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How Boats Sail into the Wind

Benjamin Perlin

Outside of his work as an independent photographer, Benjamin Perlin likes to spend time on the water. An avid sailor, Benjamin Perlin enjoys exploring the science behind his interests.

A sailboat only rides along the wind if it is moving in a downwind direction. Much of the time, the boat is sailing almost into the wind, and in doing so, it works much like the wing of an airplane.

When wind hits a sail, it pushes the sail into a curvature similar to that of an airplane wing. This force would continue to push the sail except that the sail itself is attached to the boat on both ends, thus preventing further movement. Meanwhile, the wind is continuing to move against the sail with greater pressure on the windward side.
The difference in pressure causes the sail to move in the direction of the wind, which causes the boat to shift. However, the structure of the boat itself resists the concurrent sideways motion, so that the movement of the sail shifts the boat forward.

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