Wind & sail angle.JPG (13843 bytes)

Basic Principles of Sailing Yachts
Sailing Downwind

Sailing Techniques may vary according to the manner in which the yacht are rigged, but the essential principles are the same for all Sailing Yachts. The simplest and easily understood point of sailing your AY Instructor will show you is Running before the wind. As the term indicates, the boat follows the same course that the wind is blowing. As the left hand yacht in Figure 1 shows the sail is set at approximately 90 angle to the longitudinal axis of the boat commonly referred to as Sail Angle with power derived from the push of the wind on the sails.

Reaching - Sailing across the Wind
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In Sailing off the wind, as the middle yacht in Figure 1 shows, the wind reaches the craft from the side, or beam, and the sails are set at approximately 45 from the longitudinal axis of the yacht. In this sailing position the general principle of wind action is that the wind flows at a greater rate of speed along the forward surface of the sail, creating an area of lower pressure ahead of the sail. The actual force exerted by the wind is at right angles to the sail, as indicated by the dotted line a. This force would tend to drive the boat at an oblique angle if the hull of the boat were perfectly flat. Every sailboat, however, is equipped with a fixed keel or a retractable centerboard, which acts as a flat longitudinal plane to prevent the boat from moving sideways through the water. The effect of this plane is shown by the dotted line b, and the actual course of the boat, which is the result of both the force of the wind and the resisting force of the keel, is the dotted line c representing forward and possibly sideways motion.

Sailing Upwind

Sailing on the wind a sailboat can make a course of approximately 45 away from the wind direction, as right hand yacht in Figure 1 shows. By sailing a succession of such courses, first to the left and then to the right of the wind direction by using a maneuver called tacking to change sides, sailboats can zigzag in an upwind direction, as shown in Figure 2. A Sailing Yacht is said to be on the Starboard tack when the wind is blowing from the right or starboard side, and to be on a Port tack when the wind is blowing from the left or port side.

Upwind tacking.JPG (7837 bytes)

Basic hove-to position.JPG (5273 bytes)

Stopping - Basic 'Hove-To' Position
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After completely releasing the sheets allowing the sails to flap freely, try letting the tiller go and you will find that the boat looks after itself. Coming to rest and sitting quietly in the water, almost at right angles to the wind. We call this the 'basic hove-to' position, and you will use it again and again as a starting point for exercises like reefing the mainsail and as a chance for a rest, to change over crew or for the AY Instructor to explain a particular maneuver.

From this position you will find how, by pulling in one sail or the other, you will cause the boat to turn into or away from the wind. You will also discover that heeling (leaning) the boat one way or another will affect its steering. Finally, by raising and lowering the centerboard you will find how the boat will "skid" across the water with no centerboard down.


If we want to reach a windward objective, it will be necessary to zigzag up towards it, changing direction each time by tacking or 'Coming About'. Once this technique of tacking is mastered, by demonstration and practice, you have the basic knowledge required to sail off, turn round and return.

Tacking - Loosely used to mean the same as 'going about' - turning the bow of the boat through the wind. In racing terms, a yacht is tacking strictly from the moment when the wind is dead ahead until she has borne away onto the new course

The yacht must be steered so that its bow points up into the wind and then away from the wind on the opposite tack. As the boat points into the wind, it loses speed as the sails are being pressed backward by the wind. Then as the bow moves away from the wind release the windward jib sheet and quickly transfer the sail to the other tack, the sails fill with wind again and assume a position on the other side of the yacht. During the time of coming about, the boat is receiving no motive force from the wind; it must rely on its inertia to maintain enough speed so that it can be steered onto the opposite tack. When the boat does not have sufficient inertia, and stops with its bow pointing into the wind and its sails useless, it is said to be in 'Irons'.

Getting out of 'Irons' (being stuck head to wind)
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In your early tacking you may find you get stuck halfway through the maneuver, with the boat stationary head to wind, or in 'irons'. Don't worry, simply remember the routine of "push, push" - that is push the tiller and the boom away from you and wait. The boat will slowly start sailing backwards and will turn away from the wind. Then you reverse the routine with "pull, pull" on tiller and mainsheet and you're off again.

The photo-sequence (below) shows the techniques of tacking and gybing in a aft mainsheet Day-sailor most commonly used for Sailing Instructional Courses at recognized Yachting Centers

Sailing Seq P & S 2.JPG (4669 bytes)

No Go Zone

By trying to sail closer towards the wind, you will find that you have to pull the sails in harder, until you reach the stage when, even though they are pulled in tightly, they still start to flap. This is the limit of windward sailing of your yacht on that tack or the edge of the "No Go Zone" into which it is impossible to sail no matter who you are.

No Go Zone.JPG (4922 bytes)

Tacking & gybing.JPG (55439 bytes)

Gybing - turning the back of the boat through the wind
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Having got this far there is only one more new technique to learn. So far, you have changed direction by turning into the wind but the alternative is to steer the yacht further and further away from the direction of wind, until it crosses the stern of the boat and fills the sails on the other side.

Gybing - Turning the stern of a yacht through the wind. Strictly speaking, a yacht is gybing when her mainsail and boom crosses the centerline with the wind coming from behind. She completes the gybe when the mainsail has filled on the new tack

The important thing to remember is that, unlike tacking when the boat passes through the wind, there is always drive in the mainsail when the boat is being gybed. When running before the wind, a slight shift of wind may cause a boat to jibe unintentionally. Such jibing is dangerous because of the speed with which the boom and the foot of the sail sweep uncontrollably across the yacht from one side to the other. In wild jibing, control can be lost momentarily and, if in strong winds possibly the danger of breaking spars or broaching and sweeping the crew into the sea. When jibing intentionally, careful sailors always haul in on the boom while turning, so that the boom will travel only a short distance when the wind reaches the other side of the sails. Once again, the photo-sequence shows gybing techniques in the aft mainsheet day sailor most commonly used by AY Instructors at recognized Yachting Centers.

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