Close Hauled Tactics
In order to beat to windward efficiently, you need to raise and trim the sails correctly, and use good helmsmanship. If you donít raise the sails correctly, you wonít be able to shape and trim them properly in the ways described by Jeff H.
The sails should be raised so that there are no wrinkles in the leading edges. As a general rule, the stronger the wind, the more tension you should put on the leading edges of the sails, by using the halyard, downhaul, or cunningham, but donít put on so much tension that a deep curl forms along the leading edge of the sails. Scallops or deep longitudinal curls in the leading edges of your sails destroy the boatís ability to point.
After you have raised the sails correctly, you should trim them as Jeff H described.
Next, you should think about helmsmanship. As boat speed increases to windward, apparent windspeed also increases. When the apparent windspeed increases, the effect is the same as if the boat is sailing in stronger wind. The wind generates more power. In short, higher boat speed begets higher apparent wind speed. A smooth bottom and keel enables your boat to attain its maximum speed potential and that enables it to generate the highest possible apparent wind speed.
Although it might seem counterintuitive, you should foot (or bear off slightly) when you want to beat to windward and point as close to the wind as possible. Hereís how the principle works. The keel provides both lateral resistance and lift. Those forces enable your boat to sail to windward without side-slipping. A fast flow of water over the hull and keel generates more lift. That added lift enables a boat to point higher, with less slippage to leeward. By bearing off slightly, the boat increases its speed. Because of the increase in speed, the keel generates more lift, which enables the boat to point higher. (Notice that boat speed generates more power from the sails and more lift from the keel, both of which increase the boatís pointing ability.)
When a sailboat is moving at reduced speed, such as after tacking, the sails need power to enable the boat to accelerate to its maximum speed. You should begin to accelerate by easing the sheets and steering slightly off the wind, and then coming up gradually, until the boat reaches its maximum speed. As the speed builds, continue to trim in the sails to maximize the boatís pointing ability.
After a ballasted sailboat has reached its maximum speed, its weight will allow it to coast for brief periods without a significant reduction in speed. You can take advantage of this ability to coast by steering the boat on a scalloping course to windward, alternately pinching to windward for a couple of seconds, and then falling back down to a close-hauled course to get the sails driving again and maintain boatspeed. By steering a scalloping course, you will be able to drive the boat slightly closer to windward than your opponents. If you are slightly ahead and to leeward of another boat, it will enable you to point higher than the other boat, and force it to tack. When steering a scalloping course, it is important that you use smooth, gradual movements of the rudder to steer the boat, because abrupt or large movements of the rudder will kill boatspeed during the coasting phase.