On and off the wind

On and off the windExplaining the difference in principle on and off the wind. When we dealt with the windward work we spoke of "steering", now dealing with the boat off the wind we speak of "sailing".

Why is this? Well, we have made the distinction to drum the following fact into the head of the beginner. When he was going to windward his personal, act of "steering" was of paramount importance; we explained to him how he must steer his boat alone by the sails and by the feel of her, not by regard to any fixed course.

Suppose the sails to have been reasonably flattened, and trimmed
suitably for going to windward, then how well and how successfully the boat would go to the windward, depended upon his hand on the helm. If he steered well, he would get one mile dead to windward in a certain time.

If he steered badly, that is got off the wind or caused his sails to shake by pinching, then he would fall short of that mile in the same time by a distance representing his bad helmsmanship. This distance lost by a duffer, an inattentive or crude helmsman, it must be remembered is not small but very great. In racing the distance is magnified enormously in a few seconds !

The clever steersman fetching the weather mark against a foul tide, say thirty seconds ahead of an opponent, rounds this mark, sets his spinnaker and runs away before the wind with a substantial lead.

If, as he fetches the weather mark the wind drops, his opponent gets
nipped by the tide and cannot get round. Thus the small advantage of thirty seconds (obtained by superior steering to windward) is magnified into minutes, and becomes a commanding lead of two or three miles! The newspapers next day say "She had a fluke!" but the truth is that the winning vessel gained her victory, purely by the superior skill of the helmsman.

It is really impossible to say how great the importance of superior helmsmanship to windward may be, because a crude helmsman may get a yacht sort of half in irons by pinching her and have a job to get proper way on her again; then again the good helmsman will have sailed one mile, whilst the duffer in an equal boat will not have
made dead to windward one quarter of that distance.

In the windward work the steering was of main importance. Now when the yacht is off the wind, precisely the contrary is the case. Off the wind it is generally a matter of sailing, not of steering. We therefore speak of sailing off the wind.

Now, of course, these remarks must be taken with reason, but we will explain our meaning. The important factors "steering by the sails" and "steering by the feel of her" do not apply when the yacht's head is turned off the wind.

These things, which the beginner was told would enable him or her to get the utmost out of his boat when going to windward, have ceased to have the same effect as they had in windward work.

Read Steering straight upon a fixed course.