In our last newsletter we mentioned that if you tack too slowly and lose momentum you may end up in irons (stalled).
The rudder can only work when the boat is moving so the boat needs to be travelling at a reasonable speed before you begin to tack.
When sailing in a light breeze you may need to ease the sails, including the main’s outhaul, slightly to deepen the curve and gain the necessary speed.
Sometimes waves will cause a boat to become stuck in irons, particularly when there is not enough wind to carry the boat through.
Another thing to avoid is centering the tiller too early. Unless the boat has passed head to wind, there’s a risk of stalling.
Remember: Don’t release the headsail until the boat is past head to wind. That should ensure the boat is safe on the new tack.
So there are a few ideas to help you avoid getting stuck, but how do you get unstuck?
If you can’t get on to the new tack or back on the previous one and the rudder doesn’t seem to be working, it’s likely that you are sailing backwards, in which case the rudder will be working in reverse.
Immediately you decide the rudder is taking you backwards in the ‘wrong’ direction, you should reverse the wheel, or tiller, so that it makes the bow fall in the direction you want to tack.
If this still doesn’t work, act as you would if completely becalmed. Get your crew to hold the boom on the new tack and get their weight on the leeward side of the boat.
Let the sails out as if you were on a very broad reach. When you get the slightest hint of a breeze, tighten the sails ever so slightly and sail in whatever direction that takes you until you get enough way up to go on the course you want.
Next time you tack, don’t be afraid to broaden the attack so that you have good speed, then be constantly aware of where the rudder is until safely on the new course.