By Ken Cluff
May 14, 2015

Sailing—Relying on the Power of the Wind


Sailing with your Scouts is a great way to teach them new skills, challenge them, and, most importantly as far as their concerned, have fun. It can be difficult to get into sailing if you’ve never done it before, however, especially since it requires specialized equipment. Fortunately, Scofield Scout Camp at Frandsen Scout Ranch is well stocked with sailboats and awesome instructors to give your teens this opportunity. Sign up now to have an adventure your Scouts will never forget. Here’s what Ken Cluff has to say about sailing with your Varsity Scouts:

When you rely on the power of the wind and on your Scouting wisdom, you can make small-boat sailing every bit as adventurous as any other water sport.

My first experience on a sailboat was when I was a Boy Scout.   Our Troop was invited by one of the ward members to go sailing on Utah Lake.   I don’t remember a lot of the mechanics from that trip; I was probably doing a lot of day dreaming.   However, to this day I remember one very eye opening event.   The Captain yelled out “sail-flip” which meant nothing to me until I got bonked on my head by the boom.   I found out later that I needed to duck or lower my head under the rig during the sail-flip.

Deer CreekWhen I was a Varsity Coach 30-some years later, I would take my Varsity Team to Deer Creek Reservoir for a “show & tell” merchants’ day.   The sailboat merchants would have their entire product line there for the public to use and try out.   There were Windsurfers, Dinghy sailboats, Catamaran twin hull sail boats and skilled instructors that loved to see the Varsity Scouts.

Wind powered vehicles are experiencing a great surge in popularity these days. Not only are they fun and exciting, but they cost nothing to run!

Are your Varsity Scouts up for a new kind of challenge? Would they like to venture in a different kind of sport? They might discover their long hidden talent in a fun activity. Swimming is probably the most popular water sport for our Varsity Scouts, and they might need it sometime in this kind of activity. All you are required to have is your love to control the power of the wind and your enthusiasm to learn. Sailing on land or water might be the sport your Varsity Scouts would love doing.

You don’t need to know much about how a piston engine works in order to drive a car.   You get in, start the engine, shift into gear, step on the gas, and off you go.

In sailing though, you play a far more active role in harnessing the energy that propels you forward. You can get stuck in “neutral,” with no wind in your sails—or you can even tip over—so it’s important to have a basic understanding of how a sail works.

The common sailboat comprises eight essential parts: hull, tiller, rudder, mainsail, mast, boom, jib and keel. The hull is the shell of the boat, which contains all the internal components. Its symmetrical shape balances the sailboat and reduces drag, or the backward pull caused by friction, as it moves in the water. Inside of the hull in the stern, or back of the boat, is the tiller, which is attached to the rudder in the water. Think of the tiller as the boat’s steering wheel and the rudder as the tire. To maneuver a sailboat to the right, for example, you pull the tiller to the left side of the boat, causing the rudder to alter its direction

It’s easy to see how you can move when you’re going in the same direction as the wind; the sail catches the wind and pushes you forward.   But how do you make progress sailing across the wind or even toward the wind?   Why don’t you always get blown along with the wind?

Sailboat PartsIf you think of the tiller as the steering wheel, then the sails and the keel are the engines. The mainsail is the larger sail that captures the bulk of the wind power necessary to propel the sailboat. Its vertical side attaches to the mast, a long upright pole, and its horizontal side secures to the boom, a long pole parallel to the deck. Sailors can rotate the boom 360 degrees horizontally from the mast to allow the mainsail to harness as much wind as possible. When they pivot the boom perpendicular to the wind, the mainsail puffs outward. Conversely, it goes slack when swung parallel to the wind. This freedom of movement allows sailors to catch the wind at whatever angle it blows. The jib is the smaller, fixed triangular sail that adds additional power for the mainsail. The keel, a long, slim plank that juts out from the bottom of the hull, provides an underwater balancing force that keeps the boat from tipping over. In smaller sailboats, a centerboard or daggerboard serves the same purpose as the keel, but can be raised or lowered into the water to allow for shallow water sailing.

SunflowerThe forces of the wind on the sails (aerodynamics) and the water on the underwater parts of the boat (hydrodynamics) combine to propel the sailboat through the water. The wind blows across the sails, creating aerodynamic lift, like an airplane wing. The lift contains a sideways force and a small forward force. Trimming the sails efficiently produces the most forward force and the least resistance.

Talking the Talk: Common Sailing Lingo

  • Starboard – on the right side
  • Port – on the left side
  • Stern – back of the boat
  • Bow – front of the boat
  • In irons – when the boat is going directly upwind and can’t catch wind in the sails
  • Luff up – direct the sailboat into the wind
  • True wind – the speed and direction of the wind as felt by a bystander on shore
  • Apparent wind – what you feel while the ship’s moving; a combination of the true wind and the wind that the boat’s motion creates.
  • Trim sails – setting sails for maximum efficiency

A sailboat would slide sideways with the wind if it did not have a centerboard or keel underneath the hull. The flow of water over the underwater surfaces creates lift also; a sideways force countering the force of the wind. The combination of these forces pushes the boat forward.

