As soon as the sails are drawing and the boat is beginning to move, be sure you are sitting on the side of the boat the wind is coming over – opposite the sails (as shown here). The wind against the sails will make the boat heel (lean) over, and your weight is needed on the high side to keep the boat from capsizing.
As soon as the boat is moving, water is streaming past the rudder and the boat can be steered with the tiller (see tiller in Part 1). If you have ever used an outboard motor on a small boat to steer by pushing the motor's tiller arm, then you already know how to steer a small sailboat, since the tiller works the same way.
If you have never steered with a tiller before, it takes a bit to get used to, because it seems to work the opposite of what you might expect. To turn the boat to the left (port), you move the tiller to the right (starboard). To turn the boat to starboard, you move the tiller to port.
This makes sense when you look at how the rudder is hinged to the stern of the boat. Moving the tiller one direction rotates the rudder to the other side, and water moving against the rudder pushes the stern of the boat the other direction. Look at this photo and think through these steps to better understand:
- Move the tiller toward the port (left) side, as this sailor is doing.
- This swings the rudder out a little on the starboard (right) side.
- The water against the rudder's starboard side causes a pushing motion that moves the stern the other direction, to port.
- Moving the stern to port means the bow now points more to starboard. Steering by moving the stern is very different from steering a car, where the front wheels turn the front of the car. A boat steers by pushing the stern one way or the other – like driving a car in reverse.
Don’t worry if this sounds confusing - you’ll learn this very quickly on the water! Most important, make very small movements of the tiller until you get a feel for steering!