How Do I Sail Upwind? Sailing on the No-sail Zone Edge
So you want to sail upwind, but what is the trick to making this happen consistently? Which angle do you want to take against the wind?
Imagine the wind is at 12:00 and try and get on a course right at 11:00 starboard facing or 1:30 port facing. Since the wind never stays in one place and consistently changes its power, be ready to scrutinize the direction and strength changes constantly. Make sure whoever is steering the boat (skipper) knows precisely where to navigate the rudder and is ready to change course at the drop of a fishy! While you are in this close-hauled position, remember that you want to trim your sails tight. You will know when to stop pulling the sails when the sails begin luffing. When this happens, pull the sails out until the luffing stops and concurrently steer away from the wind a little until the sails have ceased luffing.
When your sails fill up, try steering closer to headwind to see if there is any room to pick up even more speed. The closer you are to the edge and away from the wind, the more speed you should pick up. Remember, sailing upwind has only been a thing for a short period of time. Most sailboats back during the New World, for example, were rigged like parachutes and reaching/running were the only methods of navigating the winds. The reason why edging (close-hauled) works is because of are right in line, your boat will lift from the power of the sail/keel/rudder acting as one system.
Reach Sailing- Excellent Choice For Starting Out.
Reaching encompasses any sailing directions within close-hauled and running zones. Since it includes many wind angles, it really is, by default, the angle that is least difficult to navigate. Sailing in the reach zone will be your fastest point of sail. It is up to you, however, to trim the sails properly. If it is one of your first times out on your sailboat, try to get into the position where the bow of the boat is facing perpendicular to the headwind. So your boat should be around 90 degrees off the wind( basically blowing the width of your sailboat). Try steering slightly left and slightly right from this angle so you can really get a sense for how your boat responds to the steering. (whether it is a tiller or wheel system).
If you are right at 90 degrees off the wind you are Beam Reaching. When you are reaching anywhere inside 90 ° and close-hauled, you are actually Close-Reaching. If your sailboat is reaching any wider than 90° then you are Broad Reaching. When reaching, you must pull the sails in, only to the extent that they are no longer luffing. Even though the sails look very packed when you trim too far, you are basically losing necessary power. Make sure you practice these techniques, and whatever you do, do not rush learning how to reach. It will be tons of fun to learn how to do it right!
A good rule to live by if you think you have trimmed too much is to ease it out when you have any doubts! Check the trim by easing( loosening out) the sheet lines connected to them. If the sails begin luffing, your original settings were probably optimal. All you have to do then to get them back to par is to pull them in enough to stop the luffing.
Running Sail- Can I always Run Sail?
When you are sailing downwind(wind pushing sailboat directly from behind), and you are sailing in the same direction as the wind, then you are running. This is a great direction to be sailing because the boat never tips over (heels) and because the wind is pushing in a forward direction so the boat won’t sway and fill the cockpit with water, so you will stay dry 🙂
So obviously, running is most ideal but the problem is that you will at some point need to sail upwind (unless you get lucky on a one-way trip and its directed as a run point of sail). During a run, make sure to let out the sails at around 90° in relation to the wind in order for the wind to be in a position to blow right behind the boat, smacking against the transom. In this case, the sails work like a massive gate that gets swung open with the wind pushing from behind it. There really is no trimming here, because of this tailwind against sails at 90° doesn’t call for it. You would just lose power if you trimmed in or over-eased out. Just ease them until they are fully loaded and cleat!
Sidenote: You may have seen sailboats somewhere or another that have this 3rd huge puffy vibrant sail and wondered “what in the world?!” These sails are called spinnaker sails. Their function is simple. Speed accelerator! They will add to the speed by collecting more wind and therefore leveraging more wind into speed.
A little advice- Winging your jib
If your sailboat utilizes a jib sail, you may be shocked to see the jib actually filled with air. Don’t panic, the reasons it is not catching any wind is because of the mainsails wind shadow since it is blocking the wind from the jib’s path. The way to remedy this problem and getting extra power from the jib is by winging the sail.
All you really have to do here is pull the jib(on the weather side) sheet in expectation of stuffing it full of wind, and do this on the mainsails opposing side. When you finish doing that, cleat the sheet where the sail is set to, you guessed it, 90° to the wind. Also, keep in mind that running may be the only time you can hoist and set these sails on opposing sides.
Lee side dangers- What does sailing by the lee actually mean?
While running at approximately 6:00 (directly downwind) be cautious not to steer and turn too far and wind up sailing Lee side.
Sailing by the lee is sailing the side that the wind is pushing across while being the same side of where the boom is. That is why it is so important to feel/read the direction of the wind in real time! Your sailboat is more prone to wind shifts while you are running downwind, so don’t be shocked if you are whipped into lee position Typically your margin for error is around 4°-12° near lee (not directly downwind) and you should be fine. If you are navigating further away from lee and you still see your boom fly across, don’t panic. This tends to happen, depending on how your mainsails are hoisted. Try and rebalance your mainsail against the wind. Sailing by lee is a very dangerous maneuver so make sure you have a few crew members with experience running, (instructor if you can) guiding you through a few wet experimental outings running before giving this a go on your own.
A small reminder just for the sake of reminding you because we really do care you don’t make this mistake. Running is not an easy course to take to really be careful. Strong winds can hit the back side of the mainsail and can quickly snap the boom in the other direction making your sail jibe out of control!
How do I prevent sailing by the lee?
This is not a loaded question.
