|There has been an interesting discussion on our forum in recent months about gauging wind speed. One of our forum participants is leery of subjective assessments of wind speed and suggested that an anemometer is the only way to arrive at an accurate figure. I’d have to agree that an anemometer can remove the guesswork, but there has been a long tradition of estimating wind speed through observation of the wind’s effects. The Beaufort Scale, created in 1805, was an effort to apply a number to wind speed using a scale of 1 to 12—Force 1 being calm and Force 12 being a hurricane. For each value on the scale there is a description of the visible effects of the wind on the water and on the land. The wind speeds within each Force number span variously from 3 to 8 miles per hour and the application of the scale relies on subjective evaluations, but the Beaufort Scale was a useful tool and has not yet fallen out of use.
My name came up in the forum discussion. I had mentioned in my June 2006 editorial that I’d been paddling in winds that "seemed to be every bit of 40 miles per hour." It’s appropriate to question how I came up with that number. It was indeed a subjective assessment. I have some familiarity with the Beaufort Scale but one of the ways I gauge wind speed is by sound. Facing the wind I listen to the sound of the wind in my ears. (That’s right, if I’d been wearing a neoprene hood I’d have to peel it off to gauge the wind speed.) The quality of the sound changes with wind speed, from a whisper at 15 miles an hour to a tearing sound at 35 miles an hour. I’ve “calibrated” my ears by decades of bike riding with a speedometer—that’s why I make my estimates in miles per hour instead of knots.
I recently started carrying an anemometer aboard my kayak. I’ve had other anemometers in the past, but they don’t seem to last long and I’ve never felt the need to rely upon one. While this new one is working, I’ll be checking my estimates against the anemometer and, if necessary, “recalibrating” my ears this winter.
In our Summer 1992 issue we ran an article by Eric Soares called “Jaywalking the Coast.” In that article Eric discussed subjective navigation tactics, learning to gauge time, distance, wind speed, temperature and tides by training yourself to tune into those factors. One way to do that is to carry appropriate measuring instruments, and making your best guess before reading the instrument. Eric tested himself against anemometers carried by paragliders preparing to launch: “Every time they took a reading, I guessed aloud what their instruments would indicate. I was right every time.” I have a habit of guessing time and when I’m in practice my “guesses” are often within 5 minutes of the actual time.
Instruments can provide easy accuracy, but they can and do fail. You can use your five senses to make some useful and fairly accurate assessments. The important thing, whether you get your information from an instrument or your senses, is knowing how to interpret that information to decide when and where to paddle.