Learning to sail boats has similar sequences of operations such as driving a car, which appear confusing but soon are reflex actions. Learning to sail a boat requires learning the wind direction, the points of sailing, sailing fundamentals and how to change course. The skill of sailing boats involves knowing how the boat reacts to the wind on all points of sailing, and be able to change course smoothly and efficiently and learn how to stop the boat. When learning to sail, the skill needed to leave and return to the shore under sail will come later, so row or paddle away from shore, then hoist the sails.
The key to successful sailing on a boat is an awareness of wind direction, so the initial step is to develop this awareness. Look for telling signs such as smoke and flags and equate the action of surface waves and wavelets as to an indication of wind direction. Another useful, and accurate, indicator is a masthead flag or 'windex'. Being able to sense the wind's direction by feeling it blowing on your face or ears is a useful skill.
The function of the setting the sails is to get the boat sailing with the optimum set of the sails allowing efficient drive at maximum speed. To vary the speed, adjust the sails away from their optimum position. This then gives the required amount of drive required when manoeuvring to pick up a mooring, come alongside another boat or to approach a landing place.
The first sailing boats skill is to learn the three ways of stopping the boat from moving in the water, involving the wind working in your favour. The most controlled method is heaving-to with other simple techniques such as lying-to method and the head-to-wind method, which empty the sails of wind causeing then to flap losing forward drive. Lying-to is the stable option with the boat drifting until the sails are pulled in. When confident with these two ways of stopping try the more controlled heaving-to.
The head-to-wind position, the wind pushes the boat backwards due to the windage of the flapping sails. The bow starts to turn in either direction which is affected by the rudder position then the sails fill and the boat starts to sail. Use this method when stopping alongside a mooring or pontoon or other boat.
To lie-to, turn the boat onto a close reach letting both sails out fully. Lying to is not possible when the boat is pointing further offwind, because as the mainsail is let out, the sail hits the shrouds and refills with wind. Sailing away from the lying-to position requires sheeting in both sails and the boat moves forwards.
The head-to-wind stop requires turning the dinghy until the bow points into the wind. This causes the sails to lose wind and flap
along the centreline of the boat, bringing it to a stop. Decide which way you want the bow to move when sailing away from a head-to wind position. Then pull the jib across to the opposite side, known as backing the jib, and this will push the bow in the desired direction. After the boat has turned, trim both sails correctly and sail off.
The head-to-wind method of stopping reveals an area of about 45° on either side of the wind direction in which it is not possible to point the boat and maintain sailing. Sailing close-hauled, means sailing along the edge of the no-sail zone and pointing closer to the wind.To sail to a point upwind within this no-sail zone requires sailing a series of zigzags, on one tack then on the other, progressing to windward with each tack and called beating to windward.
The principal points of sailing is learning the angles to the wind at which a boat can sail. These points are called the reach, close reach, close-hauled, broad reach and run. The reach (or beam reach) is the key to all manoeuvres, and it is the most exciting point of sail. When reaching, the boat is sailing across the wind with the wind blowing at right angles to the boat with the centreboard half down, and the sails sheeted in to set them.
The boat's speed when sailing on a point of sailing is dependent on a range of factors such as;
Potential boat speeds on points of sailing in the same wind strength are depicted in the polar diagram. The further away from the centre represents the boats speed. It shows the performance curve of a typical dinghy - reaching maximum speed on a beam reach while sailing the slowest on a run.
The five sailing fundamentals are the keys to efficient sailing on a boat. With every course change when sailing boats, a quick review of each point should be taken.
Check trim by easing the sails out until there is shaking along the luffs, then pull the sheets in until the shaking ceases or an easier way to check trim is by fitting tell-tales showing the wind flow across the sails. Sail Trim Sailing Simulator
The centreboard counteracts sideways force, greatest when close-hauled. Closer sailing towards the wind, requires the centerboard to be lowered, and turning away from the wind, the centerboard
must be raised progressively to fully up on a run. The centreboard should have a small amount down in a run, providing a pivot point around which the boat can turn.
Heeling forces increase when sailing closer to the wind, so the helmsman and crew must both sit out to counteract these forces and keep the boat upright. When the wind strength changes, or there is a course alteration, the crew moves first to balance the boat.
Check the boat is trimmed correctly in a fore and aft direction:
- In light winds, trim the boat slightly down by the bow;
- In strong winds, move back slightly.
If the wake is disturbed it indicates that weight is too far aft. Helmsman and crew should keep their weight concentrated in the middle of the boat allowing the bow and stern to lift easily with the waves.
- If the objective is to windward, sailing a zigzag course will reach it with correct decisions on when to tack while making allowance for leeway.
- When sailing on a reach, the sideways force still causes a small amount of leeway. The actual course through the water will be slightly to leeward of the course steered. Make allowance for this by steering upwind of the objective, being aware of any tidal stream that pushes the boat off course.
Learning to change course introduces the different points of sailing. This allows an understanding how a boat works, while experiencing the effects of the wind from different angles prior to learning to tack and gybe. Go through a complete change of course from sailing towards the wind or an upwind course, to sailing away.
Luffing up is turning the boat towards the wind on a more upwind course.
- Luffing up, requires the helmsman to push the tiller gently away while sheeting in the mainsail.
- The crew sheets in the jib and lowers the centreboard.
- With the boat turning towards the wind, the apparent wind increases in strength along with the heeling force, necessitating the crew to sit out even further keeping the boat balanced.
- Turning the boat further toward the wind, sheet in the sails and fully extend the centreboard.
- A point is reached where the sails do not set and the windward tell-tale rotates.
- At this point, turn the boat away from the wind until both fully-tensioned sails set correctly.
- This is the close-hauled point of sailing, which is the closest to the wind as the boat will sail.
- Start again on the reach and then turn the boat away from the wind by about 45° onto a broad reach .
- Steer a straight course where the sails will appear to set, but tell-tales will show that the leeward airflow is disrupted.
- Let the sails out until the telltales show that you have the right sail set then raise the centreboard to the quarter-down position.
- With the boat turning further away from the wind, the apparent wind decreases in strength with a reduction in the heeling force requiring the crew to move inboard keeping the boat level preventing heeling to windward.
- In fresh winds, the broad reach is the fastest point of sailing, causing the boat to skim over the surface of the water rather than ploughing through it.
The run is the point of sail when the wind is directly behind the boat.
- The jib loses its drive and should be set on the windward side of the boat.
- Sailing like this, before the wind with the mainsail on one side and the jib on the other, is called goosewinging.
- About six inches of the centreboard should be exposed beneath the boat to give some lateral stability. Sailing dead downwind is tricky in strong or gusty winds and if the boat starts to gyrate wildly, steer it to follow the top of the mast: as the boat rolls to the right, steer right, and as it rolls to the left, steer left.
Remember turning toward the wind requires the sails to be sheeted in and centreboard lowered, and turning away from the wind requires the sails to be let out and the centreboard raised.