Tack, Tack, & Tacking a.k.a. Five Tips to Improve Your Tacking

Tack, Tack, and Tacking … so confusing.  Are we talking about the lower, leading corner of a sail, the side of the boat the wind is coming from, or the process of turning the boat through the wind so that the windward side of the boat moves from one side to the other.  Three different definitions according to how it’s used in a sentence.  It used to be so easy.  In the olden day, on ships with square sails, the tack was the line used to pull one of the clews of the sail forward on the windward side of the boat.  That’s it.  One definition.  Then came triangular sails.  No longer was there two clews, with one of needing to be tacked to windward.  Now, the same corner of the sail always pointed to the wind, so that corner became the tack, and the windward side of the sail became the tack the boat is on (port or starboard), and tacking became the process of turning through the wind so the tack changed from port to starboard or starboard to port.

On the other hand, do we really care.  After all, what’s in a name.  Isn’t it more important to be able to smoothly and efficiently sail the boat?  Yes, it is, and if sailing the boat involves going to windward, then every definition of tack comes into play, and its your ability to tack that counts.  So lets talk about that.  How do you improve your tacks? Visit Sail in Phuket with https://yachttraininginasia.com/

Tip 1:  Control the angle of the tack.  Under normal conditions, most boats today require a turn of 80 to 110 degrees to tack.  Stop the turn as soon as possible.  Don’t tack through too wide of an angle.  Unless you are tacking for the purpose of turning around and going the other direction the goal of a tack is to help move to windward.  Turning too far during a tack only takes you away from that goal.  Get the boat moving as fast as possible a few degrees away from a close haul to build as much speed as possible then turn only as far as the boat requires to fill the sails on the new tack.

Tip 2:  Control the “flogging” sail.  A sail that is madly flogging does nothing good.  Casting off the working sheet too soon allows the sail and sheets to flog.  Flogging sheets damage boats and hurt people.  Flogging sails create wind resistance and slow the boat.  Don’t release the sheet too soon.  Wait until the sail slightly backwinds (begins to move to the other side of the boat) then release the sheet, making sure it runs free.  A slightly backwinded sail stops the flogging, and helps speed the boat through the turn.  Immediately trim the sheet on the other side (more on this in Tip 5.)

Tip 3:  Whenever possible, glide directly to windward during the tack.  This tip only works in moderate wind conditions.  Instead of making a single turn of 90 degrees (plus or minus), break the turn into two parts.  Turn until the boat is head to wind and straighten, allowing the boat to glide for a couple of boat lengths.  Before your speed is lost, continue the turn to complete the tack.  If the wind is blowing too hard, or the waves are too big, doing this will quickly slow the boat to the point you won’t be able to complete the tack.

Tip 4:  A turned rudder creates drag.  Turning the rudder turns the boat.  However, it also creates drag, which in turn slows the boat down.  Use as much rudder as is needed to complete the tack smoothly and efficiently … no more.

Tip 5:  Trim the sheet before the sail fills.  Trim the jib for the new tack as quickly as possible.  There are a brief few seconds after the jib backwinds and before the jib fills on the other side.  During this time, do your best to release the sheet allowing it to run free, and trim it on the other side.  Try to get it completely trimmed before the boat turns to the point the sail wants to fill.

Here is a final thought.  Before any tack, trim both main and jib as efficiently as possible to maximize the speed going into the tack.  The boat will be moving slower exiting a tack than it was going in, so get both sails re-trimmed as efficiently as possible to regain lost speed as quickly as possible.

As with any other skill, practice makes perfect.  Use these tips during practice and your tacking will improve!

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2 Responses to Tack, Tack, & Tacking a.k.a. Five Tips to Improve Your Tacking

  1. Joe Vorderbrueggen says:

    I’ve found it useful in a tack for the person releasing the working sheet to use it to help “guide” the clew of the jib over to the opposite side during the tack. Instead of releasing all of the sheet from the winch at once, leave one wrap and use the tension to quickly ease the jib over to the other side. Ease it simultaneously with the other trimmer trimming so that the jib glides smoothly over the mast, over the shrouds and into the new trimmed position on the other side. If timed correctly, this method can help the person powering up the opposite jib sheet to trim the sail easily and quickly before it is fully powered. This method helps delay the filling of the jib on the other side until it can be fully trimmed. The downside is that if the easing is too slow it can hinder the trimmer from making good progress while the sail is luffing through the no-sail zone. It’s effectiveness is also limited by the size of the jib. The smaller the jib, the more effective the maneuver.

  2. jim says:

    what rudder position during tacking

    wind north leeward. let boom out 45 degree starboard do I position rudder SE
    to bring boat headed on angle NE of leeward ?

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