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When discussing the wind, sailors use two different terms to describe its direction and strength: true and apparent. True wind is what most people would think of when they hear reports of wind speed. If the wind is blowing 5 knots out of the north, the true wind is simply that, 5 knots out of the north. And as long as we remain stationary, that’s all that really comes into play. As soon as we begin to move however, our motion starts to create its own wind. To illustrate that, imagine what you would feel if you were to stick your hand out the window of a car moving 60 miles per hour. Even if the breeze on that day was very calm, you would still feel a considerable force on your hand. That is apparent wind.

Once we begin to move, creating our own breeze, this changes the wind’s effect on our sails. To what end? You could do the math and draw a little vector diagram to figure out the speed and direction of this new wind, referred to as “apparent wind,” or if you have a wind instrument on your boat like most sailboats do, you could just push the button on your gauge to switch the readings from true to apparent, letting the internal computer do that math for you.

Do you think this eagle we spotted cares about
whether the wind hitting his wings is true or apparent?

So why did I say that we have been doing it wrong? Well, although we have been aware of this info since we first took our sailing course, we have always kept our gauge set to read true wind. After quizzing several sailors as of late, it appears as if we’re just about the only ones who do this. “I don’t care what the real wind is. I only care about how it’s hitting my sails” is what one of our friends told us. This makes sense to us of course, so when we have the chance to raise our sails (which hasn’t been all that often in the last few weeks) we have been paying a lot more attention to the apparent wind, instead of just the true readings.

There is one caution about always sailing with your gauges reading apparent wind and it relates to downwind sailing. When sailing with the wind coming from astern, the apparent wind will always be less that the true wind (basically it would be the difference between the speed at which you are moving and the true wind speed). Unaware sailors could get caught with too much sail up if they’re not careful, missing the cue to reef the sails.

Charleston, SC, where we are on route to right now from last evening’s anchorage, Awendaw Creek. We’ll be stopping in Charleston IF we can find a suitable place to anchor. Reports are though that it may be tough to do so. Unlike many cruisers, we are not really “marina people.” If we can’t find a place to drop the hook, it’s likely we’ll be moving on.


  1. Since I started sailing on small boats and before such instruments were commonplace, knowing the true wind would just confuse me! I get true wind information, mostly, from the apearance of the surface of the water. And as you said, you have to remmember down-wind that when you turn upwind it will be very different.

    I also keep yarns in the rigging, for quick refference. I have 2 flexible sticks that look like knitting needles, one on each pulpit. Looking up to the masthead is a pain. If they are not flexible and if they are anything other than yarn, the spin sheets will remove them. Yes, you can gauge the wind direction from the sails once everything is trimmed, but the yarns are handy when setting and during jibes.

    Apparently, you’re doing OK, I see.

    I haven’t used my speed transducer in 2 years. I’m too lazy to keep it clean and if it broke I would’nt replace it.

    • I like our speed transducer. It allows me to take cool pics when were surfing at 14.1 knots. 🙂

      The pieces of yarn are good. We used to have some cool shiny silver things to scare birds away fastened to our lifelines. They worked well for that too.

  2. Just went sailing in Charleston a couple of months ago on a day trip. Charleston is one of the best towns in the South to see. If you can stop for a few days, I would highly recommend it. Lots of great free sightseeing on battery row, rainbow road, and the city market (among other places. It is not a cheap town if you eat out though.

    I can’t say for sure about the anchorage, but I know I saw several boats anchored in front of the City Marina. Our check-out charter guy told us one of the guys anchored out there had been there for years. Dinghying into work during the day, and going back out to his boat after work each evening.

    I can probably find it on the map if you guys can’t find the city marina. Good luck in Charleston.

  3. See when you are a power boater, we only care about true wind when docking and undocking…….my apparant wind is 26 knots while cruising by sailors as they figure out the calculations between true and apparent…….

  4. Plodding in Paradise has been in Charleston several days. Check their location or email Tammy to find out the apparent anchorage!!

    • We’ve been in contact with them and are happily enjoying the breadcrumbs they have been leaving. They weren’t anchored here though… they were tied up to a dock.

  5. You have way to much free time to think!!!!!! part of the cruising lifestyle.

  6. You should consider going to the other side of Charleston and staying at the Charleston Maritime Center (off the Cooper River). They have pretty good cat accommodations and their location is walking distance to everything you’d want to see in Charleston. The City Marina is pretty far away from everything.

    I think Charleston is one of the most interesting places to cruise to along the entire east coast. You shouldn’t miss it…

  7. Don’t miss out on Charleston! My favorite city on the coast! Plus they have a fabulous grocery store, amazing sites, and great food. If you want to splurge eat at Slightly North Of Broad (I met Jimmy Buffett there!) Enjoy the low country!

  8. Sounds as though you are having a wonderful time and making good progress. Enjoy Charleston.

  9. Wow – you guys must have been pushing the limits several times without ever knowing the apparent wind speed… At least you won’t be too spooked by the next gust to 35 knots or so… ignorance is bliss – until something breaks 😉

    • Hi Will

      I don’t doubt at all that what you are saying is true, but could you explain a scenario for me like you are describing? If we are trimming our sails properly, and reefing according to the true wind gusts, in what cases would we be in trouble?

  10. Anchor near the restaurant California Dreaming up the Ashley River just up river from the City Marina and on the opposite side of the river. They have $1.95 well drinks.

    • 1.95 drinks sounds excellent Joey. We did find a spot fortunately and are presently chillin’ aboard ZTC drinking next-to-free well drinks made from our $10.00 40 oz bottle of “Pirates of the Chesapeake” brand rum. MMMmmm 😉

      • Sounds Great!!!!

        Be sure to eat at Hyman’s Seafood Restaurant and California Dreaming. Walk around the hotels and/or Market street and you can get coupons for free food all over town. The little bar/restaraunt there at the City marina is okay too. I have spent alot of time around Charleston great city.

        This is my first post to ya’ll but I faithfully read your blog everyday. It is my Zen.

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