The Motions of Sailing - SailNet Community
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The Motions of Sailing

What kind of motion can I expect when sailing?

Mark Matthews responds:

The motions of sailing vary depending on the boat and conditions. Generally speaking, small boats have more motion than larger boats, which is one reason why there is no better way to learn to sail than on a small boat because you can become familiar with the nuances of a vessel's movement much more easily.

The motion of sailing generally involves heeling and an up-and-down motion as the crew adjusts the boat and its sails to the conditions and the destination. Heeling results from the force of the wind acting on the sails of the boat, leaning it over on its side. Sailboats also yaw, or move slightly left and right of their destination depending on wind and other variables, and pitch fore and aft.

Going upwind, the boat is likely to heel the most, the sails are usually trimmed in all the way, the wind will feel its strongest, and there may be spray flying about as you head into the waves. As you come off the wind, the sails are eased out, the heeling is less, though the bow still pitches. Going straight downwind, the sails are out at their fullest, the spinnaker can also be flying, and the boat typically rolls equally side to side. Know that if you are sailing on a catamaran, the above description is a little different because the heeling is less.

My little description of sailing, however, hardly does it justice. If you come from a powerboat background, the pace is obviously a little different, and moving silently along, save for the flap of a halyard or sail, is quite pleasant. Of course there are other times when Mother Nature decides to strut her stuff, and the offshore crew  had better be prepared. The motion on the ocean is quite different than the motion on inland waters or bays, and trade wind swells of six to eight feet aren't uncommon, but they can be comfortable once your sea legs take over.

If you’d like to learn more about sailing, you’ve come to the right place. Check out our Learning to Sail collection, found under Main Areas on the left-hand rail of the homepage, where there are a number of insightful articles to read. You can also check out some of our learning to sail texts in the store.


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