sailing academy logo

World Sailing recognized Sailing Academy   South African Sailing accredited Sailing Academy               

Perfecting Your Tacks & Gybes

Perfecting Your Tacks & Gybes

Smooth tacks and error free gybes are critical if you are to win the race.  It is imperative that you practice your tacks and gybes at every opportunity in all wind strengths, I suggest that you put aside an hour per on-the-water training day to complete 50 tacks and 50 gybes, tacking or gybing every 30 seconds.

Most modern dinghies have a centre mainsheet, with this configuration, the helm always goes about facing forward.  With practice you will develop the technique required to allow you to remain in control of both tiller and mainsheet as you change hands during the tack.  Initially, the biggest problem we see is that the helm sits too far back and struggles to get the tiller extension into the new sailing position once they have crossed to the new side.

  1. Hold both tiller and mainsheet in the thumbs up grip, tiller in your back hand, in front of your body.
  2. Uncleat the mainsheet and ease it out as you push the tiller away from you.
  3. Turn through 180° facing forward as you cross the cockpit, keeping the mainsheet in your front hand while continuing to steer the boat through the tack with your back hand.
  4. Swivel your hand around the tiller extention as you move across to the new side, angling the tiller extension to allow it to fit in the gap created by the cockpit, boom and your body.
  5. On the new side continue to hold the tiller extension in the same hand, which will be crossed behind your back, continue to control the mainsheet with your other hand.
  6. Pull in the mainsheet and settle on your new tack, keeping the boat flat and moving in the right direction.
  7. Transfer hands by moving the mainsheet hand to the lower part of the tiller extension, flicking it across the front of your body and grab the sheet with your new front hand.

Roll Tacks in Light to Moderate Breeze

In the light breeze, particularily when sailing on inland waters, to make the most of each wind shift, it pays to tack frequently and fast. Roll tacking results in a quicker more powerful turn, using the weight of the crew to aggresively turn the boat through the tack.  Using your body weight to roll the boat keeps the sails filled for longer with less drag created by the sails flapping, allowing the air flow to be re-attached and the sails to be powered up more quickly after the tack.  In really light conditions, the crew will sit on the leeward side with the helm on the windward side, both cross over during the tack.

  1. Turn gently into the tack allowing the boat to heel to leeward, this will turn the boat towards the wind.
  2. The crew moves to the windward side, if he was sitting to leeward, to help the helm roll the boat into the tack as the boom crosses the centreline of the oat, with the sails head to wind.
  3. The helm moves across the boat and eases the mainsheet as the mainsail colapses, while the crew sheets in the jib on the new side.  The forces on the rig help to turn the bow away from the wind.
  4. The boat will be on the new course but heeling to leeward on the new tack.  The helm hikes hard to windward to flatten the boat while sheeting in the main in one dynamic movement to accelerate the boat back up to speed.
  5. The crew may need to move to the leeward side in really light conditions.

Tacking in Strong Breeze

In strong breeze, if you are struggling to tack, you are probably moving off the windward side and easing the mainsheet too soon to prevent the boat from heeling over.  By sheeting out you are reducing weather helm which naturally turns the boat into the wind.  As a result, you will need to use more rudder, which in turn slows the boat as the bow turns toward the wind.  If you are not carefull, the boat will stall on a wave and start moving backwards.  The best way to avoid this is to keep the power up for as long as possible.

  1. Only move into the cockpit once the boat is head to wind, this will allow you to keep the main sheeted in and to use the leach of the sail to drive the boat round.
  2. When the mainsail starts backwinding, ease off the mainsheet.
  3. Don't sheet in until you are on the new course with the crew hiking out.  This will prevent the boat from heeling too far when you sheet in the mainsail to power up the boat.

Fast Error Free Gybes

During a tack the boat turns into the wind and losses most of the power in its sails.  During a gybe the boat turns away from the wind and the sails are powered up through the turn.  Gybing in light winds is easy but in strong winds the gybe is a far more dynamic manouver, particularily when in close proximity to other boats.  If you make a mistake, it will probably capsize and lose any chance of winning the race.

  1. Through the gybe ensure that you are in full control of the rudder using small adjustments rather than one dynamic rudder movement.
  2. Going into the gybe, allow the boat to heel to windward to help it bear away.  Sheeting in a little helps power up the sails as the boat turn.
  3. As soon as you are running by the lee and the pressure decreases in the mainsail, induce the gybe with a sharp pull on the mainsheet falls.
  4. If the boat won't gybe, keep turning away from the wind.
  5. In light breeze it is ok to leave the boom to come across on its own, but in stronger breeze, when the gybe happens the boom will fly across to the new side causing the boat to heel and the helm to lose control of the steering, the boat keeps turning onto a beam reach, resulting in the inevitable capsize.
  6. Straighten the rudder on the new course as soon as the boom crosses to the new side, while sailing deep, don't let the boat turn up onto a reach.
  7. The helm crosses the cockpit using the same hand technique as for tacking, changing hands once settled on the new course.
  8. The crew moves into the boat prior to the gybe but may need to hike quikly to flatten the boat.  Pull the jib across to the new side as the boom crosses the centreline.

Roll Gybes in Light Breeze

When gybing in light breeze, try a downwind version of the roll tack, heeling the boat to windward to initiate the roll gybe providing a continuos smooth transition.

  1. Heel the boat to windward to assist it bearing away.
  2. Watch the leach of the mainsail, as soon as it starts backwinding, pull the mainsail falls across.
  3. Centre the tiller and flatten the boat on the new course.

Gybing in Strong Winds

  1. The best way to keep control through the gybe is to turn the boat through the smallest possible angle.
  2. If you lose speed, failing to gybe the apparent wind will load up in the rig and make matters difficult.  Your best option is to straighten up on your original course, settle down and start the gybe again.
  3. When gybing with main & jib only have your daggerboard at least half way up, reducing the heeling moment.  When gybing with a gennaker, leave the daggerboard down.