THERE IS an
nautical truism to the effect that a haystack will sail well to
leeward, but that it takes a correctly modeled vessel to beat to
windward. It is easy to comprehend how a straw hat thrown into a pond
on its northerly edge will, under the influence of a brisk breeze from
the north, make a fast passage to the southerly bank. It is more
difficult to understand how the same straw hat, if put into the water
at the southerly end of the pond, might be so maneuvered as to make a
passage to the northern extremity of the sheet of water, though the
wind continued to pipe from the north. This was, no doubt, a tough nut
for the early navigators to crack, and the problem may have taken
centuries to solve.
The paddle was naturally the first means of propelling a
rude craft through the water, and the ingenious savage (probably an
indolent rascal) who discovered that a bough of a tree, or the skin of
a beast extended to a favoring breeze, would produce the same effect as
constant and laborious plying of paddles, was presumably hailed as a
benefactor by his tribe. But this device, artful no doubt in its
inception, was only of avail while the wind blew towards the quarter in
which the destination of the enterprising voyager lay. If the wind drew
ahead, or dropped, the skin or leafy bough was no longer of use as a
labor-saving contrivance, and the wearisome paddle was necessarily
The primitive square sail of antiquity embodies the same
principle as that governing the motion through the water of the modem
full-rigged ship, which is admirably adapted for efficient beating to
windward, or sailing against the wind. Superiority in this branch of
sailing is the crucial test of every vessel whose propelling power is
derived from canvas, and the shipbuilders and sailmakers of all
seafaring nations have vied with each other for centuries to secure the
Beating to windward may be described as the method by
which a vessel forces her way by a series of angles in the direction
from which the wind is blowing. Some vessels will sail closer to the
wind than others. That is to say, with their sails full, they will head
a point or more nearer to the direction from which the wind comes than
vessels of different rig.
Broadly speaking, an ordinary fore-and-aft rigged yacht
with the wind due north, will head northwest on the starboard tack, and
northeast on the port tack. That is, she will head up within four
points of the wind. Some will do better than this by a good half point.
The famous old sloop Maria, owned by Commodore J.C. Stevens,
founder of the New York Yacht Club, is said to have sailed within three
points and a half of the wind, and I am informed that Constitution, in
her races in 1903, achieved a similar remarkable feat.
A square-rigger, because the sails cannot be trimmed to
form so sharp an angle to the breeze as a fore-and-aft rigged vessel,
rarely sails closer than six points off the wind. Consequently, she has
to make more tacks and consume a longer time in accomplishing a similar
distance in the teeth of the breeze than a vessel driven by
fore-and-aft canvas. It is possible to make my meaning clearer by means
of simple diagrams, and to these I refer the reader.
A vessel is said to be close-hauled when the sheets are
trimmed flat aft and the boat is headed as near to the wind as the
sails will permit without their luffs shaking. When a vessel is so
trimmed, she is said to be sailing "full and bye," which means as close
to the wind as the craft will point with the sails bellying out and
full of wind. If a vessel is sailed so close to the wind that the sails
quiver, the pressure is diminished and speed is decreased. Thus the art
of beating to windward successfully consists in keeping the boat's
sails full, while her head should not be permitted to "fall off" for an
instant. This requires a watchful eye and an artistic touch. To become
an adept, one should have plenty of practice.
A boat is on the starboard tack when the main boom is over
the port quarter and the port jib sheet is hauled aft. The wind is then
on the starboard bow. The conditions are reversed when the craft goes
on the port tack. In Diagram No.1, four conditions of sailing
are shown, the figures representing a boat sailing with the wind
astern, on the quarter, abeam, and close hauled. It will be observed
how the main boom is trimmed to meet the varied changes of wind or
Running Before the Wind.
Diagram No.2 shows a racing yacht running before
the wind with all her balloons expanded to the breeze. The spinnaker
set to starboard not only adds greatly to her speed, but it also makes
the steering easier, as it counteracts the pressure of the huge
mainsail and club topsail on the port side, thus causing a
nicely-adjusted balance. The balloon jib topsail catches every stray
breath of air that is spilled out of the spinnaker, and it also has
considerable possibilities as a steering sail, in addition to its
splendid pulling power. For a vessel, however finely balanced and
carefully steered, owing to various conditions of breeze and sea, has a
tendency to yaw and fly up in the wind. Thus a strong puff or a heavy
sea striking the boat may make her swerve from her course in an effort
to broach to. Then the jib topsail does good service as, when it gets
full of wind, it pays the head of the boat off the wind, and materially
assists the helmsman in steadying the vessel on her course.
It may be remarked that steering a yacht under these
conditions, in a strong and puffy breeze with a lumpy, following sea,
calls for the best work of the ablest helmsman. A boat will generally
inclination to broach to, which means to fly up in the wind. Sometimes,
however, the notion may strike her to run off the wind so much as to
bring the wind on the other quarter, causing her to gybe. This would
mean disaster, probably a broken boom and a topmast snapped off short
like a pipe-stem, with other incidental perils.
