Reeds Cloud Handbook is a comprehensive pocket guide, and deserves a place in your sailing library onboard, says Julia Jones

Reeds Cloud Handbook
Oliver Perkins
Reeds, £9.99

Oliver Perkins published his first book The Message of the Clouds in 2017 when he was 15 years old and a member of the British Laser 4.7 squad.

It had a slightly small-press feel but was a clear and usable introduction to a complex subject.

The following year Adlard Coles took on 16-year-old Perkins, publishing his Reading the Clouds which some may have found useful for their Yachtmaster exams and others, like me, read in the cockpit as a more focussed alternative to Gavin Pretor Pinney’s seminal Cloud Spotter’s Guide.

What is new about Perkins’s latest book? Have clouds changed or has the sophistication of cloud spotters developed – like twitchers becoming distinct from birdwatchers?

Perkins’s Reeds Cloud Handbook is billed as ‘The Comprehensive Pocket Guide’ and delivers on this.

It’s breast-pocket rather than pouch-pocket size, neatly laid out and incorporates the latest in nomenclature.

Since Pretor-Pinney founded the Cloud Appreciation Society, clouds appear to have become things to ‘collect’, to capture and compare with an increasingly refined vocabulary.

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Perkins explains the World Meteorological classification of clouds into ten main groups called genera.

These are then subdivided into fifteen different species which can be split further into nine different varieties with eleven types of supplementary features.

In addition to these are four types of accessory clouds and six types of special clouds, including those formed by humans.

Bonuses included in this small book are various types of fog and the two clouds from beyond the troposphere which have no influence on weather.

Perkins also includes a selection of optical phenomena: rainbows, coronae, haloes, parhelions, iridescences and sunbeams.

These will not help anyone pass their RYA exams but provide words and explanations for some of the beauties we are fortunate enough to witness, especially when at sea.

As a sailor Perkins’s focus is more utilitarian than Pretor-Pinney’s and the marketing for the book is as an aid to weather prediction as well as a classification guide.

There will be some who will relish having the words to explain the process whereby cumulus congestus clouds become cumulus calvus which may be differentiated from cumulonimbus capillatus.

These form when the glaciated upper sections of cumulonimbus calvus become striated or fibrous with a plume of cirrus on the top of the anvil that provides the additional descriptor ‘incus’.

I love words and I love precision in language.

Those who share these tastes will enjoy this book: those who merely want warning of dirty weather will by now have run for shelter or reefed down hard.

Can clouds be understood through such linguistic taxonomy or does a feeling for sky-signs remain something more complex and … nebulous?

Oliver Perkins makes an eloquent though equivocal statement in his dedication to Jesus Christ with a quote from psalm 19 ‘The heavens declare the glory of God / The skies proclaim the work of his hands.’

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