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sailing - page 8

2.8 The maneuvers

Let's define maneuvers as turns requiring either the bow or the stern to pass through the eye of the wind. There are two versions: the jibe and the tack. In a jibe the stern crosses the eye of the wind. In a tack, the bow crosses the windy's eye. Thus, jibing is associated with downwind sailing, tacking with up-wind sailing. Let's look at both maneuvers separately in their contexts of upwind and down-wind  sailing. 

The tack

Sailboats can’t sail directly into the wind.  They can only head up about 30 – 45 degrees off the angle of the wind.  From a bird’s eye view, sailboats look like they are zig-zagging their way to their destination when they are tacking.  When heading upwind, you will either be on a port tack or a starboard tack. While on a tack, your sails will likely be close hauled. That means that the sails are pulled in as tight (or close) to the boat as possible. When you find that you need to turn the boat, you will need do a tack. This is the only way to “make way” upwind.  

In a tack (from position 1 to position 2), if you point your course too high upwind, your sails will flap like a flag.  Point your course too low, and you may pick up some great speed, but you won’t make any headway upwind.  Effective tacking means finding the balance between pointing high, and maintaining speed.


But let's stick with our sailboat in the following steps and assume the presence of a helmsman-you-and at least one crew, a jib trimmer. In that case will go like this:

1. The Skipper alerts the crew and passengers to this maneuver by announcing, "Prepare to tack", or "Prepare to come about".

2. The crew member who is responsible for the jib sheets ensures that the non-working jib sheet is wrapped around the winch drum (that is the upwind sheet (also called the lazy sheet)) 2 - 3 times clockwise in preparation for it to become the working jib sheet. The crew member then checks that both working and lazy sheets are clear to run free.

3. Typically, the mainsail is self tacking and only needs trimming after the maneuver.

4. Once the crew are ready, they respond back to the skipper that they are "Ready!"

5. The helmsperson then announces the maneuver and begins turning the vessel’s bow through the wind. There are a variety of nautical announcements of the maneuver that may be

issued, the most common of which is "coming about" or "the helm is over", but also heard are; "helm’s alee", "hard alee", "tacking" or "lee ho". The key is to have crew understand what is happening.

6 At the moment the head sail just starts to fold in on itself at the leading edge (not before), the taut "working" jib sheet is eased and allowed to run free by completely removing it from the winch drum. It is a good idea to have a crew member keep this sheet under control so it does not wrap itself around rigging or other lines.

7. The lazy sheet (soon to be the working sheet) is hauled in as fast as possible.

8. Trim both sails for the new point of sail, starting with the headsail. Because the headsail controls the flow of wind (slot effect) between the two sails, this procedure is done first.

Useful information: the vessel’s bow should be turned through the wind, not too fast and not too slow. Here are some pointers:

  • If turned too quickly:

    • the rudder acts as a brake and the boat may stall in light wind conditions.

    • energy is imparted to the water slowing the boat.

    • the crew does not have time to get in the new working jib and must spend extra time winching, which slows the boat.

  • If the vessel is turned too slowly, the bow will not come through the wind and you will need to fall off, gain forward momentum and try again.

  • In general, slower is better. It is easier on the crew and maintains the momentum of the boat.

Before you tack look around for traffic to windward. If you have any doupt about what the boats nearby are doing or going to do, just your course until you are sure you will be clear after the tack. 

The jibe

Jibing happens when you are heading downwind.  It should be thought of as turning the stern across the wind, as opposed to turning the bow across the wind.  When you need to jibe the boat (from position 1 to position 2), you use the same basic techniques as tacking, only the main and jib sheets are most of the way out.

During the gybe procedure, the sails are switched to the other side of the sailboat automatically by the wind. Gybing is easy and safe - when proper precautions are taken. However, potential problems can arise if the boom is permitted to swing, unrestrained, from one side of the vessel to the other - rapidly. This can be dangerous to personnel and the vessel, so do it carefully.

It happens violently when gybing, rather than when tacking, because the wind is blowing from the back end of the mainsail and once it gets on the other side of the mainsail it swings it across fast. During a tack, the wind blows from the leading edge and so this tends not to happen. 


But let's stick with our sailboat in the following steps and assume the presence of a helmsman-you-and at least one crew, a jib and mainsail trimmer. In that case will go like this:

1. The skipper begins by alerting crew with "Prepare to gybe".

2. The crew ensures loose items below decks are stowed and drinks and gear above decks are secured.

3. The skipper and crew check all around for traffic.

4. Ensure no crew are in harms way of the boom swinging or lines changing over on the foredeck.

5. The crew prepare the headsail by hauling in taught on the lazy headsail sheet (the upwind sheet that is not doing anything) and cleating it off around the winch. This will prevent the headsail from wrapping around the forestay during the maneuver and it will place the sheet almost in position for fine-tuning after the gybe maneuver is complete.

6. The crew prepare the mainsail by hauling in on the mainsheet bringing the mainsail towards the center of the sailboat. This will be relatively hard as there is a lot of pressure on the mainsheet. 


Useful information:
Bringing the mainsail close in to the center of the sailboat prevents the boom from swinging through a large arc. This in turn prevents the boom from building up a great speed as it swings across. It’s the speed of the swing that causes the damage on rig and crew.

Of biggest concern is the crew. If the boom is allowed to swing dangerously across at speed, crew can be hit in the head quite possibly resulting in death. Many crew have been slung overboard and drowned due to being unconscious. Take heed!

Of second concern is serious damage to the gooseneck and other parts of the rig. The gooseneck is the connection point of the boom to the mast.


7. The next trick is vitally important else your sailboat will be violently heeled over and rounded up into the wind. As the boom flips across because the wind is now on the other side, QUICKLY ease the mainsail out to its desired position.

The best way to do this is appoint a crew member to manage the mainsail. Ensure they have the mainsheet wrapped around a winch (clockwise) with the clutch released or uncleated. As the boom flicks over to the other side, they immediately release the mainsheet out in a controlled fashion.


8. As the headsail is coming across, another crew member should now release the old working headsail sheet completely allowing the new leeward working headsail sheet to take the load.

9. Now you have successfully gybed and the only matter is for the crew to observe the new heading of the vessel and trim both sails accordingly.

Useful information: As you and the crew become more practiced at the gybe maneuver,  you can begin turning the vessel slowly and simultaneously haul in the mainsheet until it is amid ships. Turning reduces the pressure on the mainsail and makes it easier to haul it. But take note that timing has to be perfect.  So unless you and your crew are experts in gybing, pull the mainsail in before you execute the turn.

When sailing downwind an accidental gybe is relatively common due to inattention or wind shifts. This especially is prevalent with inexperienced sailors at the helm. In an accidental jibe, the boom shifts from one side of the vessel to the other with a terrific force endangering personnel and equipment. When this occurs there is a sharp noise and a violent jerk to the vessel as the boom SLAMS across. And you will know that this was a maneuver that should not have happened. It's also extremely dangerous to the crew.

Head up & bear away

Heading up refers to turning the bow towards the wind direction.This is is also known as bearing up, pointing up, or turning higher.

The term bearing away is more common than heading down or bearing off, but they all mean a turn away from the wind direction.

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