How Sailing Works

If a sailing boat is pushed along by the wind, surely it can only go in the direction that the wind is blowing.

Well, no, actually.

Even many centuries ago, sailors discovered that sailing boats can go towards the place from where the wind is blowing. They can't(*) go directly towards the wind, but they can "make way to windward".

(*)Well, OK, actually, with some interesting mixtures of windmills and propellors, they just about can, but it's so inefficient it isn't worth the trouble. Sails are better. And prettier!

It comes down to physics, but I'll try to explain how it works, without getting too bogged down in the science. For those who want the science, I may give some more information elsewhere or a link.

This is quite a nice explanation of the whole:

How Does A Sailboat Actually Work

The Following are helpful. On a yacht, you usually won't have a centreboard. A dinghy is a really good way to learn how a boat feels and behaves as you're much closer to everything that happens. As a beginner, there is a good chance you'll get wet doing this. Wear suitable clothes or a wet-suit and wear a buoyancy aid (not a life jacket, as these are designed to flip you onto your back, from which position getting back into a dinghy can be difficult). Use a life jacket on a yacht where you're reliant on someone else to pick you up.

Points of Sail 1 -- Introduction

Points of Sail 2 -- Close Hauled

Points of Sail 3 -- Reaching

Points of Sail 4 -- Running

Points of Sail 5 -- Key Learning Points

Hunter's Yard Trust's instructional videos

Hunter's Yard hire out sailing boats on England's Norfolk Broads. Some hears back they produced a set of instructional videos to help instruct their boat hirers. Their boats are traditional Norfolk Broads types, that is they're shallow draught for the the 'broads' themselves and have counterbalanced masts that can quickly be lowered to get under bridges, some of which are particularly low and rather scary .. Potter Higham bridge, of course I mean you!

These are all very much home-made videos, but they contain a lot of sense and are aimed at people with no experience about to take a broads yacht for a sail. An Hunter's Yard like to get them back in one piece, of course!

Chapter 1 - Introduction to Gaff Rigged Boats Cover removal, lowering the cabin top, boat packs, lowering and raising mast.

Chapter 2 - covers the Beaufort Wind Scale and reefing our gaff rig sailing yachts (shortening sails)

Chapter 3 - Quanting and Preparing to Hoist Sails; A small clip to show you casting off our gaff rig boats and the best way to quant (push the boat along using a pole).

Chapter 4 - Hoisting the Sails. Graham explains how to raise the sail and jib on our cabin yachts.

Chapter 5 - Basic Sailing Techniques. Controlled and uncontrolled gybing and scandelising to reduce speed. Sailing a Hunters gaff rigged boat is not the same as sailing a dinghy. Graham gives you some basic techniques for sailing our 'ole gals'. ... (She's cracking along in that opening shot. NV.)

Chapter 6 - Mooring and coming along side. Coming in to moor - with this clip Graham gives you three methods of mooring and coming along side. (Personally I'd have put the fenders out first and tried to come in a little slower. Learn about the "ferry glide" and you really will wonder why so few people understand it and do it. NV).

Chapter 7 - Getting out of 'Irons'. 'In Stays', (head to wind with no forward motion), how to resume sailing - shown using Brown Bess, one of oursingle sail balanced lug half-deckers (day boats).

Chapter 8 - Lowering, Stowing Sails, Replacing the Boat Cover.

Chapter 9 - Introduction to our Lugsails and Gunter Rigged half deckers (day boats). In this clip Graham explains the lowering the mast so you can get through the bridges using our boat called Sundew. She is a Waveney One Design and is a beautiful example of this class of sailing craft.

Hunter's Yard - a customer's trip.

How Sailing Boats Move

This gets rather complicated and you don't have to know it to make a boat work. For those who want to know more about the detailed "how?" and "why?", you could do worse that visit here:

And a silly but reasonable explanation...

Think of a sailing boat as a slippery seed help by a finger and thumb, which represent the following two forces. One force represents the wind on the sails of the sailing boat, the other represents the force of the water resisting against the centre-board or keel.

Organise those two forces in the right directions, apply them by squeezing, and that seed will shoot out from between finger and thumb. That's the way the sailing boat goes.