Basic Manoeuvres Under Sails


There are two basic manoeuvres in sailing: gybing, i.e. turning the sailboat’s stern through the wind by shifting the sail to the other side and tacking (coming about), where the sailboat turns its bow through the wind and shifting the sails to the other side or tack.

GYBING – if we turn a bit downwind or, if it is easier for you to remember, with the bow on the boom side, we will gybe. This can be a dangerous manoeuvre, but read more about the traps and problems with gybing in the next chapter. For now, remember to hold your head lower than the boom trajectory, which is flying over from one side of the boat to the other.

If not sufficiently experienced, avoid this manoeuvre in strong wind and rather choose the tacking manoeuvre, a full rotation of the ship around its axis.

After gybing and port tack, the wind crosses to our starboard side, and we, to put it in sailing terminology, continue sailing on starboard tack, by receiving the wind in sails through the starboard side. By continuing to turn the boat in the same direction, already luffing up (bow turned to wind), and tightening the sails, we again go over all previously mentioned positions, only on starboard tack, with sails on the opposite side of the sailboat.

TACKING – instead of rotation, we opted for tacking. In direction quite windward, we calm the boat, catch speed and prepare the crew for the tacking manoeuvre.

Truthfully speaking, this manoeuvre is not as dangerous as the gybing manoeuvre, but we must do it sufficiently quickly so that the boat does not lose speed while standing with bow close hauling, but still sufficiently slowly for the crew to have time to shift sails to the opposite side of the sailboat.

In the end, remember that when close hauling, the sails are tightened to the maximum, and the crew help the helmsman only in balancing the sailboat, both by their weight and also by possible loosening of the mainsail. In all other directions we sail in favourable wind, or, if you will, directly to the goal, while the crew by slowly loosening until slight emptying, followed by tightening the sails, correctly and continually sets the angle of sails in relation to the wind direction and movement of the boat.

With this, we have finished the entire circle of movement, but still need to discuss some things that we have noticed during manoeuvres.

That’s what the ‘possible sailing circle’ is; every beginner gets – even the first training day – experience that one cannot sail directly to the wind only. With racing yachts, the windward angle is almost 30 degrees, while family cruisers reach far lesser values.

Sailing circle

Sailing circle

Generally, the medium angle of 40 to 45 degrees is what an average sailing yacht can easily realise.

From Ultra sailing school book „sailing skills“ by Emil Tomasevic (English version)


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