as part of my new Sunfish sail set-up that I described a while ago, I mentioned that I had added (3) sets of tell-tales. the tell-tales are positioned on the sail to help give an idea of how the wind is flowing along the sail, and can give you an idea of how the sail should be trimmed to achieve an optimum air flow. in addition to adding tell-tales to your sail, there are (2) other methods frequently used on Sunfish to help read how the wind is moving on the water.
one option is a masthead fly, which in the case of a Sunfish, will probably be more effective if it is mounted at the highest point up on the upper spar (and not down lower off the top of the mast). the masthead fly or wind indicator will be useful for sailing downwind, and will give you an indication of how the wind is shifting, and whether you should jibe. (I haven’t tried anything yet in this department.)
the other option is a wind indicator that is often placed at about eye level and frequently mounted off the upper spar. the wind indicator here is nice because it will give you an idea of how the wind is puffing and shifting, and can be very helpful for light wind sailing. there are several commercially available options for wind indicators (APS sells a few, Intensity Sails does too).
the C-Vane for Sunfish is about $30 to $35.
there is also the Kingfisher 200 for $15 to $20.
I had almost purchased one of those options a while back, but a weekend or two ago, I decided to initially try to create my own wind indicator to mount down at eye level, more or less following the procedure suggested by this pictorial at Windline Sails. all you need is a coat hanger to bend into a v-shape, and an old cassette tape to cut up to make small streamers. so I bent up a hanger into a large V-shape, with little drops at the tips of the V to tie the strands of cassette tape to. I differed slightly from that pictorial, though, in that I didn’t want to mount the coat hanger wind indicator to the upper spar using only duct tape.
my solution (I vaguely recall it mentioned on the Sunfish Forum, so I won’t take credit for the idea) was to take a small piece of 1 1/2″ diameter PVC pipe, maybe 3″ or 4″ long, and cut it into a C-shape. it took a little trial-and-error to get it just right, but now this C-shaped length of pipe would slip onto the upper spar of my Sunfish sail, and fit snugly enough to not slide up and down the spar, or twist side-to-side… but it is still easy to pull off at the end of a sailing session. I then drilled a hole to fit the bent section of coat hanger, and screwed the hanger in place (and filed down the tip of the screw that went through the PVC). so this is a view of the back of my home-made indicator, looking at the C-shaped piece of PVC that will “clamp” to the upper spar.
here is a picture of it mounted on the upper spar of the Sunfish sail. I have it mounted fairly low – you could mount it higher, but I found I can leave it mounted there, and still raise and lower the sail easily without having to move where the clamp is located. and as usual, anytime I’m fiddling with the boat in the driveway, my 3-yr old climbs aboard saying, “let’s go sailing, Dad!”
the coat hanger wire is hard to get really straight, so it isn’t exactly a thing of beauty. I made a very small loop/twist at the bottom of the 2″ drop – that’s where I tied a 10″ or 12″ long piece of cassette tape. the cassette tape is pretty flimsy stuff, so I’ll probably just throw the destroyed cassette into my box of sailing gear, so I’ll always have extra tape to make repairs. I have seen comments that the cassette tape can be too shifty and show wind too light to really sail in, so another option if you don’t have an old cassette tape is to just use a piece of yarn or something similar.
my 1st time sailing with the homemade wind indicator was 2 weekends ago when I sailed on Lake Erie with my boys. I was very impressed – it was excellent at showing me the light gusts and puffs of wind, and most importantly, giving me an better idea of the direction of the wind than trying to scan the beach for a fluttering flag or something similar. once the Sunfish is in motion, you certainly have to take that into account when “reading” the wind indicator, but if you are stalled out in light wind, or barely creeping along in the water, the light cassette tape does a good job of showing you how the wind is shifting, and you might be able to adjust your heading or sail trim, to pick up just a little bit more wind. I had all the parts necessary to make it lying around, so the bonus here is the only cost for me was the time I spent fiddling around making the wind indicator.