The two most important things a sailor needs to enjoy the marine environment are wind and water. How the wind blows dictates how your boat sails.
If you are just starting to learn how to sail, you need to familiarize yourself with the points of the sail so you can understand how to orient your sailboat about the wind. There are many important terms that sailors need to learn in regards to sailing points to ensure safe sailing.
So in this post, we are going to dig deeper into points of sailing so you can have a grip of how to adjust the sails effectively, maintain a perfect boat balance, and provide the right power for the watercraft to move in the right direction.
What Are Points Of Sail?
A point of sail is where the boat sails about the direction the wind is blowing from. There are different terms for different sail points and all these determine where a boat can and cannot move to.
The wind is unpredictable and can change speed or direction when you least expect it. If this happens, the waves will change too and sometimes they will be too high, altering the direction of the sailboats. Points of the sail will help you to adjust your sails effectively to harness the maximum power of the wind.
Trimming (adjusting) your sails is important as it keeps the wind flowing above the sail providing enough power to propel the boat. If your sail is pointing directly to the wind, it will only shake about but will not provide any force to move the vessel.
It is worth mentioning that a sailboat can’t move directly into the wind. Although most ships before the 1800s could only sail wind blowing from behind, the advent of modern sailboat rigs has enabled sailboats today to move upwind but still not directly into the wind.
Understanding Points Of Sail Terminology
As with many water sports, sailing has got its own terminology. So in addition to understanding the parts of your sailboat, here are a few basic terms you need to acquaint yourself with.
Also known as beating, close-hauled is the closest you can efficiently sail to the wind. This point of sail is usually a bearing of 11 o’clock and 1 o’clock. The sails will be rough and close to the boat’s centerline and their curve will assume the shape of a plane’s wing. This will generate the force that combines with the keel’s effect, pulling the boat forward.
At this point of sail, your boat will be sailing perpendicular to the wind, usually at a bearing of 9 o’clock or 3 o’clock. The sails will be let out farther than in the close-hauled point but the wind will still be flowing over the sail’s airplane shaped wing to generate force to propel the boat forward. To make your sails more efficient, you will need to adjust them for peak boat speed.
Here, the wind will be coming from the direction ahead of the sailboat, usually at a bearing of 10 o’clock or 2 o’clock. A close reach is the fastest sailing point for most boats. A quick reminder of sailing rules of the road is necessary if you will be sailing at this point, as it might be a little difficult to adjust the speed of your boat if another vessel approaches.
Adjusting your sails will regulate your speed accordingly. How your sails move will give you an idea of how to adjust. The rule of thumb however is to let your sails out to the point of flapping then pull them in until they no longer flap.
If you are sailing in broad reach, then the wind is blowing over one of your back shoulders, at a bearing of 8 o’clock or 4 o’clock. At this point of sail, the sails will be let out much further. The jib will be looping forward of the forestay and the boom will be further out to the side.
The airplane wing-shaped sails will still be generating some force to propel the boat. However, as you head further and further off the wind, your boat will increasingly be pushed forward by the air coming from behind rather than the forward lift generated by the sails earlier.
Also, the mainsail flapping to the side will be directly behind the jib due to the wind blowing from behind. If you are moving directly downwind, the mainsail will block so much of the moving air from the jib such that it will not fill. That’s why most sailors prefer sailing off the wind when on a broad reach point instead of moving directly downwind.
This sailing point is faster and the chances of an unexpected gybe are highly reduced. A gybe is a common occurrence when heading downwind and happens when the wind gusts or shifts, throwing the mainsail to the other side of the boat.
A gybe is the last thing any sailor wants to experience as apart from messing up the rigging, the boom might strike someone as it moves across the boat. There are many cases of sailors who have had their sailing sunglasses broken and sailing hats and other equipment “gybed” to the ocean. Sailing off the wind while in this point of sail is important as it reduces boom movement and any disaster that could result from it.
It is not a good idea for a sailboat to move directly downwind with the sails positioned on the same side, as that will result in the mainsail preventing the wind from reaching the jib. The secret to avoiding this problem is running downwind with both sails positioned on opposite sides, as this will allow them to capture the moving air on both sides, a technique commonly referred to as sailing wing on wing.
However, it is difficult to keep the sails full when moving downwind especially if you are sailing in strong waves that sway the boat from side to side. So it would be important to keep the jib held to the side. If you have a spinnaker pole or whisker pole, you can use it to hold the jib out to the side.
Knowing the points of sail would be useless if you are not observing boating safety measures or bringing the right gear to keep you safe on the water. Start by familiarizing yourself with the basics like tacking and jibing a sailboat, anchoring a sailboat, as well as understanding the coast guard requirements for sailing and sailing rules of the road. Also, make sure that you and everyone else on board have a sailing life jacket on when the boat is underway.
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Just like in kayaking, canoeing, or standup paddleboarding, in sailing, you are also heading to a certain destination. Trimming your sails toward your destination therefore will help you generate enough speed to move your boat toward that direction.
The above guide gives you an idea of how to adjust your sails so that wind flows smoothly over them with no luffing. Just don’t forget to bring some safety equipment with you and observe boating safety while onboard.
More Sail Reviews:
- Sailing Hat
- Sailing Sunglasses
- Sailboat Winches
- Solar Panels For Sailboats
- Sailing Boots
- Topping Lift
- Trim A Sail
- How To Anchor A Boat
- How To Tie A Reef Knot
- Points Of Sail, lovesailing.net