Simply be mindful that you are watching both the settings of your sails in relation to the wind direction. Check your wind indicators(whether its a device, flag, feel, or even string attached to the shrouds). Another indicator you can use are the battens (We recommend Nautos Battens, as they tend to get high praises from fellow sailors and they are fairly cheap at $30 for a set of 3 battens) . If the battens are trying really hard to flip over, you are not in a safe zone. If your jib collapses at any point your jib collapses, this is also obvious that something is wrong. The mainsail will typically be blocking it with a wind shadow. Always remember to keep an eye on where the wind is flowing in. That is the key to lee prevention.
Sailing slang- Sailing terms you should get familiar with
Educate yourself by heading over to a glossary of nautical terms and really try to grasp some of the lingoes before getting into some wicked sailing maneuvers. Reason being is you need to communicate with your crew. The language of the sea is a language unto itself. Learn it and use it often so you can get better at the communication aspect of sailing. Let’s look at some of the most frequented terms:
- Starboard tacking– The moment when the wind is pushing off from the right side of your sailboat, you are on what is known as a starboard tack. Surprise! wind always in the equation
- Port tacking– The moment the wind starts pushing off from the left side of your sailboat, you are on a port tack. (Point of the sail does not affect the tacking course, it first has to do with which side the wind is making contact with first, except for cases when you are avoiding lee side.
- Leeward side– The side of the boat that the wind hits last. The opposite of windward side. Use the root word lee to remind yourself if that helps. The sails will eventually force wind to this side. This is also the side that you typically use when setting your sails. The exception is what you are jib winging on a running route. If your sails are set dead center and the sail begins to luff, this indicates that you are in irons(stuck in a no-sail zone, pointing directly at the wind)! Get out!
- Windward side– This is the side of the wind makes contact with first
To make this easy to understand, imagine a flag flapping in the air. Whichever direction this flag is flapping towards is the leeward side. The fabric wrapped closest to the flag post would be the windward side. Same thing with sails. Whichever way the sails are luffing towards will be the leeward side of the boat, and the opposite side would be the windward side. While the wind blows, even docks, land and buoys and other vessels also have a windward and leeward side. The same applies to any of these, closest to wind is windward and farthest (along with the path the wind is blowing) is leeward. Even when you are a large body of coastal land, the windward side gets way more precipitation as storms tend to hit that side first. You will sometimes notice that the leeward side is calm at first and then eventually becomes stormy.
Sailing Maneuvers: What is Tacking and Jibing?
Let’s be imaginative for a second. So you are sailing on a nice and easy reach (see point of sails if you need to refresh your memory). You are coasting along and all of the sudden you notice a shoreline you completely missed tracking, straight ahead. What do you do?! It is fast approaching! Here are two things you can do to avoid any surprises:
- Jibing: When the sailboat is steered in the opposite direction from the wind. (can be around 40° in relation to the wind)
- Tacking (We named our site after this life-saving maneuver! Learn it and practice!): When you turn the boat from the dead area/no-sail zone to a sail zone area (could be any of the close-hauled, reach or running routes)
Tacking Sailing! What is the process?
Tacking is all about the zigging and zagging when approaching front facing wind, or when you are already trapped in irons!
The process is pretty simple. Initially, you may be on a close-hauled route for the first tack, and while you are on this route you tack through the dead area/no-sail zone until you are at the other close-hauled edge on your next tack. To tack properly, you will have had to enter the no-sail zone and fought off the front facing winds. It is harder then it may seem. Getting through the wind is a daunting task for most all sailors no matter the strength of the wind. To get to where you need to be upwind, you may have to tack a few times or many times. The person at the helm will ultimately make that decision.
Before even thinking about tacking, make sure everyone on board knows what to expect when tacking. The last thing you want to do is catch someone in your crew off-guard. Do not skip or ignore any of the following:
- Prep you and your crew by making an announcement out loud and we mean loud (like calling Fore! during a mis-hit during a round of golf) and say “Prepare to Tack!” or anything along those lines.
- When you are just about to make the tacking maneuver, should out “Tacking now!” Remember to turn enough passed even the sails luffing like crazy! Most new sailors really have a difficult time with this step. They freak out when the sails ripple hard.
- Release the initial jib and start trimming the new one, setting the jib as it continues its rotation through the Irons! This is a very critical step, so do it with confidence.
- Since you are turning the sailboat, you need to turn your field of vision too! Have everyone on board change sides so that they get visibility under control.
- Don’t stop turning your sailboat until you come out of the no-sail zone. It is recommended to start easing on the turn while the sails start to collect wind on the new strong side. Once you are completely out of the no-sail zone, start to steer on a straight path.
- Double Check the new sail tack. If the wind is blowing on the opposite side of the boat now, you did it right! Good work, you’ve managed to change tacks. Once you are comfortable in your new path (close hauled) and checked the trimming job, you can cleat the sheets, especially if there is to much tension to keep them in your hands.
While you tack, remember to steer all the way through the no-sail zone. I am emphasizing this a lot because so many new sailors make the mistake of not turning the tiller or wheel long enough. Don’t get thrown off by how hard the sails are flapping. You will stop having the speed you had on the initial path and this is very normal so try not to panic! If you stay long enough in the dead-zone then you will most likely lose headway and will more than not, get stuck in irons. Remember turn through the zone and get ready to trim un-luffed sails to start gaining power and speed again. It should not take you longer than 7-10 seconds to tack successfully on smaller sailboats.