Name That Wind

People complain about the wind in Las Vegas all the time. It does get windy here. In fact, the highest recorded wind gust here was in March 1984 – 82mph/70+ knot winds. That's a lot of wind wherever you are. Wind, however, is an essential part of a sailor's life, especially on a sailboat. People have many names for the wind depending on where they're from and the intensity with which the wind blows. There are gentle winds and breezes and zephyrs. There are destructive winds like tornadoes and twisters, waterspouts, cyclones, typhoons and diablos. There are icy blasts, gusts and gales ... siroccos, pamperos, foehns and mistrals. waterspout in panama

The Greeks named the winds based on direction from which they came. Boreas was the god of the north wind and winter. Eurus was the unlucky east or southeast wind. Notus was god of the warm, south winds and Zephyrus was the god of gentle west winds. The ruler of the winds, Aeolus, was venerated and respected as much as Poseidon, the Greek's equivalent to the Roman god of the sea, Neptune.

aeolus god of the wind

Pedro Reinel, a 15th-16th century Portuguese cartographer, is the author of the oldest signed nautical chart in existence. In 1504, he was also the first cartographer to depict a wind rose on his Atlantic Chart. Reinel showed not only a scale of latitudes for the first time, but an ornate fleur-de-lys wind rose.

reinels wind rose

If you're a sailor and have ever used paper charts, you've very familiar with the compass rose. When plotting a course on a paper chart, we still use the compass rose with a parallel rule and dividers to determine our heading. Before the development of the compass rose, “a wind rose was included on maps in order to show sailors from which directions the eight major winds blew within the plan view.” North was always depicted with a fleur-de-lys, while east was shown as a Christian cross to indicate the direction of Jerusalem from Europe. Later charts sometimes included half winds (8) and quarter winds (16).

ornate wind rose

Eight points on the compass rose delineated the eight principal winds (N, S, E, W) at 90º intervals plus the ordinal directions (NE, SE, SW, NW) at 45 intervalsº. When the angles were bisected again (22.5º), the half-winds were shown, e.g. SSE, ESE, SSW, WSW, etc. Some were pretty elaborate, showing quarter-winds as well. When all 32 points on the rose are shown, it's called “boxing the compass”.

boxing the compass

In 1805, Francis Beaufort devised the Beaufort Scale which measured wind speed based upon observed conditions on land or sea and standardized an objective reporting of wind speeds.

beaufort scale

As we've traveled around the world, we've heard the wind called by many names. The strong southeasterly Cape Doctor in Cape Town and the Fremantle Doctor in Perth. The southwest busters on Africa's wild west coast and the willywaws and rachas that thundered through like freight trains in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. I grew up with nor'easters in New England. The Santa Anas are well known in southern California. The warm chinooks of the Rockies are also known as “snow eaters”.

And, of course, if you've ever seen “Paint Your Wagon”, They Call the Wind Maria.

Wind and Waves at Kalk Bay

We rented a car again the other day. Since we're here for a bit longer than anticipated, David has decided to tackle the cap rails … a project that he will undoubtedly explain in a later Blue View. The new project required some supplies that were heavy and not readily available within walking distance. Car hires here are not expensive, by the way. A compact car with unlimited mileage and insurance coverage runs less than $20US/day … not too bad on the budget at all. Since we had the car, and the scavenger hunt for supplies wasn't an all-day  endeavor, we decided to take a ride. On several occasions, our friends on Wind Wanderer had mentioned a neat little restaurant that they'd tried along the False Bay coast in a little town called Kalk Bay, about 25 minutes from Cape Town. It was the first fair day we'd had in more than a week. It was cold and clear, but the wind was howling as we set off from the yacht club across the Cape peninsula. We stopped at Sunrise Beach to watch the wind surfers do their thing. Man, were they ever flying along close to the shore in the 30-40+ knot winds.

windsurfers at sunrise

We passed through several little coastal towns that might have warranted a look-see on a calmer, warmer day. Downtown Muizenberg looked like a war zone. Off-season road construction made the going slow and the main street sights painful to the eye.

downtown muizenburg

The road hugged the coastline. Opposite the beach at St. James, charming historic homes overlooked the sea. Colorful surfer shacks lined the shore in vibrant contrast to the grey, foaming sea beyond and the more sedate, graceful mansions across the street.

