Points of sail

There are no hard and fast definitions of the various points of sail – no specific headings relative to the wind that tell you if you’re broad reaching or running, for instance.

To me it’s simple – when you can’t get any closer to the wind without luffing you are close hauled. When you fall off the wind a little from this point you are close reaching, off the wind a bit more until it’s on the beam and you’re beam reaching – the clue is in the name.

When the wind moves aft of the beam we get to a broad reach and then when the wind is roughly behind the boat we’re running. 

But, as with other aspects of sailing, there are complications; when you slack the sheets a bit from a close hauled course you can be said to be sailing ‘full and by’ and only after that do you get to close reaching. 

And close reaching is also called fine reaching, just to further complicate things for the beginner.

The other side of close hauled from full and by is ‘close and by’, which many call ‘pinching’ – trying to get even closer hauled than close hauled, resulting in too much luffing and a loss of speed. Full and by is often defined as sailing close hauled with the sails full – as opposed to close and by which is sailing close hauled with the jib luffing. 

Downwind you can get yourself into the perilous position of ‘sailing by the lee’, introducing the prospect of an unintended gybe if the helmsman is trying to work out what the hell ‘sailing by the lee’ means instead of concentrating on steering.

With more and more sailors having wind instruments to give them a precise heading relative to the apparent wind these points of sail may eventually become redundant or simply quaint. 

That would be a pity.

Don’t forget, you need to download my eBook (over there on the top right is a clicky thing); modesty prevents me from telling you what a good read it is, suffice it to say that you’ll be helping Leukemia research so there’s no downside even if the books a crock. Let’s get it back up to number one in the Amazon watersport section – you can do it!