Tacking and gybing a sailboat is among one of the first lessons we teach in our basic sailing course. That said, new sailors tend to make small errors that cause the maneuvers to be difficult and possibly unsafe. Here, we will remind you of a few simple steps and techniques to increase your boat handling skills while also keeping the crew and the boat safe.
Tacking- Turning the boat so that the bow passes through the wind
A sailboat can only sail roughly 45 degrees below the true wind direction. So, in order to sail to a destination that’s inside the “no sail zone”, we must tack the boat 90 degrees at a time in order to reach that destination. During this maneuver the helmsman will slowly turn the boat through the wind while the crew will release the working jib sheet and trim on the new working sheet.
One of the biggest mistakes we see on the water is the helmsman turning the boat too fast leading to more difficult crew work and overturning of the boat. By turning the boat slower, the crew will have more time to trim the jib and the helmsman is less likely to overturn and end up on a beam reach.
Your rate of turn should start slow, speed up as you pass through the wind, and decrease as you fall off onto close hauled. If you can hear your rudder dragging through the water and see turbulent water, you’re likely turning too fast. By turning slower, you’re also allowing the crew more time to bring on the new working sheet prior to the boat reaching close hauled and the sail “powering up.”
Tacking slower will increase your boat speed coming out of the tack and make the maneuver a lot easier on your crew!
Gybing- Turning the boat so that the stern passes through the wind
Theoretically, a boat can sail directly downwind but it’s not very efficient on most boats and can be dangerous due to accidental gybes. Instead, we like to sail on a broad reach (roughly 140-degree true wind angle) and gybe across to another broad reach. Just like tacking, turning slow will make gybing safer and easier for everyone involved.
During a gybe, your sails will always have pressure in them because you are not passing through the “no sail zone”. This means you need to trim your mainsail to center line (or close to it) prior to starting your turn. This will reduce the amount of room the boom can move across the cockpit as you turn the stern though the wind. The jib can remain in its current trim as long as a crew member is ready to release the sheet and trim on the new one as the stern passes the wind.
Once the main has been trimmed in, the helmsman can start the turn and level out once they approach the new broad reach. The mainsail trimmer needs to ease the mainsheet once the stern has passed through the wind and the jib trimmer will do the same with the new jib sheet.
The biggest tip here is to turn the boat slower when tacking and gybing.
Try it out on your next charter and let us know if you feel a difference in performance and comfort!