When Should I Tack?

Any sailing wizzes out there who can answer this?

I’m wondering whether I’m leaving it too late to tack, and thereby covering more ground.

Tack 1
Tack 1
These examples are from our recent sailing holiday and show the actual tracks as recorded by my Garmin 96C. My instinct tells me that shorter tacks will result in the same mileage and might even take longer because of the loss of speed when tacking, but looking at these tracks it appears that more frequent tacking might be better.

Any suggestions?

Tack 2
Tack 2
Tack 3
Tack 3

3 Replies to “When Should I Tack?”

  1. Looks like your tacking angles are poor.

    Eyeballing it, you are barely doing 120 degrees between tacks overground.

    I would worry more about getting closer to 90 degrees between tacks, rather than how often you do tack.

    You don’t show which direction you were going, so its hard to see if you were being headed, there are bends in your tracks that suggest you may have continued to sail into 20 degree shifts.

  2. Thanks for responding, Sheldon!

    These are the worst examples and two of them were in force 6-7 so we were reefed in a little. The boat was a Beneteau Oceanis 37 which is probably built for comfort more than speed.

    The sailing felt fine at the time. It’s only now, looking at the tracks, that I wonder if I could have done better.

  3. As always, it depends. Unless the wind is coming directly from where you want to go to where you are coming from, there will always be a ‘best tack’ and this will also depend to some degree on whether the wind is strengthening in the gusts and whether it is veering or backing. Also, of course, the main consideration should be the current, as what you can do is use the leeway to counteract any tidal/current set.

    There is no rule about length of tacks, and it’s true that the act of tacking loses boat speed momentarily, but that should not make a great difference over a period of time. In brief, there are too many variables to give you a black and white answer. Just enjoy the sailing for now, but some racing experience in keel boats would help you a lot with this issue.

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