Sailing into the Wind

A boat can sail with the wind or at an angle to the wind, but it can never sail directly into the wind.  If the sailor wants to go into the wind, he must “tack into the wind.”  This means that he will sail close-hauled in one direction for a bit then “come about” (turn the bow of the boat through the wind) and sail close-hauled in the other direction for a while.  Thus, the sailor will steer a zig-zag course in the general direction he wants to go.

When Ben says that the dinghy sailboat can’t “point,” he means that when he tries to sail into the wind, he can’t sail close-hauled—he can’t get as close to the wind as 45 degrees.  Perhaps the highest the dinghy can point is about 60 degrees.

You can imagine that a sailor steering into the wind will want to point as high as possible in order to make fewer tacks and get to his destination sooner.  As this diagram shows, the sailor who points at 45 degrees can get through the narrow pass in only two and a half tacks while the sailor who points at 60 degrees needs four full tacks to make it through the pass.