The task of becoming sea-worthy

Tacking – Basics

Tacking – Things to know in the beginning

Tacking maneuvers are used whenever a course change involves turning the bow through the wind.  Traveling at 45` to the wind, change course upwind, so the wind is hitting the opposite side of the boat.  The boom will also move to the opposite side.

1.  Operating as a team, the helmsman gives a preparation order: “Ready about?”

2.  As the crew prepares to shift weight, they respond: “Ready”.

3.  “Hard A Lee” is announced by the helmsman as they start to turn into the wind. (hard-a-lee means pushing the tiller hard to the lee side.  each crew member needs to be sure they are free of line and duck beneath the boom).

4.  As the boat heads directly into the wind, as the sails start to flap, the crew will shift under the boom to the opposite side of the boat.

5.  The helmsman stays on the turn until the boom and mainsail cross the centerline and the sail fills on the other side.

When the wind is blowing from the direction in which you want to head, ‘tacking’ or ‘coming about’ is the action used. Sailing is the ability to manuever through the prevailing wind to change directions.

Don’t get confused, ‘tacking can refer to 3 things:  1.  coming about, 2.  a direction of sail- a port tack, 3.  the front lower corner of a sail.

Direction of the boat is changed by (sailing into the wind) turning the bow through the wind so that the direction of the wind  changes from one side to the other.

1.  Using the rudder, bring the boat to an angle about twenty degrees off the wind to build up speed. This position is called close hauled.F

From Starboard Tack to Port Tack

2.  Push the rudder away from you, in order to turn the boat into the wind. The boat will begin to point towards where the wind is blowing from.

3.  Gently release the mainsheet a fraction to ease off tension.

4.  As the boat passes beyond the direction from where the wind is blowing, the sails will no longer be driving the boat, continuing on it’s own inertia through the water.

5.  As the boat begins to point away from the direction in which the wind is blowing, straighten the rudders. This will halt the boat from continuing it’s turn, and allow the wind to blow upon the opposite side of the sail.

6.  Take in the slack given to the sail earlier as the boat begins to increase speed.

7.  Cleat the mainsheet and steer to stay on the new heading, close hauled on the other tack (direction).

8.  Be sure not to over-steer too far on the other side of the wind, as a small boat with the mainsail trimmed in tight can be blown over and capsize.

9.  Trim the mainsail if you will not be staying on a close hauled course, then set the new course.

Extra information:

Do not straighten the tiller until the sail stops luffing or until the boat swings further to some point you now wish to head for. Straightening the tiller before the sail stops luffing will leave the boat stuck IN IRONS (stopped headed into the wind). Failure to straighten the tiller after the tack will cause the boat to keep turning until it jibes.

If the desired tack is close hauled to either port or starboard, only the jib needs to be adjusted, from one side to the other through the turn, then winched.  The mainsail is left alone and by itself usually assume the correct position.

Tacking is sometimes confused with beating to windward, (a process of beating a course upwind) and generally implies (but does not require) actually coming about. In the accompanying figure, the boat is seen to tack three times while beating to windward.

Cruising boats also often tack downwind (jibing) when the swells are also coming from dead astern (i.e., there is a “following sea”), because of the more stable motion of the hull.

BY-THE-LEE (where the wind is striking the leeward side of the boat)


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