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Turning and Points of Sail


Now that you know how to sit, steer, and trim sails, we'll put it all together to describe how to best turn in a sailboat.
              • Sudden or sharp turns will slow the boat down. Stick to gradual turns.
              • You must maintain effective sail trim throughout the turn by sheeting the sail in or out as you turn. If you don't maintain proper sail trim throughout the turn your boat will slow down or stop moving.
              • Start turns by pushing or pulling the tiller away from the center line. Stop turns by returning the tiller to the center line.
Turning in a sailboat is commonly defined to in relation to the current wind direction.

Turning upwind
Heading up refers to turning the bow towards the wind direction. Any time you push the tiller towards the sail (and away from yourself), your boat will begin to head up. This is is also known as bearing uppointing up, or turning higher.

As you head up, you will need to sheet in to maintain effective sail trim because turning upwind will change the angle at which the wind starts flowing over the sail.

Turning downwind

Falling off is the opposite of heading up. It refers to turning away from the wind. Any time you pull the tiller away from the sail (and towards yourself), your boat will begin to fall off. This is also known as bearing awaypointing down, or turning lower.

As you fall off, you will need to sheet out to maintain effective sail trim because turning downwind will change the angle at which the wind pushes on the sail.

Points of sail
Sailors commonly describe their current course or "heading" in relation to the current wind direction. Various course angles relative to the wind direction are given different names, known as the points of sail. It's important to understand these terms so that you'll understand what how your sails should look depending on where the wind is--notice how the sails are pulled in tighter the more your bow points into the wind.

In the below illustration you'll notice duplicates (or mirrors) of each point of sail. Confusingly, the 'side' of the wind that a boat is on is also known as a "tack." A boat is on starboard tack when the boom is over the port (left) side of the boat, and it's on port tack when the boom is over the starboard (right) side of the boat.

No Go ZoneSailboats cannot sail directly upwind. If a boat is pointed too far upwind, it will not move forward. The arc in which boats are pointed too far upwind is called the No Go Zone.

If your boat is pointed in a direction contained by this zone, it will not move forward no matter how you trim your sails. A significant part of learning how to sail upwind is recognizing when you are pointed in this zone, and understanding how to get out of it (we've covered this in Your First Sail).