The Force of the Winds

8th October 2015

Royal Clipper

Star Clippers tall ships are the first vessels to be built in 100 years that utilise wind as the main source of power. To sail in the wind requires a profound knowledge of how to handle everything that comes your way and there are many good and bad types to look out for.

Trade winds are certainly anticipated by sailors as being ideal for traversing the Atlantic and travelling to Africa from Europe. Historically, the term derives from the Portuguese, who recognised the importance of trade winds in Navigation in the 15th century. They quickly learnt that in order to reach South Africa, they needed to travel into the ocean toward Brazil and then head east again.

Trade Winds

By the 18th century, the merchant fleets of England were highly familiar with trade winds for crossing the Atlantic Ocean – and later became affiliated with foreign trade. Quite often, weak trade winds can result in higher rainfall.

There are two types of trade winds that sailors attempt to stick to when steering vessels across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The north easterly trade winds exist above the equator, whilst the south easterly winds exist below the equator – both of which flow towards the west.

It is these winds that carried Christopher Columbus across the Atlantic to the island of Hispaniola, where he initiated the Spanish colonisation of the modern world. It is these same winds that gracefully play their part in carrying passengers across the Atlantic in October-November every year. In addition to these trade winds, there are also the westerlies, which originate from the northwest (Canada and northern USA) and southwest (Argentina and Chile).

Treacherous Winds

Whilst monsoons can be disastrous to those based inland, they can actually be beneficial for tall sailing ships. The Indian Ocean presents an advantage, with reliable seasonal winds blowing south in the winter and north in the summer. The summer monsoon is thought to bring the strongest winds.

The speed of wind is measured differently throughout the world, although two units are recognised more than others: Knots and Beaufort. Developed in 1806, Beaufort was devised by Rear Admiral Sir Francis Beaufort of the Royal Navy. Rather provide an absolute description of the wind itself, it offers a description of the effects of the wind. It was originally used to describe the effects of the wind on the sails of a naval ship. For example, 0 Beaufort is calm; 6 Beaufort is a strong breeze; and 12 Beaufort would be defined as a hurricane.

There are many types of treacherous winds, each of which has been named and has unique characteristics. Mistral is one of the fiercest winds of the Mediterranean, with 40-100km per hour winds blowing from southern France to the northern Mediterranean. Pampero is a burst of cold air that picks up momentum rapidly around the southern tip of Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay.

Whether sailing around the Eastern Mediterranean, Caribbean or around Cuba – you will be able to appreciate the power of the wind as you travel gracefully across the oceans of the world. Whilst cruise ships of the 21st century offer modern amenities, Star Clippers provides a nod to a bygone era of traditional tall ship sailing.

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