Wind Velocity Squared

Jul 09, 2008| 0 Comment

Wednesday, July 9 – Slowly, we motor our way out of Tofino harbor to continue our sail down the west coast of Vancouver Island. Once safely out of shallow Templer Channel, we raise sail and point south along the coast in 12 – 15 knots of wind from NW. In two hours, the winds build up to 15 – 20 knots. When gusts hit the 23-knot range, we turn into the wind and put in the first reef. For most of our circumnavigation of Vancouver Island, we were wishing for more wind. Not today. The First Mate is feeling a bit uneasy. This feels stormy, not just windy. Waves and seas are up and seem to be building rapidly. Isn’t it getting to be time to take down our sails and head for shelter?

Over the years, The First Mate has heard The Captain pedantically proclaim to all and sundry (ie: to her) that “the force of the wind is a function of the velocity squared.” “And that means?” she inquires, fearing that this sounds like physics again. After several attempted explanations and perambulations of the formula, she does get the gist of it. So here it goes: 10 knots of wind exerts a certain force on the sail. A 20-knot wind increases that force to 4 times as much as the 10-knot wind. (10 squared is 100 and 20 squared is 400). Another 5-knot increase in wind velocity to 25 knots increases the force by an additional 50% to 625. Thus, a seemingly incidental increase of 5 knots from 20 to 25 knots is a huge increase of force on the sails and definitely nothing to be taken lightly. Prior to this input of knowledge and formula, she simply knew that at 20 knots the first reef went in, at 25 knots the second reef went in and at 35 knots all sails came down, one closed the companion way, went below and prayed. At least, that was her very uncomplicated way of looking at it. Now, alarmingly, she knows exactly why 20 knots is a big deal and why 25 knots is an even bigger deal. Did she really need to know all this?

We are sailing downwind. The wind, not content with a mere 20 – 23 knots of blowing itself around, now increases to 25 knots and with gusts higher still. After having absorbed The Captain’s physics lesson in wind force on boat sails, The First Mate’s angst is itself many times squared at this increase in wind velocity. It doesn’t matter that the wind is coming from somewhere behind us, it is definitely time to put in that second reef. The Captain tells The First Mate to turn the boat into the wind. Turning into the wind from a downwind sail increases the wind velocity over the boat, and it definitely feels like one is increasing force as the sails fill more and the boat heels more when the turn is initiated. For the unwary and in high winds and steep seas, this maneuver can be unnerving and usually puts the Squawk Meter on alert. Of course, as soon as the boat is pointing into the wind, there is no force on the mainsail. You just have to believe that the boat is not going to fall over during those few seconds when it is sideways to the wind – so gamely she plants her feet firmly behind the huge wheel and turns Avante into the wind. Two years ago, no way could she have easily done this. What a change! A sudden revelation flirts into her awareness: she feels confident up here handling the boat. She can do it. Avante can do it. Way to go, gal! Way to go, boat! To her further amazement, she actually finds herself aware of the feeling that holding onto this bucking bronco (May she even say “taming” as in “controlling” this bucking bronco?) is exciting and fun. That realization is a real eye-opener for this landlubber. Wow! There really is hope of making her a sailor yet. Somehow, The Captain has had faith when and where The First Mate did not. What a great team we make! Our little joke for years has been that she is the one that makes him more human. True. However, he is the force that has gotten her to adventure forth and do more in life than she ever would have done on her own. A good team is worth its weight in gold! We’re Gold!

Together we get that second reef in quickly and efficiently and continue sailing for another hour to Barkley Sound and its sheltering group of islands. According to the guidebooks, Effingham Bay, which is not far from the entrance into the sound, is sheltered and protected. We drop sails in the lee of Effingham Island. Lee it may have been, but with winds still blowing 18 – 20 knots, there is a lot of force flapping those sails around as the Captain lowers them into the lazy jacks and gets a sail tie around them. Then we motor down the length of the island to circle up into Effingham Bay. There are 2 boats already in this not very large bay. We wonder that anyone could call this a sheltered location. Though there are several small islands to hunker down behind, there is nothing significant to stop the NW wind bearing down on us. However, winds are supposed to drop in the evening and a quick study of the charts shows us no other nearby anchorage with enough depth for us. So, we anchor.

We are uncomfortable with the fact that with the other boats already in place, we don’t have as much room to put out all the chain we would like. As evening
approaches, winds do not abate. Instead they increase to over 25 knots. She may not be able to calculate wind velocity squared in her head, but The First Mate knows that there is a lot of force on the boat. With the wind barreling down on us, the water churned up all around us and Avante pulling hard out on the anchor chain, we feel anything but secure and sheltered in this place.

Both of us are alert and watching. The shore behind us is close. The other boats are close. Shortly before sunset, the couple on the boat nearest us is up on deck and moving around. To our surprise, they pick up anchor and motor out of the bay. Where they are headed at this late hour is beyond us, but we are not dismayed to see them go. With that boat out of the way, there is a lot more room in the anchorage, and The Captain decides to pick up our anchor and move over. This will put us more in the shelter of a low-lying island and will allow us to put out more chain for better security in this building wind. Holding the boat steady and in place against a 20 to 25 knot wind as the anchor comes up is not easy. Holding the boat in position as the anchor is redeployed is not easy either. With relief, we are re-anchored, more chain is out, and we do feel more secure – somewhat. Still, this is not going to be a comfortable night. We head to bed both still dressed in our fleece and ready to hit the deck if necessary. With one eye on the wind meter in our cabin and an ear alert for the bing of the anchor alarm, we fitfully doze. It is not until about 0300 in the morning that the winds finally decrease to the low teens. We finally can relax enough to sleep until dawn, but for The First Mate, she has had enough wind velocity education coupled with wind action over the last 18 hours to last her quite a while. Hopefully, quiet and peace will reign for a few days.

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