Tacking Smoothly

We are especially concerned with tacking more smoothly and with more subtlety. If you just push the tiller hard over as fast as you can, then rush across the boat as fast as you can the rudder acts like a brake, the whole plot rocks about, and its some time before the boat is steady again. OK, you get round, but it can be done so much better. Also be careful to not turn the boat too far - much easier is you are turning gently. Quite how much better can be difficult to appreciate without seeing it. If you can spend half an hour or so on a Wednesday evening or a Sunday morning and watch the people at the front of the races you''ll see how elegant, neat and fuss free tacking can be. Don''t be deceived - there''s a lot of practice and, in two handed boats teamwork involved. Carl and Julie Mayhew (FX blows the boss'' trumpet) in their RS400 are well worth looking at for instance. If you look at some of the people at the back of the races you may feel a lot happier about your own progress, but that is quite another matter!

So what should you do? Practice tacking slowly. Now you can get round - in light to moderate winds anyway - without too many disasters try deliberately slowing up the tack. Don''t push the rudder hard over, push it gently, so the boat turns more slowly and evenly. You''ll find a point between too fast and too slow that just feels nice.

Now its time to consider the balance while you tack. Feel how the boat responds to the turn. You should be balanced on the balls of your feet as you start the tack, ready to transfer your weight from one side to the other. As you sense the boat just beginning to heel one way or the other you should be fractionally shifting your weight to compensate, Its almost like balancing on a see-saw really smooth and steady does it. As you become more comfortable tacking you can start to use the balance to help the turn (roll tack).
Allow the boat to heel slightly before the tack. That makes the sails start to turn the boat towards the wind so you need less rudder. As the boat starts to turn ease a bit of mainsheet and smoothly bring the boat upright and then heeled the other way as you pass head to wind. When the boat is on the new course bring the boat back upright - this can be important with fully battened sails or a tight top batten to help the battens ''pop'' to the new side. As you bring the boat upright you generate air flow over the sail - don''t sheet right in again until the boat is upright. Done well a roll tack costs you nothing. Remember it is against the rules to propel the boat by rolling, you should not come out of the tack faster than you went in, but being able to tack with no loss of speed on a wind shift is a huge advantage.
In a 4 lap race with one long beat you might easily tack 4 times per beat - that''s 16 times (and in a shift wind or a course with two beats it could be a lot more). If you gain half a length on each tack by practice that''s at least 8 lengths. Races are often won by less. The difference between a smooth roll tack and a rushed tack that turns the boat a bit too far is much more than half a length