Sailing Techniques & Maneuvers

A number of factors contribute to the efficiency of a yachts progress. Taken together, we call these the Five Essentials and are increasingly stressed at each level of the AY Practical and Theory Syllabus. Every time you change course, just run a mental check to see that you've got them all right.

1. Boat Balance

Although you may have seen photos of yachts heeled over until the water almost comes in over the side, that is not the way to sail. All boats move efficiently when they are upright and flat. In a dinghy it is up to the crew to ensure that it stay upright.

If a yacht is allowed to heel away from the wind, it will tend to turn into the wind or luff up. Conversly if the boat is allowed to heel towards the wind, it will tend to turn downwind or bear away (See diagram). In either ease some rudder movement will be needed to keep it on course, which will slow the boat down.

It is important for the helmsman to sit on the windward side of the boat, where he has better visibility and control. It is the crew who does most of the work in balancing the boat. When there is little heeling force, such as in light winds or when sailing downwind, the crew will sit on the leeward side opposite to the helmsman. In stronger winds when there is more heeling force, the crew will be sitting out on the windward side.

Boat Balance Skiff Racing.JPG (8092 bytes)

Effect of heel.JPG (14095 bytes)

2. Trim Fore and Aft

The distribution of crew weight fore and aft is just as important as balancing the boat. The best way to learn the techniques is to practice them, but the idea of "shifting your weight towards the wind" will help.

In other words, that means moving forward in the boat when sailing to windward and moving aft when sailing downwind.

By moving forward, you will help to keep the bow well in the water to cut through waves, while lifting the stern sections clear.

When sailing away from the wind, by shifting your weight aft you will lift the bow, preventing it from digging into waves and giving more stability to the boat. This will also help to promote planing in strong winds, when the boat lifts onto its own bow wave and speed increases dramatically.

3. Sail Setting

You have already seen that a sail produces its maximum power when at a certain angle to the wind. That angle is quite critical, although this is not the time to learn complex aerodynamic theory and the best results come from practice.

Boat Balance Crew.JPG (8375 bytes)

Boat Balance Yacht Crew.JPG (6677 bytes)

Effect of sails.JPG (11607 bytes)

As a guide, you will find that any sail, whether jib, mainsail or spinnaker, will set best by letting out until it starts to flap gently along the leading edge, then pulled in just enough to stop that flapping.

Remember that the correct position of the sails is at a certain angle to the wind, not to the boat. Each time the boat changes direction, so the sails must be sheeted in or out to maintain that position.

When you turn towards the wind you must pull the sheets in, or the sails will flap. That's pretty straightforward, as the flapping sail will act as a reminder.

When you bear away, you must ease the Sheets. The most common of all mistakes made by newcomers to sailing is a failure to let out the sails when bearing away. There is no immediate sign, other than the fact that the boat will slow under the effect of the stalled sails and there may be excessive heel.

4. Centerboard

As well as driving a yacht forward, the action of the wind on the sails will push it sideways across the water - this is known as making leeway. To prevent this, the yacht needs more grip on the water, which is provided by a centerboard daggerboard or keel. The difference is simple. A centerboard pivots around a bolt in its case; a daggerboard is moved vertically up and down In some older yachts you might find a metal board, referred to as a centreplate, all three do the same job.

A boat makes most leeway when sailing close hauled and so the centerboard should be right down. When sailing directly away from the wind there is no leeway and so the board can be raised.

Boat Balance Skiff.JPG (8252 bytes)

Effect of Centerboard.JPG (9636 bytes)

In between, when sailing across the wind, the board should be half down. Many AY Instructors mark either the board or the case as a guide, but as you gain more experience you will be able to refine these basic rules for different conditions.

Even with the board right down, a yacht will still make a little leeway when sailing close hauled, particularly in waves. You must accept the fact that your actual destination will be slightly downwind of where the boat is pointing.

5. Course Made Good

This is exactly what it sounds like - the shortest, or quickest, distance between two points. Sailing an off-wind course in a steady breeze on a deep, current-free inland waterway, the course made good will simply be a straight line from start to finish. In all other conditions you need to decide on the best way of getting from A to B.

Sailing upwind, for example, you have to accept and allow for leeway, as outlined above in centerboard use. In addition, if you have to make a number of tacks to reach your destination, you'll need to decide where youre going to make them. In theory, there is almost an infinite choice of routes to an upwind destination. In practice, it pays to stay within a 20 degree "cone" so that you will be least affected by windshifts.

That theory might not apply, however, if you are sailing in tidal waters, when your upwind route would be governed by the desire to stay in a favorable stream or out of an adverse one. You will soon get used to looking at fixed objects - posts or mooring buoys - to see which way the water is moving and then take advantage of it.

1) When beating into the wind, full centerboard is needed to reduce leeway.
2) When reaching across the wind, board can be partially raised.
3) When running there is no leeway, but a small amount of centerboard will make the boat easier to steer

As an example,(see diagram) if you have to cross an estuary the stream will carry you sideways. If you simply aim at your objective, you will quickly find yourself being swept downstream of it. Rather than point vaguely upstream in the hope that you will eventually reach your required destination.

Make use of transits on the shore. Pick two conspicuous objects on the shore, one behind the other. By keeping them in the same position relative to each other, you will be able to cross a tideway with the minimum of fuss. With practice, you will be able to use almost any feature on the shore as a transit.

If, on the way across a tideway, you encounter buoys or moored boats, you must allow for the tide sweeping you down on them. It is always better to pass down-tide of such obstructions if in doubt about your ability to get past them.

Leeway effect.JPG (8086 bytes)

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