Sunfish side-switching as you tack - How do you do it?

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
Wouldn't you still want the daggerboard down on a reach though? I'm just curious as to the reason.
You want the board partway up on a reach. You don't need as much board down as you do upwind to stay on track, so you pull it up for less drag. The further off wind you are, the further you pull the board up. By the time you are going dead downwind it is all the way up. PJ would have his board adjusted properly, so you can use the video for some guidance based on how far off wind he looks to be.


Upside down?
Staff member
Yes, another way of looking at this issue is as follows:
When you are reaching you want the boat to be flat to minimize use of the helm. And you want the board up to a certain extent to minimize drag (as beldar boathead wrote).
Therefore, you sit back and lean out to the windward side. If the boat still heels, it's time to lower the daggerboard some (a few inches). Obviously, the strength of the wind and your weight will play a role in optimizing your boat speed on the reaches.
I almost never have the board all the way up. The only time I do that is if there is a ton of weeds in the water and I'm going down wind. You need the board down some, even downwind, to be able to steer the boat effectively without dragging the rudder at a sharp angle.
Thread starter #25
Go sailing, tack, tack, tack and don't try to complicate it.
If you don't think it's complicated to steer your boat through a 90 degree angle, keep the sheet pulled in all the way, switch the tiller extension to the other hand without ever letting go of it, switch the sheet to your other hand without letting go of it, duck under the boom, reverse the direction you're facing, avoid getting tangled in the loose sheet, and end up close hauled on your new course, all with a quick, well-coordinated method that minimizes errors and takes as little time as possible, then I suspect that you're actually settling for a less-than-ideal tacking method.

Tacking a Sunfish properly and competitively is complicated. Nobody is complicating it, that's just the way it is.
Thread starter #27
Well for me, it is better to get out there and do it instead of having a list of steps to think about.
Well, of course the whole idea is to practice until you don't have to think about it, but first make sure you're practicing doing it right. It makes no sense to me to practice a method that you might later realize is flawed, forcing you to unlearn it and start over. Practice is valuable and important as long as you're doing it right, but a waste of time if the way you're practicing turns out to be the wrong way.
I asked a couple of other people who are regarded as skilled Sunfish sailors, and was surprised to find that they also weren't sure how they did it. A couple of them actually had to take their boats out on the water and tack while watching themselves, and one actually got upset because paying attention to what he was doing caused him to become confused. !
This should have been your first clue you were over thinking the whole process. ;)
Thread starter #31
This should have been your first clue you were over thinking the whole process. ;)
Actually, it was my first clue that others were under-thinking the process.

As I continue to fine-tune my method of side-switching, I'm finding it very valuable to be able to pinpoint exactly what went wrong when things don't go as they should. It absolutely pays to pay attention to what you're doing.
I will now share my own personal tacking technique, and I will venture to say it is the only proper and true method. ;)

1. Decide that for some reason that the direction you are currently sailing in is no good.
2. Brace your beer between your feet, amid the clutter of the mainsheet, beef jerky bags, and condom wrappers.
3. Look around to make sure there aren't any waverunners bearing down on you. If there are, keep the pellet gun out of sight until they are within range.

1. Scream "LOOK OUT!" as a polite heads-up to your passenger(s).
2. Whip the tiller in one direction or another until the sail begins flopping wildly about.
3. Do not let the boom hit you in the head.
4. It's important enough to list twice. Do not let the boom hit you in the head. And keep an eye on the beer cooler while you're at it.
5. When the sail is flopping around on the other side of the boat and your passenger is sufficiently terrified, slide your ass to the side that isn't dragging in the water.
6. Shout "NOW WE'RE SAILING!!" while awkwardly trying to change tiller and mainsheet hands. Get them caught on and wrapped around each other in the process.
7. Scull the rudder back and forth in a valiant attempt to get out of irons. Assure your passenger that this is how the pros do it.
8. When the wind has once again filled the sail (on the opposite side, otherwise what you just did wasn't actually a tack), step on the mainsheet while you reach down and take a swig of that beer. Tacking is thirsty work. (Note: Occasionally a gust of wind will give you a rope burn on the bottom of your foot. This is normal.)
9. Have your passenger hand you another beer, then ask her why she still has that bikini top on. Ain't no other boats round here.
Thread starter #33
Thank you, Bozo the Clown. You really had my hopes up with that first sentence. If you decide to change your attitude and make an actual positive contribution then I, for one, look forward to reading it.
AK, Bozo the Clown was legendary entertainer, so thank you for the compliment. I'm sorry my sense of humor disappoints you, and I apologize for all future disappointments. Jonva, you are welcome and i'm glad someone gets it.

Now to keep this related to the current topic, if what you are doing works for you, do it and to hell with what anyone on the internet says. We're doing this for fun after all. Nobody is trying to feed their family on the illegal underground sunfish racing circuit. Or are they? Because that would make a hell of a movie.
Thread starter #36
We're doing this for fun after all.
Yes, I'm doing this for fun too, but I came in last in a race yesterday and that wasn't fun at all. For me, fun is learning how to do it right and then working hard to steadily improve until I can be reasonably proud of where I finish in a race. That's my goal, and that's why I came here for help.

Actually, in spite of where I finished yesterday, I think I have tacking down pretty well. Now my two biggest problems seem to be (1) starting and (2) beating. I know what I need to practice to get quicker off the starting line, but I'm having a lot of trouble keeping up my speed when I'm close-hauled. We probably shouldn't get into that in this thread though because it would be off-topic. Are there resources on this site that I should read?
The subject of the upwind groove was discussed in this thread from a few weeks ago:

and if you search you may find more discussions from earlier. Starting I haven't seen recently but a search of this forum and the laser forum (which has a higher percentage of racers) should likely turn up some useful discussions. The Sunfish bible also had some useful discussions on racing starts. Good luck and keep practicing!
Oh please. Roll back, take the tiller extension and sheet to the other side with you, switch behind the back and go on. Stop already.

beldar boathead

Well-Known Member
Please keep in mind that sailing is a deadly serious sport and there is no room for joking, especially about something as serious as the 14 step process to better tacking :)


Upside down?
Staff member
It looks like this thread has run its course.

As may have become apparent from the comments, it does depend on how one enjoys sailing. I believe that a minority of Forum contributors race, but for those who do, proper technique is quite relevant.
A very well known Laser coach claims that for each improper/slow tack one looses one boat length, and since we tack multiple times to get to the windward mark, proper execution is important.