Sailing a boat is simple when you’re navigating downwind with the wind at your back. You let out the mainsail perpendicular to the wind to capture the most energy. As the wind presses directly into the sails to make them puff out, that natural force propels the boat forward.

SailboatPlotting an upwind course, against the wind, is much harder. Compare the difference between running with the wind behind you and running with the wind gusting at you. You exert more energy to run into it, rather than enjoying the gentle push of it at your back. In fact, it is impossible to sail directly upwind. Either the opposing force of the wind will push the boat backward if the sails are let out, or it will stall the boat if the sails are pulled in and slack. Sailors refer to this as being in irons. Instead, to reach an upwind destination, crews use a method calling tacking.

While the wind pushes the boat when going away from it (downwind) the opposite happens when going toward it (upwind). When you sail upwind, the boat is actually being pulled rather than pushed by the force of the wind. That forward pull is referred to as lift. For that reason, steering upwind must take a zigzagging path called tacking. By doing so, the wind approaches at an angle rather than head-on.

When tacking, the sails act as the engine of the boat, harnessing wind power. However, since the boat is moving angled to the wind, that wind power pushes the boat sideways. But remember that the wind isn’t the only element the boat interacts with. There’s also the water. As the boat tips to one side, the long, flat keel submerged underneath the hull, pivots upward with the motion of the boat, creating a sideways force in the opposite direction because of the amount of water it displaces as it moves.

When tacking successfully, these equal, opposing sideways forces cancel each other out. However, that collected wind power must go somewhere, so it is released in a forward thrust — there is nowhere else it can go. This is the same type of effect that happens when you shoot a marble. Your finger and thumb press equally hard on either side of the marble, causing it to zip forward.

After this happens, the sailor would alter course and tack again toward the opposite direction to gradually move upwind.

Trimming efficiently and ballast keep a sailboat from tipping over sideways (capsizing). Keelboats have a heavy concentration of weight, usually lead, in their keels. As the boat heels, the weight of the keel pulls back down. Since centerboard boats don’t have heavy keels, your Varsity Scout team must use their weight to counteract the heeling forces. If they get too far out of position, they could unbalance the boat and cause it to capsize.

The energy that drives a sailboat is harnessed by manipulating the relative movement of wind and water speed: if there is no difference in movement, such as on a calm day or when the wind and water current are moving in the same direction at the same speed, there is no energy to be extracted and the sailboat will not be able to do anything but drift. Where there is a difference in motion, then there is energy to be extracted at the interface, and the sailboat does this by placing the sail in the air and the hull in the water.


Land SailLand Sailing is hard to describe – it’s like sailing a boat on three wheels!   The wheeled vehicle can move faster than the wind speed ~ seems impossible doesn’t it?   The wheeled cart is about aerodynamics, it’s about counteracting forces, it’s – well, it’s about controlling the forces of the wind and moving along on three wheels.

A land sailing cart is essentially just a three wheeled go-cart that has a sail and is powered by the wind. The land model has light-weight wheels for nice hard surfaces and optional balloon wheels for firm but softer surfaces.   Beaches, dry lake beds, open playing fields all make good places to sail.   The speed achieved by your Varsity Scout can range up to around 35 MPH, hence protective clothing, including a safety helmet, must be worn by them.


Wind SurfHow long will it take to learn?  Well, compare it to something you’re familiar with—like the bicycle.  Learning to ride a bike is easy; you sit on it, push the pedals, and move the handle bars to maintain your balance.  Windsurfing is just as easy; you stand on it, hold the boom, and move the sail.  It’s really not complicated.

Actually, learning to ride a windsurfer is as easy as learning to ride a bike.  It’s also less painful: water being softer than pavement.  It’s safer, too; windsurfers are rarely bumped off their boards by cars.  What all this means is: if you have enough balance, coordination, and courage to ride a bicycle, then you can also ride a windsurfer.

For those who have never windsurfed, the initiation is about to begin.  Those who have sailed for a short time may still be going through it. Be assured that the process is a short one, and the end result is worth every bruise on your body.  So, stick to it.  The Varsity Scouts, who don’t have bumps to show for it, probably gave up and returned to water sports they are good at, like washing the windows or watering the lawn.


Radio sail boatHow would you like to RC sail at over 30 mph?  The remote controlled model land-sail are suited for modelers of all ages and skills.

These Radio Controlled model land-sail or land-yachts as they’re sometimes called are extremely fast with the capability to actually exceed, even double wind speed.  All you need is a parking lot and some wind and you can race or just cruise around flying wheelies. They can sail on concrete, blacktop, hard sand, dirt or any other smooth surface.  The smoother the field, the faster they go.

Ken Cluff
Author: Ken Cluff | Editor, The Varsity Vision Newsletter

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.