Sailing Close to the Wind

As is often the case sailing close to the wind has its origins in sailing, in general life it means taking a risk, cutting it fine, and for experienced sailing skippers that is what life is about, the adrenaline rush, challenging yourself against the elements, enjoying the rush, literally.

Sailing close to the wind means sailing almost directly into the wind. Strictly speaking it isn’t possible to sail into the wind, that is counterintuitive as the wind fills sails and drives a boat, the wind would hit both surfaces of the sail which would start to luff (flap). With the wind directly onto the bow of sail your boat would travel backwards.

In order to get from point A to a point B that is directly upwind, the boat must zigzag, or tack (jibing in US, Gybing UK).

 Tacking or coming about is a manoeuvre used in sailing when the desired direction is into the wind. Using a sequence of zig zag manoeuvres, called beating, allows boats to sail in the direction the skipper want to go.

Tacking is an essential technique for all sail boat skippers and is a technique that can be learned at Sail Training Schools firstly and by experienced sailing folks passing the knowledge down to beginners.

Tacking is used for different effects in racing, where one boat is not only sailing in a desired direction, but the skipper is also concerned with slowing the progress of competitors.

Sailing courses for club and general racing purposes always include one leg directly to windward because the skills required are so much greater, sail trim to keep you moving at maximum speed is key and tacking duels between competing boats will make your sailing more exciting.

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A boat in clear air to windward has an advantage over other boats, to maintain a lead a skipper will attempt to steal their wind or blanket them by leaving them windless i.e. in the lee. The trailing boat/s will fight to overtake and put the opposing boats in their lee, and so it goes on with each skipper trying to gain the lead and the advantage of clear air. This can sometimes become counter-productive as some speed and time is always lost in each tack.

  • Newbie: Do yachts like this sink very often?
  • Old hand: No. Usually only once!

Reality, boats in general don’t just sink, bad handling is more likely to be the reason. True, problems do occur on boats of all sizes and they can sink in extreme circumstances, although some now have buoyancy chambers inbuilt for safety purposes. 

However, knowing how to sail safely is paramount. Following sound professional sail training the key is to get out and practice. Practice makes permanent – anyone who drives a car knows that practice does not make perfect if that was the case every driver would be faultless, practicing bad habits can also make them permanent, speeding, ignoring safety warning signs, driving too fast in bad weather and so on.

Joining a sailing club is a great move for newbies and less experienced skippers and would be skippers. Joining in the fun of club competitions and regattas is a good way to learn, just be sure to do your sailing at sea and not just in the bar of the clubhouse.

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Enjoy and sail safe.


Author: R. Langley