We found out what it’s like to sail to weather. For the 16th year, the fall class of the Williamsburg Area Learning Tree assembled for the three-day “Adventures in Sailing” class. Among the returning alumni is David “Ned” Neidlinger whose career in the Air Force included intensive weather work and data collection.

High up in the sky on Day 1 he observed a cattail effect of small rippling clouds and said, “That usually leads to precipitation within 72 hours.” Sure enough, he was right. The following week we were under cloud cover all day with intermittent rain. I asked him if the sailor’s adage, “Red skies at night, sailors’ delight” was true. “Yes, look over there to the orange horizon. Red skies in morning, sailors take warning. It’s true 80 percent of the time.” Sure enough, it rained on and off all day.

“There are 27 cloud formations that we had to know, and they are found at three levels of altitude. I’m not a forecaster, but an observer.” Here are common types:

Cirrus –These are gauze-like, thin and wispy. Detached “mares tails” usually convey good weather unless followed by lower clouds which fortell rain within 24-24 hours.

Stratus – These are flat, continuous cover, stratified and layered. They are found below 1,000 feet. Sometimes thick for a dark sky, the often produce a mist.

Cumulus—These are cotton balls or cauliflower in appearance and convey fair weather.

“When a warm front comes in, that’s often bringing bad weather,” Ned said. “But the temperature may change only a degree or two.” I have found that big winds precede and follow cold fronts, which is fine because winds are my primary occupation.

We sailed along blissfully in a 10 mph wind out of the northwest. It was so steady that we sailed halfway up the York River from Yorktown and returned without having to tack back and forth. That was first. The class covered a grueling 44 miles in six hours.

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