Are you ready? So, let’s tack!
Like in a ritual, the moments right before tacking always fill up with the same sentences. They are essential sentences, so that anybody can understand what to do at the right time.
Tacking is a basic maneuver sailors learn during the first-level courses in a any sailing school. It consists in passing from a beating leg to another one through the dead angle, that is the angular space where a boat has no propulsion because it turns its bow to the wind.
A simple maneuver? Yes, almost always, but it can offer some unexpected troubles.
In short, the first thing to do is to sail on a close hauled course, warn the crew and finally luff. When the jib flaps the leeward tailer, it casts, while that one on the opposite tack hauls aft.
So, a very simple maneuver. However, tacking is sometimes unsuccessful or troubled. For example, when wind is very light. In this case, especially if our boat is not too heavy, the only solution is to rely on the crew’s weight.
At first, the crew will list the boat leeward so as to facilitate the hull luffing.
When the bow sail starts to refuse the crew, it moves the weight towards the centre so that the boat can regain a correct position; when the boom is passed on the new tracks, the crew can go windward.
However, some situations can be more difficult; for example, when the boat must face a great wave energy or when both the helmsman and the crew make lots of mistakes.
The most common errors are, for example, low speed in the first phase of the maneuver, low run or a bow already turned to the wind, a jib cast too early with a consequent low bow power, the helmsman’s indecision or, on the contrary, a sudden movement which, especially if wind is light, can turn the rudder blade into a brake.
What to do in all these cases?
If tacking has been unsuccessful because of low speed, you need to bear away, haul aft the jib again, open the mainsail a little to achieve more speed and repeat the maneuver.
If tacking stops when the bow is already to the wind, we can block the jib sheet and send the bow in the neck. Also in this case, the crew’s weight can help the boat to move, by listing it on the side opposite to that one we want to tun the bow to.
But, be careful because wind can push the boat back. So, once tacking is done, you need to cast the sheet immediately and haul aft the other one on the other track.
Finally, in case of a powerful wave energy, the only chance is to have a good speed and, if necessary, start the maneuver a little more bore up than necessary in order to give more speed to the tacking.
However, sometimes, tacking is really impossible. In these cases, we certainly will have noticed that close hauled has got too hard and we will be maybe escaping from a storm, hoping to have enough water leeward.