First tack Tradition / Ritual in Red Sunrise | World Anvil

First tack

First manoeuvre

The first time you get the command of a sail ship and you are expected to perform a manoeuvre by your self is a exciting moment, quite stressful with all the senior officers watching behind your back, uttering stupid remarks.

"Captain" Chiara called out.
Rose who was painting the bulwark on the poopdeck already knew what the question was. "Yes?"
"We're coming up to a course change, can you take over command so I can help the boatswain at the foremast." Chiara asked, as that is what they usually do in a situation like this.
Rose looked forward. They were close reached on a moderate breeze, coursing towards the beach, with a slightly offshore wind. "No, it's your command, you do the tack."
Chiara, who was visibly paler; "Oh uhm okay"


Tacking, the art of changing course of a sailing ship. When tacking, you are usually sailing with the wind coming from the forward, relative to the vessel. Between a Beam reach and Close hauled. The tack manoeuvre will pass the bow trough the wind, so that the wind is coming from the other side, and the ship changes course roughly 90 degrees.

A series of tacks to sail the ship against the wind is called; Beating or beating to windward.

The moment your vessel is pointing straight into the wind, there is nothing propelling the ship, but the momentum of the hull. An error in handling the sails or with the rudder can stop your vessel, and make it become dead in the water.

The opposite of tacking, is gybing, where you are sailing with the wind from behind, and you pass your stern trough the wind.
"Sorry boatswain." Chiara spoke timidly.
Michael was working on top of the deck house, and just didn't hear the third mate.
"Boats!" Chiara managed to call out.
-"Yes third?"
"We need to tack soon." Chiara informed him, while pointing forward.
Michael looked forward and then back at the cockpit, his eyes wondered over the Captain for a second, who was pretending to be very busy painting. And then bellowed:
Chiara cringed at his loud voice, and the uneasy feeling of the whole crew acting on their command.

Tacking a tall ship

Tacking a tall ship, or a barquentine as the Red Sunrise is. Is a bit more complicated than a small boat (see sidebar). There are more masts, more sails, even square sails. And more factors to take into consideration. On a small boat the margin of error is bigger, a mistake can easily be rectified, leaning over the right way might be enough. On a big ship, if you lose the wind you need plenty of space to correct your error.

Chiara looked at the wind and the course, and concluded there wasn't anything to gain from bearing away to gain speed. They turned off the auto-pilot and took the wheel into their own hands, giving it a minute to get the feeling of the rudder.
-"Standby for manoeuvres!" Came the call from the boatswain.
"Take down the Main, top and t'gallant staysails, and the jibs."
Michael repeated the orders and the sailors made quick work of unlashing the halyards, and the sails slid down the stays.
Chiara adjusted the course slightly as the surface area of the sails changed.


The Red Sunrise has three masts and square sails on the forward one. She might not come through the wind on momentum alone, as the wind has a lot of surface area to catch. To help her come around you can reduce the sail area forward, and haul over the sheets of the mizzen to have the aft most sail act as an air rudder.

"Ready About!" Chiara called out.
-"READY ABOUT!" Michael echoed loud enough to be heard all over the deck.
Chiara turned the wheel to port and the big ship started to turn. Almost immediately the sails started to luff.
"You tell them what to do, don't expect them to act on their experience, give the orders." Jan de Jongh spoke softly while standing behind Chiara, arms crossed over his chest, watching.
Chiara had in fact expected the boatswain to do what he usually does, but he didn't he was watching the third mate, waiting for the orders.


A big ship might have more mass that keeps it going longer after you take away the propulsion, but there is also more hull contact with the water, generating more friction. Slowing the ship down faster than one might expect. And also the speed necessary for the ship to react to the rudder is higher than in a small boat.

Chiara stressed now, with all the sails loudly flapping in the wind.
"Slack the braces!"
Chiara could see the lines slacking and the yards turning a bit as the wind pressure adjusted them. "Keep the staysail backing"
The forward sail would push the bow through the wind Chiara thought, and indeed the big ship started to turn into the wind.

In Irons

In irons with a ship, has little to do with being imprisoned and chained to the deck. Although this may happen. It is the name of the situation you find yourself in with the ship, if you have the bow in the wind, and none of the sails are doing anything useful, the speed is to slow or even stopped for the rudder to be of any effect. So you're unable to tack or gybe.

