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By Nicky Bethwaite

2-8 knots or 1-4m/s

Exercises on the Water for 1 boat


Aim – perform 10 really good tacks in a row

What to look for – smooth roll, with the rig moving from one side to the other without any wobbles

Practise half the tack first by rounding up to the head-to-wind position and then falling back to the original course.  Usually the helm will say something like – ‘ready to tack?’.  It’s a good idea for the helm to wait for an acknowledgement from the crew (‘ready’) so that you both move together.  Analyse who is going to move first and how much.  So that minimal rudder is used, the boat should be heeled to leeward first, helping it to round up.  Practise this a few times until you’ve got it smooth.  Tip – take one big step across the boat instead of several small ones as this has a bigger effect in less time.

When you’re happy with half the tack, go ahead and complete it.  Usually the turn in the first half of the tack is a bit slower than the turn out.  As the boat goes past head to wind, the helm settles the boat onto its new course which may be a few degrees lower than necessary so that you can build speed.  This is only desirable in 4kts and under, above this there is no advantage in turning the boat past the ideal windward course.

There is co-ordination required between the forward hand and helm so that both the jib and main are eased a little going through the tack and are brought on together as the boat settles onto its new course. The main will probably have to be sheeted on quite sharply so as to ‘pop’ the battens through. Do this at the same time as bringing the boat upright in quite a quick movement but it’s really important to keep it smooth. For maximum effect, the boat should be brought upright at the same time as the sails are sheeted on as this will give maximum acceleration up to full speed.  In light air, it is a good idea for the helm to handle the mainsheet through the tack.

Light air tacking



In 2-4kts (1-2m/s) you can expect to tack through an angle of around 100°.  As the breeze increases, the angle will decrease so that in 5-8kts (2.5-4m/s) you should be looking at 90°.  The best way to guess this angle is for the helm to take a look over his/her shoulder before the tack and pick a point on the shore that is about where you’d expect the bow to be pointing after the tack.

The helm should always be facing forward during the tack and as the bow approaches the point you have picked, slow the turn down and bring the rig upright.  If you don’t have a shore as an indicator, use the jib as a reference point, so that as it fills the boat stops turning.  Your tack in light air will be slower than in stronger breeze.  It is really important not to turn the boat too far, otherwise you waste a lot of time and distance coming back up to course.

As a guide, in 2-4kts (1-2m/s), the time taken to tack (full speed to full speed) is around 12 seconds. In 5-8kts (2.5-4m/s) it decreases to approximately 8s. If the water is rough then it takes a little longer.



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