Tacking for Dummies

Tacking is an art. Here you can learn to do it the right way and learn some common mistakes that newbies make all the time.

Here is some encouragement:

  • Doing it right will make your life a whole lot easier in the long run.
  • Doing it right will mean that you will be able to actually exit a tack with the same or even more speed that your entrance.
  • Doing it right can mean the difference between winning or losing a race!

These are your most important guidelines. Memorise them and learn them and you'll be well on your way to becoming a sailing master.

First some theory. It is a way of changing on to a different 'tack'.

For instance if the wind was coming over my starboard side, I would be on a starboard tack, but if the wind was coming over my port side, I would be on a port tack.

This concept of being on certain sides (as in from which direction the wind is hitting your boat) is very important if you race, because there are different rules for being on different sides.

Anyhow, back to the main reason you are here.

Lets go through what actually happens when you do it:

  • First the rudder is pushed away from the helmsman causing the boat to turn to starboard
  • Next both sails start to flap as you become head to wind
  • Then the momentum of the boat carries you across head to wind
  • Finally your sails catch the wind and you begin to move again

That is a greatly simplified version of it. For a more complete version of what happens visit the individual Helm and Crew pages.

The most important thing about it is having enough speed.

If you don't have enough speed to do it, then you will only get to phase 2 of it.

Look at phase 3.

It says "Then the momentum of the boat carries you across head to wind".

If you do not have enough speed, then you will not have enough momentum to cross the wind and you will stay head to wind and even go backwards.

Improver's Tacking (Tips and Tricks)

A great tip for doing it is to use your gib or genoa to help push the boat round.

This is especially useful for when you are doing 180s, 360s or 720s.

The way to do this is, instead of pulling the gib or genoa round the other side, keep it on the original side.

When you cross the head to wind point, the sail will act like a bag (almost like a spinnaker), which will help turn the whole boat round on its axis.

This will make them much faster.

A final way to increase the exit speed is to do roll it.

Roll tacking is when you heel the boat to do two things:

  • Increase the turning speed
  • Get a great pump at the end of it to give you a burst of speed

Lets cover the first point.

Heeling the boat is a great way of increasing the turning rate.

Not only does it stop you using your rudder all the time (which creates drag and slows you down), but it also means that the turn is done so that the boat naturally moves in the direction you want it to.

When you put more weight on the port side, the boat will naturally turn to starboard.

When you put more weight on the port side, the will naturally turn to port.

This very helpful when doing it, because it means less rudder, which would have reduced your momentum.

Ie: It makes it go much quicker

The second point is that when you heel the boat to leeward on your exit of the tack, you can put a great deal of weight on the windward side and 'pump' the sails (or work the sails) into giving you more lift.

This is a tactic many use to get an advantage.

It is said that in all winds the best roll tacker wins the race.

Especially in light winds.

So lets review our guide:

  • First heel the boat to leeward to increase turn rate as it naturally turns the boat into the wind
  • Next, when the sails back, put all your combined weight onto windward to heel the boat and drive it round naturally
  • Finally, both come back up and give the boat a pump, to try and increase your exit speed
  • Optionally, if the weather is light, the pump may cause the boat to fall back on you. The crew should move their weight to the centre of the boat after the pump

That is all folks. You have now learnt how to do it properly and resist bad habits that can form.

Of course you must put what you have learnt here into practice or else it will all be meaningless.

Improving them will really help you whether you are cruising or racing, because a great one gives you a great burst of speed that can be adrenaline rushing!

And for sailing junkies like us, what better result could their be!

To see the other turning manoeuvre, click here to see Gybing

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