Tacking in heavy winds - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 9 Old 05-02-2012 Thread Starter
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Tacking in heavy winds

After several weekends of +25 knot wind, we decided we couldn't skip another weekend and took my Starwind 27 out on the bay.

As not to scare the passengers too much, we decided to try running with just the storm jib up. At first, this seemed to work great. We were running a constant 5 knots and surging up past 6 knots during wind gusts, but the boat wasn't heeling too far over, so everyone was enjoying it.

Then came time to tack. With just the head sail up, every time we tacked the wind would push the nose of the boat around to almost 180 degrees. I couldn't steer it back at all.

Is there a special way to tack in the high wind with just the head sail or am I going to have to keep my main sail up to control the boat?
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post #2 of 9 Old 05-02-2012
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Re: Tacking in heavy winds

There was another thread recently with the same issue... tacking in a strong breeze with just a headsail requires a lot of speed, in other words if you're pinching to keep the heel off your boatspeed is likely down.. turning into the wind slows you further and the center of effort is so far foward that once you lose way you simply get blown around.

Having the main up (properly reefed) usually makes that go better, the C of E is more aft and the weather helm contribution of the main helps drive the boat through the eye of the wind.

In extreme cases where you're headsail only, you may need to jibe through 270 degrees and come up to your new 'tack'.. but again you have to do this with speed soas to maintain steerage.

As was mentioned in the other thread, some boats (and rig designs) can handle headsail only better than others.. practice will soon tell you which you've got.
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Last edited by Faster; 05-02-2012 at 11:59 AM.
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post #3 of 9 Old 05-02-2012
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Re: Tacking in heavy winds

Generally, you need at least an overlapping headsail to be able to sail to windward and to tack, but the better alternative is to use a mainsail and jib. You need to balance the CE (center of effort of the sails) against the CLR (center of lateral resistance of the keel). If all or most of the force on the sails is forward of the CLR, then the boat will bear away, downwind. The boat needs some force aft of the CLR to enable it to point to windward.

A sailboat pivots on its keel. If all the force on its sails is exerted only on the bow of the boat, the bow will bear away downwind, yielding to the force of the wind. If roughly equal forces are exerted on both the bow and stern, then the boat will maintain the same stance in relationship to the wind, the keel will resist the lateral force exerted by the wind on the sails, and the boat will "squirt" forward.
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post #4 of 9 Old 05-02-2012
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Re: Tacking in heavy winds

Generally you can't go above close-reach with just a jib unless it's a genny extending way aft of the pivot point/CLR. So, definitely not with just a little storm jib that's way forward of CLR.

I guess you could tack with the motor helping, if the prop would stay in the water.

But again (and this is what you asked I think) you'll be sticking the tiller way to leeward just to hold course above a reach. Lee helm, big-time. Your rudder is acting more like a brake than a steering device.

So, don't tack. Or, don't use jib alone, put a very reefed main up at least, or in a real screecher, a storm trysail.

Or (thinking imaginatively here), maybe drop a small sea anchor off your windward bow, let it pull you around, then heave it back in just as you finish the tack, before you accelerate and can't pull it up at all.

Never mind, forget that last one, stupid idea, more theoretical than practical. ;-)
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post #5 of 9 Old 05-02-2012 Thread Starter
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Re: Tacking in heavy winds

Originally Posted by nolatom View Post
Or (thinking imaginatively here), maybe drop a small sea anchor off your windward bow, let it pull you around, then heave it back in just as you finish the tack, before you accelerate and can't pull it up at all.
Handbrake turns on a sailboat?
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post #6 of 9 Old 05-02-2012
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Re: Tacking in heavy winds

There are a couple of things that might help, aside from a deeply reefed main to create more balance:
Purposely fall of to a reach/close reach and then head up.
Do not over trim the jib as you come about.
Be sure the jib is starting to generate lift as you trim.
A flat sail in heavy wind is good, an over trimmed sail going upwind just stalls the boat
As the boat stalls the force of the wind against a flat jib is forcing the nose over before it has the chance to generate lift. The farther over the bow goes the more force against the inside of the jib and less/no lift.

In heavy winds with less experienced crew they may be tending to keep everything as tight as possible.

One more; You aren't back winding the jib are you? Some boats might need a little help in light air, but doing it in heavy air can lead to a comedy show.

Are you going hard alee and then trying to correct after you come about? That might also be pushing you too far over as you or your crew flatten the jib to where you think it should be.

Last edited by RobGallagher; 05-02-2012 at 01:21 PM.
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post #7 of 9 Old 05-02-2012
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Re: Tacking in heavy winds

This is the very reason I don't sail with only a foresail. When I first learned to sail, I was taught that if one only has one sail up it should be the mainsail, and the main should always be the first sail up and the last one down. The reasoning is that with just a foresail up it might be impossible (or at least very difficult) to maneuver well enough to recover a MOB. So, although it is often tempting to sail a run or very broad reach under a jib or genoa alone, I always leave at least a deeply reefed main up while actively sailing. That way, if I have to go to windward for any reason, I can.

In other words: "bald-headed" is better than "bare-assed" (at least in this context).
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post #8 of 9 Old 05-04-2012
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Re: Tacking in heavy winds

I've run into the same problem with just the foresail - just the main doesn't work a heck of a lot better in heavy weather.

The few times I've been caught out in it - or foolishly just really wanted to sail regardless of the weather - I just have to reef, let the sails spill air and deal with the heel.

And like Faster said with jibing instead of tacking. Guess when in doubt, come about doesn't always work.
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post #9 of 9 Old 12-18-2012
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Re: Tacking in heavy winds

OK, I realize this is an old thread, but I thought I'd mention the rate of turn issues. This sometimes comes up when someone is moving from dinghy to keelboat sailing. On a lot of little centerboard boats with centerboards and relatively flat bottoms, faster is better. On large boats with significant dead rise and a lot of weight, they will sit in the water, not on the water. In such designs you may need to turn more slowly in order to get around. There is a clear contradiction between the wind trying to blow you back, where too slow of a turn will allow the wind to stop you, but too fast of at turn can take out even more energy.

On day with flat water and few waves, tack the boat with different turning rates and watch the water behind you. If you turn rapidly you'll likely see circular eddies left in the water behind you. It takes a lot of energy to make those and they come from the inertia of the boat while turning. Disturb the water less and you'll have more energy to get you through the turn.

G. Jackson
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