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Tacking and Gybing and Cursing

For those of you who are new to this sailing thing, one of the truths about physics and the wind is that you can’t sail straight into the wind, and you can’t sail with the wind coming straight from behind you. Think about your hand when you stick it out of the window of your car. If you tilt it up or down, the hand moves. If you keep it perfectly flat, pointed into the air rushing down the side of the car, you hand stays put.

For sailing, it’s the same deal. We have to be at an angle to the wind to move forward. If we are going upwind (wind in our face) we need to be at least 40 degrees or so away from the direction of the wind. If we are going down wind (wind at our back), then we need to be about 25 degrees away from the direction of the wind.

But if the wind is either blowing from or to exactly where we want to go, then we have to zig zag our way towards that destination, sailing for a while in a direction that is 25 to 40 degrees away from the real destination, then flopping over and sailing 25 to 40 degrees away from the real destination but on the other side of it. Each time you flop over, you are still moving in the general direction of where you need to get to, but you have to keep flopping from one side to the other to avoid going too far out of your way.

If you are going upwind, that flopping is known as “tacking”. If you are going downwind, that flopping is known as “Gybing”. I have no idea where those words came from or why they are different if you are going upwind versus downwind, so if you do have a clue please share.

At the moment, we happen to be doing a bunch of tacking / gybing. If you are checking us out on the tracker, you see a lot of zig zags in our course. What’s involved? I am so glad you asked.

  1. Decide you need to tack or gybe

  2. Check the horizon for traffic in the new direction you are going to be headed after the maneuver

  3. Clean up the sheets so the old ones will run free when you release them, and the new ones are loaded and ready to be hauled in

  4. Move the cabin stack, a total of 190.5 kg (419.1 lbs) of gear from one side of the boat to the other. Strap it down so it stays in place.

  5. Take a drink of water and curse your fate

  6. Move 140.6 kg (309.3 lbs) of sails on deck from the high side to the cockpit.

  7. Drink another slug of water and curse some more

  8. Open the outside gate valves on the water ballast system, both sides of the boat. This won’t cause the water ballast to drain from one side of the boat to the other yet, but it sets the stage for it.

  9. Center up the traveler on the main sail. The main sail centered up is going to make the boat twitchy and the pilot is going to be working harder to keep her sailing straight, so right about here is when you start to enter the danger zone.

  10. Bone on the new runner, the one on the side the wind is going to be coming from after you flop over so your mast stays upright. This is an important one… losing your mast is very slow.

  11. Check the horizon for traffic. Don’t want to get run over.

  12. Tack the water ballast by pulling the last two handles up and counting to about 15. Savor every second of rest.

  13. Now it is all going to happen really quickly. The boat is going to hate all that weight on the wrong side and you are firmly in the danger zone. The higher the wind speed, the greater the danger. Making a mistake in the next 8 steps could seriously damage the boat, or you. Run through it all again in your mind to make sure you did not miss something in your exhaustion, take a deep breath and….

  14. Turn the boat to the new heading

  15. Quickly blow the old runner so it runs free and won’t keep the main from dropping down.

  16. Without tripping all over the stacks of sails in the cockpit, tack the head sail from the old side to the new side

  17. Grind on the head sail to the new board.

  18. Ask yourself if maybe you picked the wrong sport

  19. Grind on new runner

  20. You are panting now, with barely enough oxygen in your lungs to gasp out one last curse

  21. Drop the main sail down to a more forgiving angle and prevent the boat from catastrophically rounding up. You are finally leaving the danger zone.

  22. Adjust course to optimal angle

  23. Check the horizon for traffic. Getting run over is even slower than losing your mast. Terminally so.

  24. Trim the head sail, little tweaks to get it set perfectly

  25. Trim the main sail for the same optimization. Grimace because you know what is next.

  26. Move the 140.6 kg (309.3 lbs) of sails from the cockpit up to the new windward rail and tie down. You are too tired to curse at this point.

  27. Close the water ballast gate valves.

  28. Top off the water ballast for any lost water.

  29. Take a nap

Easy peasy, lemon squeezey. Hope you guys are having fun back home.


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