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How to Sail Downwind

While sailboats can sail pointed directly downwind,
this is not recommended because a shift in wind direction could cause the sail(s) unexpectedly switch sides (known as flying gybe).

Instead, sailors typically progress downwind by following a zig-zag course, similar to how they would progress upwind, except with gentler 'zags':

However instead of tacking at each change in course, the sailor executes a maneuver known as a gybe (also spelled 'jibe'), where the stern (back end) passes through the wind direction.

How to Perform a Gybe

  1. Initiate a turn away from the wind by pulling the tiller towards you (away from the sail) using the tiller extension/hiking stick. 
  2. Aggressively sheet in an armful's worth of mainsheet.
  3. While turning, stand up on the 'old side' and step across the boat without letting go of either the mainsheet or tiller extension/hiking stick.
  4. Once the sail(s) switches sides (aka gybes), sit down on the 'new side' opposite the sail(s) and sheet out by easing out an armful's worth of mainsheet.
  5. Center the tiller immediately to stop the boat from turning and re-establish a straight course, looking forwards to ensure that you're now traveling in a straight line.
  6. Slide your sheet-holding hand aft (towards the back) along the mainsheet to reach the tiller extension/hiking stick.
  7. Once you've grabbed the tiller extension/hiking stick with your 'old' sheet hand, let go of it with your 'old' tiller hand.
  8. At this point your 'old' sheet hand becomes the 'new' tiller hand, and it will be holding both the sheet and tiller extension/hiking stick.
  9. Grab the sheet with your 'old' tiller hand.
  10. Make sure your sail(s) is trimmed correctly and adjust if necessary.
[Please note: this video needs to be replaced with a version showing someone switching their hands. Also for some reason I decided to rotate the camera :( ]