Many beginning and intermediate racing sailors could improve their sailing by focusing on the body mechanics of tacking. Good body mechanics will help you tack quickly and smoothly, keep control of the tiller extension, and be ready to hike and trim immediately on the new tack.
This post has been updated from the original with additional tips and links to other videos discussing and showing tacking.
The Body Mechanics of Tacking
In the video below, we capture a dry land example of good body mechanics and break it down. Key steps are:
- Keep the tiller extension pointing forward as you push it away.
- As the sail comes across, don’t try to pivot until you have crossed under the sail and are mostly upright.
- Pivot quickly by stepping across with your aft foot first, eyes facing forward. Make this step explosive.
- As you pivot, move your tiller hand behind your back. Pivot the extension so you can give a behind the back push to begin centering the tiller smoothly.
- As you pivot, also sit quickly on the new windward side.
- As you sit, move your mainsheet hand aft to grab the tiller extension, while still holding the mainsheet. Try to keep the mainsheet below the tiller extension to avoid getting it caught.
- With your free hand (the one that was behind your back), grab the mainsheet forward of your leg.
- Trim in and hike simultaneously to flatten the boat.
Some of these mechanics may seem unnatural at first, but they will become surprisingly easy with a little focused practice. Thanks to Henry Chesnutt for demonstrating!
- Make sure you’re at top speed and check over your shoulder before tacking.
- Also make sure your feet are clear of lines.
- Trim the mainsheet in slightly to assist the turn and retain power in the sail as long as possible.
- Push the tiller slowly at first to reduce speed loss. Then move it more quickly to get the boat through the eye of the wind, minimizing the time the sail is luffing.
- As the tiller extension approaches the center, lower it to keep it from contacting the mainsheet.
- Ease the main slightly as you begin to step over.
- When stepping over, place your aft foot as far forward as possible on the new side. This will keep your weight forward and help you pivot.
- Get the boat sailing in the right direction before pulling up your windward board. Use heel angle, sail pressure, and visual references to exit the tack a few degrees below close-hauled. Then accelerate.
- Trim in the last bit of mainsheet when you are up to speed.
Let’s Talk Flying Scots | Q&A With Greg Fisher – North Sails. Good discussion of tacking with video beginning at 37:03
Three Essential Tacking Tips – Quantum Sails in Sailing World
Avoid Tacking in Lulls – Be Prepared to Tack in Puffs – SailZing