THE MOST IMPORTANT THING YOU MUST KNOW IS THE DIRECTION FROM WHICH THE WIND IS BLOWING.
Program someone to ask you, every 2 minutes “where is the wind coming from?” You must point to it instantly, and be right. Put a Windex wind vane at the top of the mast, and keep your eye on it. If you don’t know wind direction, you will look sort of stupid when trying to use the wind as your engine. There are clues everywhere; flags, smoke, dust, moving clouds, ripples on the water, other sailboats, and blowing debris. Above all, you can feel the wind direction on your face. Turn toward the wind. When you are aimed straight at it, you will feel it evenly on both ears, cheeks, hair, etc. Be aware.
Sailing with the wind is easy. Just aim the boat and the wind will blow you along. A boat sailing downwind looks like this.
This is no more complex than letting a balloon blow with the wind. (Except that you can steer.) You can sail downwind, slowly, without sails. (This is good for docking.)
Just get the sails out there at right angles to the wind. You control the angle of the sails to the wind with the sheets (the lines that connect to the rear of the jib and to the rear of the boom). The wind pushes on the sails, and the boat moves. Notice the turbulence behind the sails, just like the turbulence behind a truck as it speeds along. If the wind gets on the wrong side of the mainsail, it can slam over fast and hard, just like the wind will slam a door if it gets on the wrong side. This is called jibing. Be careful. More on this later.
SAILING ACROSS THE WIND.
This is a whole different act. Notice, in the next set of drawings and photos, that the wind is now flowing smoothly across the sails, much like the wind moves across the wing of an airliner.
Sailing across the wind
Basically, the sails are diverting wind from its original direction toward the rear of the boat. Every pound of wind that is deflected toward the rear of the boat gives a forward push to the boat. Actually, the wind gives a push both forward sideways (making the boat lean). However, the rudder and the centerboard keep the boat from sliding sideways, so it squirts forward, much like a watermelon seed shoots out forward when you squeeze it between your fingers.
SAILING INTO THE WIND.
This is just like sailing across the wind, except that the sails are pulled in closer to the centerline of the boat, and you are now trying to sail as close into the wind as you can. This is tougher to do, and the boat won’t go as fast as when sailing across the wind. The following drawing shows the boat sailing toward the wind. This is as close into wind as you are going to get.
Notice the smooth wind flow across the sails, and the lack of turbulence. Wind is being properly diverted toward the rear of the boat, and like the blast of air coming out of the rear of a jet, pushing the boat forward and sideways. More of the force is now sideways, so the boat will tend to lean more, but it will still squirt forward, since the centerboard is keeping it from going sideways.
You can’t sail straight into the wind. The sails will flap like flags, divert no wind, and you will just sit there, frustrated, dead in the water. This is being “in irons”. So how do you get to point A in the above drawing if you can’t sail directly toward it. You zig zag, (tack) like this.
THE FIRST DAY OUT.
Launch the boat on a nice day with a light breeze. There should be just enough wind to move the boat around. (You have to be moving if you expect the rudder to work.) Fill the ballast tank. Make sure the rudders and centerboard are all the way down. Start the engine. Power slowly out to the middle of a calm body of water, where there is nothing to bump into, point into the wind, and put up the mainsail. Keep the engine running slowly, moving the boat about 2 mph. With the engine running and moving the boat forward, try to duplicate what you see in the above diagrams. Sail with the wind, across the wind and as close into the wind as you can go. Blunder around like this for a while, trying to match the angle of the boom to the wind as you see in the diagrams. After a half hour or so of this, you will get a good feel of what works and what doesn’t. If you screw up, or the sails shove the boat in a direction that you don’t wish to go, overpower the sails with the engine. Use reverse if you have to stop. In a tug of war between the engine and the sails in moderate winds, the engine will win.