Sailing is a beautiful and majestic sport. It’s pretty clear how a boat sails downwind with the breeze pushing against the sails, but have you ever wondered: how do you sail against the wind?
Sailing is about aerodynamics & hydrodynamics
The aerodynamics is how wind acts on the sails, and the hydrodynamics is how the sails will still push the boat more sideways than pull it forward. That’s where the READ MORE: 7 Best Sailboat Accessories
No, boats cannot sail directly into the wind
Instead, they make progress toward an upwind mark by sailing at angles, which are called “points of sail.” Close hauled is roughly 45 degrees off the true breeze, a close reach is 60 degrees, and a Upwind sailing is a craft
While the basics of upwind sailing are simple, it can take years to master the nuances of sail trim (moving sails in and out) and sail shape (making other adjustments to change the way the wind affects the sail). The sails are sheeted in (made flatter) by pulling in the sheeting lines or loosened to create a “belly” or depth in the sail.
Pro tip: At age 16, Jessica Watson became the youngest person to sail around the world without stopping and without assistance. Talk about inspiration!
Sheeting in (bringing the sails closer to the centerline) enables the boat to point higher (sail closer to the true wind) while easing out (loosening the aft end of the sail) creates more power. If a sail begins to luff or flutter when sailing upwind, it needs to either be trimmed in or the boat must change direction and fall off the wind to get more efficient airflow over the foils.
Learning on a small sailboat is ideal as they react immediately to changing conditions, so you learn the cause and effect of your actions on sail trim. The theory is easy. The actual practice takes years to perfect, and it’s what separates good sailors from newbies.
Once you have it down, you can (eventually) sail or zig-zag your way to just about anywhere. Perhaps then you can charter a larger boat from a peer-to-peer rental service like Boatsetter and explore new watery horizons.
Sailor, there’s more where that came from:
Boatsetter is a unique boat-sharing platform that gives everyone— whether you own a boat or you’re just renting — the chance to experience life on the water. You can list a boat, book a boat, or make money as a captain.
Zuzana Prochazka is an award-winning freelance journalist and photographer with regular contributions to more than a dozen sailing and powerboating magazines and online publications including Southern Boating, SEA, Latitudes & Attitudes and SAIL. She is SAIL magazines Charter Editor and the Executive Director of Boating Writers International. Zuzana serves as judge for SAIL’s Best Boats awards and for Europe’s Best of Boats in Berlin.
A USCG 100 Ton Master, Zuzana founded and manages a flotilla charter organization called Zescapes that takes guests adventure sailing at destinations worldwide.
Zuzana has lived in Europe, Africa and the United States and has traveled extensively in South America, the islands of the South Pacific and Mexico.