Diagram No.3 shows the maneuver of gybing, which is
to keep the vessel away from the wind until it comes astern, and then
on the opposite quarter to which it has been blowing. Fig.1
shows a boat sailing before the wind with the main boom over to
starboard. Fig.2 shows the operation of luffing to get in the
main sheet. Fig.3 shows the boom over on the port quarter, and
the operation complete, except trimming sail for the course to be
It may be remarked that gybing a racing yacht "all
standing" in a strong wind requires consummate skill and care. A cool
hand at the helm is the prime requisite, but smart handling of the main
sheet is of scarcely less importance. The topmast preventer backstays
should be attended to by live men. When a vessel is not racing, gybing
in heavy weather may be accomplished without the slightest risk ; the
topsail may be clewed up and the peak of the mainsail lowered, and with
ordinary attention the maneuver is easily performed.
Close Hauled on Port Tack.
Diagrams Nos. 4 and 5 show the same racing
yacht close hauled on the port and starboard tack. The spinnaker and
balloon jib topsail are taken in. A small jib topsail takes the place
of the flying kite. This sail, however, is only carried in light winds,
as it has a tendency, when a breeze blows, to make a craft sag off to
Close Hauled on Starboard Tack.
Diagram No.6 shows a boat beating out of a bay with
the wind dead in her teeth, a regular "nose-ender" or "muzzler." She
starts out from her anchorage on the port tack, stands in as close to
the shore as is prudent, goes about on the starboard tack, stands out
far enough to weather the point of land, then tacks again, and on the
port tack fetches the open sea.
Dead Beat to Windward
Diagram No.7 illustrates a contingency frequently
met with in beating to windward, when a vessel can sail nearer her
intended course on one tack than another. Thus suppose her course is
East by South and the wind SE, she would head up East on one tack (the
long leg) and South on the other (the short leg).
A Long Leg and a Short Leg.
Diagram No.8 depicts the maneuver of tacking that
is the method of "going into stays," or shifting from one tack to the
Fig.1 shows a boat steering "full and bye" on the
starboard tack. It becomes necessary to go about. "Helm's a-lee!" cries
the man at the tiller, at the same time easing the helm down to leeward
and causing the boat's head to fly up in the wind. The jib sheet is let
go at the cry "Helm's a-lee!" decreasing the pressure forward and
making the boat, if well balanced, spin round. A modern racer turns on
her heel so smartly that the men have all they can do to trim the head
sheets down before she is full on the other tack. Some of the old style
craft, however, hang in the wind, and it sometimes becomes necessary to
pay her head off by trimming down on the port jib sheet and by shoving
the main boom over on the starboard quarter (Fig.3). Soon she
fills on the port tack, and goes dancing merrily along, as shown in Fig.4.
In beating to windward in a strong breeze and a heavy sea
leeway must be considered.
Leeway may be defined as the angle between the line of the
vessel's apparent course and the line she actually makes good through
the water. In other and untechnical words, it is the drift that the
ship makes sideways through the water because of the force of the wind
and the heave of the sea, both factors causing the craft to slide
bodily off to leeward.
This crab-like motion is due to a variety of causes, to
the shape of the craft, to her trim, and to the amount of sail carried,
and its quality and sit. Boats deficient in the element of lateral
resistance, such as a shallow craft with the centerboard hoisted, will
drift off to leeward at a surprising rate. A deep boat of good design
and fair sail-carrying capacity will, on the other hand, if her canvas
is well cut and skillfully trimmed, make little or no leeway. In fact
she may, under favorable circumstances, eat up into the wind and fetch
as high as she points.
Leeway is always a dead loss, and to counteract it is
always the aim of the practical seaman and navigator. Captain Lecky, in
his admirable work, "Wrinkles in Practical Navigation" puts the case
clearly, and his advice should be followed whenever feasible. He says:
"Suppose a vessel on a wind heading NW by N,
under short canvas and looking up within three points of her port,
which, accordingly, bears north; but, owing to its blowing hard, she is
making 2 1/2 points leeway. Clearly this vessel is only making good a
NW by W1/2W course, which is 5-1/2 points from the direction of port.
Let her speed under these conditions be, say, four knots per hour. Now,
if the yards are checked in a point or so, and the vessel be kept off
NW by W, she will slip away much faster through the water, and probably
will make not more than half a point leeway. This keeps the course made
good exactly the same as before, with the advantage of increased speed.
Therefore, if you can possibly avoid it, do not allow your vessel to
sag to leeward by jamming her up in the wind. Keep your wake right
astern, unless it be found from the bearing of the port that the course
made good is actually taking the vessel away from it, in which case it
is obvious that the less the speed the better."
This excellent counsel applies to every kind of sailing
vessel, whether square rigger or fore-and-after, whether used for
business or pleasure. It is of no avail to pinch a boat for the purpose
of keeping her bowsprit pointed for her destination, when it is obvious
that she will only fetch a point several miles to leeward. Keep the
sails clean full and the boat will make better weather of it as well as
greater speed. It may frequently be necessary to "luff and shake it out
of her" when struck by a hard squall, or, by the aid of a "fisherman's
luff," to clear an object without tacking, but a good rule is to keep a
sailing craft moving through the water and not permit her to pitch and
rear end on to the sea.