed was developed by a curious osmosis of studying the sea state when the anemometer deigned to work, listening to the weather reports of nearby vessels, and, most importantly, by referring to the Beaufort Scale. Admiral Beaufort knew his stuff, and the laws of physics have not been repealed or altered since he came up with his scale in 1805. In the GoA and Bering Sea in Winter, in a 200’ boat, you got good at judging wind direction really quick.
One could say that reading an anemometer requires no experience. That would be correct, but doesn’t acknowledge the fact that anemometers can blithely lie. And how many times did a mate do vector diagram, get it wrong, and blithely log the results?
What did we do at night? Simple. We turned on the decklights and looked at the sea. The horror! Weren’t all those cones and rods in our eyeballs fried? They were already offended by all the radars and indicator lights in the wheelhouse, so no harm was really done.
When the atmosphere was white with flying spray and the wind was past 100 knots (which was not as rare as we would have preferred) our cheap anemometers died of fright anyway. (Thanks “Kraken” for the tip on Ultrasonic 2-axis anemometers. We will look into those…).
I do some training with some state school maritime academy students nowadays. They are bright, well-motivated, and learn quickly. Nevertheless, one or two years into the academy, some are unable to tell which way the true wind is coming from just by studying the sea, mostly in light winds. Similarly unaware of the importance of tidal currents in navigation. But then they are here to learn, and they have to start somewhere. I just hope the academy makes a big deal about these basic facets of a deck officer’s life, later on in their training. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees.
Someone with a mate’s license has no excuse not knowing how to estimate the wind with nothing but a compass. Years ago I was captain of a freighter in the middle of the Gulf of Alaska. Our true course was about 270 degrees. A 15-knot wind was coming dead out of the West. At about 0100 hours with an overcast sky, the gyrocompass tumbled due to a momentary loss of a genset. Standard procedure: steer by magnetic compass until the gyro settled down. Trouble was, it was a new boat, and being an uninspected vessel, the position of the binnacle was not as rigidly prescribed as it would be otherwise. In short, it was not placed near enough to the steering station to be useful. Stupid, I know. It was changed after the voyage. But there we were, in pre-GPS days. The mate on watch called me immediately and asked me what to do.
The situation was ridiculous in regards to binnacle placement, but not a total loss. The wind was from the West and were headed west at 11 knots. It was easy, I said. The helmsman should keep the bow at right angles to the waves, while the mate kept an eye on the magnetic compass, until the gyro settled. No targets on the radar screen, on a normally empty bit of ocean.
Neither the mate or the helmsman could do it! They had absolutely no idea of how to tell the direction of the waves, and therefore how to steer into them! First one and then the other took the wheel and yawed about, while the other called out headings and corrections. Long story short, I had to stay up there for the 90 minutes and steer myself.
After that I took it on myself to make sure mates and helmsman could do what should have been second nature to an experienced mariner. Nowadays we have in-company training. We have a training boat. If you jump from OS to AB, or AB to mate, you put in your time on the training boat to learn piloting, a part of which is judging the wind. I find the same thing. Lots of “experienced” seaman are clueless about sizing up the wind visually.
Dear Ann Landers: Am I hopelessly out of date? Signed: Blow Hard in Seattle.