The Red Sunrise wasn't coming around, and Chiara was stressing. Why wasn't it working? They always did it like that, what did they forget? what went wrong? where some of the thoughts bouncing around in their brains.
-"If you keep going like this you'll get her in irons." Jan said, still standing and watching.
"I know, maybe I should get back on course to gain more speed?" Chiara asked.
-"No you do not have enough space to the beach, you can still turn her if you do it right.
Chiara looked up at the sails, at the crew on deck, at the wheel in their hands, which was still hard to port. What to do?
-"You have to do it now." Jan said, unhelpful. the mizzen
"I forgot the mizzen."Chiara looked behind.
"Bring the mizzen traveller to windward" And the sailors standby there did as the third mate asked.
Hopefully watching the compass and the wind to see what the ship did, but she didn't turn.
"Oh we sailing backwards today?" Bobby spoke while looking over the side at the stagnant water around the ship, while sipping tea from a steaming mug, his white coverall full of smudgy oily spots.
-"It seems like we do." Rose answered, standing beside Bobby and looking up at the sails.
-"You lost her, do you know how to get her out of this?" Jan asked Chiara.
-"You shouldn't have let go of the braces. Used those square sails just as you did the staysail. Now first change the rudder to hard to starboard, as we're going astern now.
Chiara gladly turned the wheel, happy someone was taking over.
-Now tell the bos'n what to do. It's still your command. Put those yards back.
"Tighten the starboard braces." Chiara called out over deck, and the boatswain repeated her order and the yards turned around.
-"We want to reduce windage on the stern." Jan advised next.
"Slack mizzen and main sheets."
And the booms of the main and mizzen sails just hang above deck, but then slowly the ship was turning to port, and the booms swung out like giant flags.
-"There she goes. Let her go, we have enough sea space behind us. The wind won't push us on the beach.
Chiara waited as the Red Sunrise turned all the way till she lay sideways on the wind. The ship had stopped going astern, the speed was zero.
"Brace the yards, all the way around. Haul on the main and mizzen sheet."
Chiara ordered and turned the wheel to midships. The sailors did what Chiara asked, and slowly the Red Sunrise gained speed. They were almost on a Broad Reach, going back the way they came from, having not turned 90° but 180°. But with the ship gaining speed. They ordered the sails lowered back up, and turned towards the wind, calling out for the sails to be trimmed.


Making mistakes is part of learning, and that also counts on a ship. The way you handle those mistakes how you fix your errors, are more important than executing the task perfectly. The senior crew will set you up to fail occasionally. Giving you a task too difficult to perform for your level of experience. The sailors know this too, and will wait and see how you perform, adding an extra stress level in your challenge.

How you handle yourself under pressure is what people want to know on a ship, what you want to know of yourself, a thing that is very difficult to simulate. Unless you are setup to fail, and allowed to make mistakes.

Tacking in a small boat

Tacking by Kangel via Wikimedia commons

1. When sailing close hauled, you first have to bear away a bit to gain speed.

2. Now you put the rudder to windward, and at the same time hauling in on the main sheet.

3. At this point you are facing into the wind, you keep the rudder at the same angle. If you have a jib this is the moment you have it inverted, the wind pushing on the wrong side of the jib, helping you push the bow in the right direction.

4. You change the jib over to the right side, and the wind starts to fill the mainsail, and you can adjust the sheet to have it work to push the ship.

5. Move the rudder back to midships, trim the sails, you are now sailing on the new course.

(Red arrow represents the direction of wind.)


Author's Notes

In response to: Summer Camp 2021, prompt 18: A coming of age ceremony.

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Jul 19, 2021 11:23

This is great, I love the narrative interspersed with the explanations! Overall it fits together smoothly and is a very engaging read.

Jul 19, 2021 13:48 by Bart Weergang

Thank you!

Jul 19, 2021 16:01 by Amélie I. S. Debruyne

Really great article! I love the narration and how you space that out with additional explanation :D I love all the crew just standing by and waiting to see what's going to happen while making "useful" comments XD

To see what I am up to: World Ember 2023 list of articles.
Jul 19, 2021 18:46 by Bart Weergang

Thank you, Amélie. This was a fun one to write.

Jul 24, 2021 04:15 by Wendy Vlemings (Rynn19)

"Oh we sailing backwards today?" made me laugh so hard, but I felt sorry for Chiara. I love how informative the article is, yet the prose parts break up the information in bits that are easier to digest. Well done!

Author of Ealdwyll, a fantasy world full of mystery.
Jul 24, 2021 05:45 by Bart Weergang

Thank you:) Glad the prose/information combination worked out so well!