How were fully rigged ships able to sail into the wind?



For context, though I hope whoever has the answer already knows this, a full rigged ship is a sail driven vessel with three or more masts that are all “square rigged” (the sails run perpendicular to the hull of the ship). Think basically any pirate ship in any movie.

Now, I have a rudimentary understanding of the tacking process, but I still feel like I am missing something. Everything that I’ve read online sais that they could sail something like 67 degrees sharp into the wind…what I dont understand is that in my head canon that still puts the majority of the wind force on the front end of the ship, so how exactly did they move forward and not backwards?!?

Please explain like I am a particularly stupid 5 year old, I have been trying to wrap my head around this for a project for months now and I am just not getting it.

In: Other

The same way that airplane wings generate lift. Sails act like wings and generate “lift” in one direction. As long as there is wind in any direction, you can create a force vector to push the ship.

Answer. You don’t sail directly into the wind, you sail across it. Imagine the wind is blowing due East. If you set your sails correctly, and steer, you can go North and slightly West. After a while you re-rig the ship and go South and slightly West. It takes a long time and a lot of work. That’s why it was easier to sail down to the Equator, where the ‘Trade Winds’ blow east and west.

>Everything that I’ve read online sais that they could sail something like 67 degrees sharp into the wind

That does not necessarily apply to square-rigged sails. Tightly close-hauled sailing is really only possible with (at least *some*) Bermuda-rigging. How close to the wind you can sail with only square-rigged sails depends on the amount/angle of rotation you can perform with the spars.

Edit: Have a look at [this]( mostly square-rigged ship tacking.

The sails do not always have to be at a right angle to the hull. Even square rigged sails have the ability to turn around on the mast. So even if the wind is coming from a forward direction they can turn the sails to be able to catch the wind.

You are correct that a square sail is far more limited on its point of sail and can’t sail as close to the wind, its better suited for running

This is why even “[square-rigged](” ships had triangular bow sails (jibs and spankers) that would help them sail close to the wind. The sails on the bow could catch the wind coming from the side of the boat which pushes the boat mainly sideways(cancelled out by the keel) but also slightly forward, this isn’t nearly as fast as running with the wind 30 degrees off of port but most of these ships were super slow anyway. The HMS Victory was quite fast for its era at 11 knots (20 kph) so even if the triangular sails can only move it at 2 knots that’s not awful.

I feel like playing Sea of Thieves for a couple days would give you a of rudimentary understanding of this while actually simulating it. At least, this is how a 5 year old would learn to understand it 🤷‍♂️

I find it easier to think about a more modern boat to explain sailing into the wind, since that’s showing the process in a more ideal scenario.

So imagine a boat with a mast, and a mainsail hanging backwards off the mast. To sail into the wind you pull the sheets in, so the sails form a curve that starts at the mast and ends towards the back of the boat. This shape is similar to an aeroplane wing and generates a lift force. Why it generates the force is for a different post.

Let’s imagine that the wind is a northerly, coming from 0. The boat is pointing about 45°. With the sails acting like wings, they generate a lift force on the boat, let’s say it’s pointing 90°. Why doesn’t the boat go in that direction?

The other piece of this is the keel. This is a long, thin part of the boat that sticks down far into the water. The keel means the boat can only easily go forwards and backwards. Since there’s a lift force on the boat that’s partly pushing it forwards, the boat goes forwards.

You can’t go directly into the wind, usually you would go at about 45° to it. To go into the wind, you keep changing direction and zigzag towards the wind. This is called tacking.

A square sail can also be turned sideways so it forms a wing, it just isn’t a very good wing. You will notice that many these old ships had a vertical trapesium shaped sail at the back, called a gaff. They also have triangular headsails at the front. These sails are much faster for going into the wind, but still not nearly as good as modern sails. Part of the answer with old boats is that they had more time to wait until the wind was going in a useful direction