When it comes to learning to sail, any course at a sailing school will begin teaching you about the points of sail, or in which direction the wind is coming from and the position of the boat relative to wind direction.
One of the most important things that you will learn at sailing school is to always know where the wind is coming from in relation to the boat. If the wind is coming from anywhere on the port side, then the boat is on a port tack. Likewise, if the wind is on the starboard side then the boat will be on a starboard tack. Unless the boat has it’s ‘head to wind’, at any point of sail the boat will be either on a port or starboard tack.
First main point to note that your learn to sail course at a sailing school will tell you, is that a sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind. This is called the ‘No-go Zone’. When you point a sailboat into the wind, (or known as ‘head to wind’) in the No-go Zone then the sails will flap and the boat will come to a halt. The closest you can get to sailing into the wind is about 45 degrees towards it, otherwise known as being ‘close hauled’.
When the boat is sailing across the wind, with the wind coming directly over either side (or the ‘beam’) of the boat, so you are at right angles to the wind on either a port or starboard tack, then this is known as a ‘Beam Reach’. This is the fastest and easiest point of sail.
When the boat is sailing at a broad angle off the wind (but not directly downwind) then your sailboat is on the point of sail known as a ‘broad reach’. You will be heading downwind a bit more, as the wind will be behind you at an angle. Your sails will be let out slightly, a bit more eased away from the boat.
Sailing on this point of sail – ‘close-hauled’ – you are sailing as close to the wind as you can get! You sails will need to trimmed tightly, and this is a tricky point of sail to get right as it takes skill to not point the boat into the wind and lose power!
When the boat is sailing directly downwind this is known as running. This point of sail can also be tricky as the wind is directly behind you and it can be easy to misjudge the strength of the wind. On a run, your sails will be let out either side of the boat (also known as goosewinging) to capture all the wind, or you can set a big foresail called a Spinnaker.
Whenever you change direction or the wind shifts you will need to trim your sails. Turning towards the wind is called “Heading Up” and you will need to pull your sails in “Sheeting in”.
When you bear away from the wind you will need to let the sails out “easing the sheets”.
Knowing how your boat is positioned relative to the wind direction is crucial for how you set the sails so learning the points of sail is an essential sailing school skill. A good way of learning how to pay attention to the wind is to tie short pieces of yarn to the shrouds and keep paying attention as to which way they are blowing.So as you can see learning your points of sail and how to know and spot where the wind is coming from is a very important part of learning how to sail at sailing school.