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Squalls: How to best use them

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I read an article on this some years ago about how to catch and best benifit from them.

I was about which tack to exit a squall on and how to position yourself best for the next one. I've tried to find the article again but no luck.

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The tactics are increased wind velocity 

rain cloud .. air falling 

dry cloud air rising .. giant vacuum cleaner 

the direction of cloud  movement is important .. for a raining cloud on one side it will be background wind velocity plus air falling velocity … on the other side it will be background  wind velocity minus falling air velocity 

in the middle will be light and variable 

in general don’t  sail thru  the middle of a rain cloud 

this site explanation is a bit clearer  





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mostly these discussions are focused on sailing downwind in the trade winds.., where typically the squalls start as nice puffy low level cumulus clouds during the day, and then become squalls at night. Usually they are isolated - although some can get quite large - and not like the squall lines that are more common in the mid latitudes.

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11 hours ago, us7070 said:

mostly these discussions are focused on sailing downwind in the trade winds

Right, I was sort of wondering about the premises of the OP. 

Around here on the Sweetwater Seas we do get smallish cell squalls - but we also get microbursts, big ass wall clouds, and white squalls. 

For all of the latter you need to get the sails down - though racers hate to do that.  


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When they say left and right shift which is left and which is right? Port starboard?


It's interesting that some say sail under the clouds and some say sail under clear skies.

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‘Right’ and ‘left’ as seen from the cloud’s moving direction. Not from your boat. But that’s not the point.

The most action usually is at the edge of any cloud. If it rains - wind comes out from under it. If it doesn’t, wind goes in. Adds these effects to the wind that is already there. 

So if you are sailing downwind and a raining cloud is coming up from behind, put yourself in front it. As the first squall hits, steer to one side and stay at the lateral edge of the cloud while it overtakes you. (The wind will veer a bit away from the cloud. Stay at the edge and adjust your sails.) Before the aft (=windward) end of the cloud reaches you, steer away from it (less wind here!) and look for the next one. 

I did this just for fun during night watches mid Atlantic and it worked perfectly in one of, say, eleven clouds. The others just rained on me.  :lol:  

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we had this cloud edge  effect in the RORC 2019 Cherbourg race - essentially our own personal wind all the way :-).... smallest boat, first home

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