colorful surfer shacks

We came around a curve and saw the sign for Kalk Bay and pulled over. The beach had been gobbled up by the surf. The waves were stupendous as they crashed onto the shore. From a distance, we could see the little boat harbor. The red navigation light at the end of the seawall was taking a mighty beating. I had seen photos taken at this very spot before, but I never thought I'd be taking any quite as dramatic.

crashing wave

We made our way into town and across the Metro railroad tracks into the muddy parking lot of the Harbour House. From the outside, the place didn't look all that appealing, but inside was a different story. There were several little restaurants operating independently.  We were looking for Live Bait and found it almost immediately. Fortunately, it was mid-week and off-season and we secured a lovely table for two by the window. Live Bait is on the ground floor of the Harbour House and its windows are even with the rocky shoreline and the sea wall. The wave action was unbelievable. The menu was interesting, but the view had all our attention.

live bait restaurant

We felt ourselves flinching, a natural reflex as a monster wave pounded against the window just beside us. We could feel the thud of the powerful smash and then heard the gasps and oohs and ahs of other restaurant patrons as tons of angry sea slammed into the windows. Lunch was wonderful, but it was hard to concentrate on the cuisine. Good food is still no competition for the power of Neptune. We lingered over lunch and watched intently, totally mesmerized. The tide was coming in and as it did, the already gargantuan waves increased, becoming more and more thunderous. What a show!

waves smashes into window

When we finally left the restaurant, we noticed several people on the harbor pier, as fascinated as we were with the spectacular wave display. Despite the wind, we headed out to join the small crowd and noticed several big sea lions sitting on the wharf, waiting out the chaotic seas and catching up on their rest.

sea lions

Fish filets, hung out to dry under a covered area of the wharf, flapped in the breeze like flags. Cormorants, begging for scraps, gathered around a man cleaning fish.

beggars waiting for handouts

Out on the pier, the wind was fierce and cold, but the incomparable spectacle more than made up for the discomfort. Big fishing boats pitched and rocked, straining on their lines. The combination of wind, waves and boat noise was near deafening, but oh so exhilarating.

view of harbour

We stood on the wharf and watched till we were chilled through and through. Our faces and hands were red with cold and wind burn. It was late afternoon now and reluctantly, we returned to the car for the drive back to Cape Town.  It was a breathtaking experience, happily witnessed from land and gladly not from the decks of Nine of Cups.

I said..."Enough of the wind already!"

It's been blowing gale force winds since we arrived in Cape Town at the Royal Cape Yacht Club. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times … enough of the wind already!  Poor Nine of Cups is on a tight leash. The doubled-up docklines stretch and strain and groan. The wind shrieks through the rigging. The boat rocks. There's a loose halyard on a nearby boat that about drives us insane with its banging. taut lines at cape town south africa

Last time we were here I remember asking a Cape Town sailor about the weekly sailing competitions at the yacht club. “It's blowing 35 knots, are you still going out?” I inquired incredulously. With a grin on his face and in a rather blasé tone, he replied “If we waited till it was less than 35 knots, we'd never sail.” And so it is in Cape Town. Chicago and Wellington have nothing on this windy city. The flag's flying straight out all the time.

flag is straight out

It's late in the season and there's no one in the berths on either side of us. The short, narrow finger pier for boarding tilts precariously with each big gust. When walking up to the clubhouse, which is predictably a mile away for visiting yachts, it's a challenge to just keep ourselves from being blown away.

tilting dock in cape town south africa

Lest you think I'm whinging for nothing, we've seen consistent 30-35 knots for the past 3-4 days with little respite. Gusts have topped out near 60 knots. That's really a lot of wind. We sailors prefer 15-20 knots when we're actually sailing and little to no wind at all when we're berthed. We have things to do and with 35 knot winds, climbing the mast is out of the question (unless you're a Cape Town sailor, that is).

wind speed aboard nine of cups

A few positive notes … we will not lose our sea legs while we're berthed here. Cape Town is one of the most vibrant, beautiful cities in the world. And … the view from Nine of Cups ain't bad!

table mountain in cape town south africa