Heading upwind (‘beating’) or broad reaching down wind, you will have to turn through the wind in a ‘tack’ or a ‘gybe’.
You will tack rather a lot as you try to get to a marina or anchorage that is in the same direction as the wind is coming from. As shown above you cannot sail straight upwind, so you must zigzag - crossing the wind each time to make headway towards where you wish to go.
This is the most energetic you will get at sea with your clothes on. One person will sit beside each jib winch. The helm will call “Ready about!” and when the crew on the winches say, “Ready” the person on the helm will shout “Lee Ho!” and turn the wheel hard towards the wind.
At the same time the person who was on the leeward jib sheet (the taught side) will get the sheet off the winch as quickly as possible.
The sails will start to flap and the person on the other side will haul the jib sheet as if their life depended on it, putting a turn on the winch to haul like crazy and as soon as they feel the tension, putting two more turns on, sticking the winch handle in and using the winch to tighten it as quickly as possible.
The mainsail will usually tack itself, setting itself in the same position as it was on the last tack only on the other side.
You need to be lightning quick with this manoeuvre as the sails could just flap about and you will stop in a position known as ‘in stays’ where you will essentially be stuck and going nowhere.
It is pretty tricky getting out of ‘stays’ – you may try sailing backwards until the sails set themselves or stick the engine on.
In a good wind all ropes will be thrashing about and could easily wrap themselves around someone or something.
This can be scary and dangerous!
Gybing is turning through the wind when you are heading down wind. You may be hauling ass on a broad reach and are effectively tacking down wind, but whatever you are doing up to the gybe it is a lot faster and more violent. If you’re stupid someone could be knocked unconscious or knocked over the side with a head injury.
The helm will handle the mainsail. They will firstly haul it in to the middle of the boat as you head further down wind, and slowly turn the boat down wind at the same time. The person on the leeward jib sheet will ease the jib out (remembering the rules of never letting your fingers near the winch) and then everything will go bang!
The sails will cross the deck (the mainsail boom, with a loud crash) and the person on the newly leeward jib sheet will haul like hell to set the sail, even as the person on the windward side makes sure the jib sheet is completely off the winch. If you don’t do this the jib could push the boat right onto its side in a ‘broach’.
Everyone will know about your silliness as anything not tied down will go flying – from the lunch being cooked in the galley to the guy trying to sleep off a stinking hangover below. The helm will ease the mainsheet quickly until it is set for the tack you wish to be on.
If you are on a ‘dead run’ – going straight down wind - you might end up in what some call a "Chinese gybe" or "crash gybe" where the helm overcooks the steering and sends the boat into an accidental gybe.
Everything will go flying, including the hungover guy below and their lunch, and you will need a few minutes to recover. The first thing will be to let go the windward jib sheet and turn into the wind as gently as possible to stop the boat altogether. Pick everything up, avoid the angry drunk below, and get sailing again.
Table of Contents
The basics in sailing
Before departure briefing
Mooring and anchoring