Basic Sailing – Lesson One

It is a good idea to get a basic sailing book. There are a lot of them out there. I got this one on Amazon for a penny, plus shipping. There really is no substitute for hands on experience, though, so you might want to take a course, especially if you plan to go sailing on larger boats.The best way to learn the basicis is if you can get your hands on a small sailing skiff like sunfish or a hobie, just jump in and do it. You will be sailing in no time. You can learn what to call everything later.

Or you can learn the fundamentals all here, so that when you do actually get out on the water, things will make more sense. Much of the terminology is foreign to newbies, and makes it awkward at first, but there is nothing hard about it. Slow and steady wins the race. Take one lesson at a time and master all the terms before you go to the next.

Lesson 1: Points of Sail; Finding wind Direction; Tacking; Windward; Leeward;

The first and most important thing you need to know is the fact that no sailboat of any kind can sail directly into the wind. It is impossible. If you want to sail to a point that is directly toward where the wind is coming from, you cannot get there in a straight line- you will have to zig zag to get there. About the best you can hope for if you want to go directly into the wind is to make a course about forty five degrees to the right or to the left of the destination. This process of zig zagging back and forth towards your mark is called “tacking”. More on tacking later.

Click on this diagram and study it. Note the shaded wedge at the top, in which the boat cannot sail. Any other direction in the circle, the boat can sail there just fine in a straight line.


The first skill you need to develop is to be able to tell where the wind is coming from. This takes practice at first, but will become second nature with some experience. You don’t need a weather man to know which way the wind blows. You can’t see the wind, but you can feel it. You can feel it on your face. You can turn your head until you feel it equally on both ears, or try holding up your hands until you feel equal pressure on each palm. It is easy, really. Many folks don’t pay much attention to the wind’s direction, but a sailor always must. There are other ways to tell which way the breeze is blowing, like looking at a flag, or at a smokestack, or at a little piece of ribbon tied off somewhere on the boat. If all else fails look up at that arrow thing on top of the mast. 🙂

Wind is referred to by the direction it comes from. A North wind is a wind that is coming FROM the north, and so forth.

When you are looking towards the direction that the wind is coming from, you are looking to WINDWARD. Some times this direction is referred to as “to weather”.

If you are looking away from the direction that the wind is coming from, you are looking to LEEWARD. (Usually pronounced “lee-ward”, but some smart alecks use a traditional pronunciation “loo-ard”).

OK, so if you are facing directly into the wind, anything forward of an imaginary line to your immediate right and left is considered “to windward”, and anything behind you and this imaginary line is “to leeward”.

It is possible to sail to windward, but not to sail in a straight line directly into the wind, and it is possible to sail to leeward, or downwind, in any direction. Look at the chart again, these different directions are called points of sail, and each has a name. A ‘reach” is when the wind comes from somewhere off the side of the boat. A “run” is when the wind is coming from directly behind the boat.


Terms to learn:

Now use them in a sentence:
Johnny peed on himself today as we sailed up the channel on a close reach. He was hanging over the leeward handrail when the boat tacked and suddenly he found himself on the weather side before he could finish.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *