Sailing before the wind

Sailing before the windWe have already have outlined the way a yacht should be steered to windward and also when the wind was free.

When close-hauled the helmsman is described as feeling the yacht's helm and steering by the sails and not by any fixed point or course.

When the yacht is off the wind he is simply steering by a fixed point or course, and is engaged in trying to keep her straight.

Well, keeping a yacht on a straight course on a broad reach theoretically, is perfectly easy and hardly requires any instruction. This is not always the case in practice, because in strong winds and heavy seas a yacht may yaw about, suddenly run off her helm, that is run away from the wind; or broach to, that is luff with wild suddenness.

Some yachts are decidedly hard headed on a broad reach, and are most difficult to keep on a straight course; the helmsman requires a lot of brute force and will sweat with the physical exercise of the job.

There is no way to help the beginner much by instructing him how to keep a boat on a straight course when reaching. Practice makes perfect.

Keep her on a fixed point, if you can, try to give her as little helm as possible, "meet her" with the helm as her bowsprit begins to yaw port or starboard of the straight line. When the sea is smooth especially "meet her" early.

When, however, the seas are long and heavy you must more or less let the yacht take her natural yaw or sway over the seas or "down a trough". You can by practice sort of sail her "down the troughs" so she does not "pound" or spank.

This can only be accomplished by practice, but it comes naturally after a bit, and you begin to realize that you are permitting the yacht to yaw about a good deal, but this yawing is preventing her from spanking and straining. So you go on, reaching in a heavy sea, and do not actually keep the bowsprit on a fixed point all the time.
You deviate from it in the troughs of the seas. You are really losing less by a little deviation than you would if you held her dead straight (or tried to) and caused her to spank.

This seamanlike helmsmanship, however, cannot, as we have said, be learned from theory, but only by practice. The golden rule, of course, is "never relax your attention to your steering for an instant".

Old sailor-men

The older and more experienced the helmsman or seaman the more exactly does he observe this golden rule. Old fishermen doubtless observe it as a second nature, and they steer better than anybody off the wind on a reach in heavy seas.

Have you ever noticed the funny way these old-fashioned fishermen sort of roll about, and when standing on deck they have a way of standing or balancing first on one leg and then on the other? This comes from "meeting her." It is very odd, but it is a fact! They are always in body and mind "meeting her," that is, they are meeting the motion of the vessel on the seas in precisely the same way they do with the helm as the vessel runs over the waves.

You cannot, however, steer well in a heavy sea unless you have the habit of "meeting her", and it can only be found by practice.

Continue here: Steering both by sails and fixed course.