What is the meaning of the phrase "tack against"?



I have come across it in this video. It is at 4 minute and 28 second.

Along the way we are also going to try to understand some of what is wrong with the way our information feeds are currently working and how we can tack against prevailing winds of misinformation.

What is the meaning of the phrase "tack against" here?

Dmytro O'Hope

Posted 2019-01-28T09:32:04.090

Reputation: 11 145

20Note: "tack against" is almost always paired with "wind", as in your quote. – CJ Dennis – 2019-01-28T12:32:00.390



Tacking is a sailing technique that allows you to sail against the direction of the wind.

The speaker is using a metaphor, regarding how they can progress despite the problem of misinformation.


Posted 2019-01-28T09:32:04.090

Reputation: 762

2Although normally not directly against the wind. – WhatRoughBeast – 2019-01-29T00:22:27.800

4@WhatRoughBeast: Well, you can tack directly against the wind on average, in the long run. Just not in a straight line. – Ilmari Karonen – 2019-01-29T19:28:52.017


Tack against prevailing winds is a nautical sailing term.

Sailing against the wind is very difficult for a sailing ship – the force of the wind prevents the sails from moving the ship in that direction.

Sails on sailboats can be shifted so that they can still get motive thrust from the wind within a range of degrees towards the wind, though (it depends on ship and sail design). So an old sailing trick is to sail at an angle as close to the wind you can manage – and then after a little bit switch course to the mirror opposite angle against the wind. The net result is a zigzag course roughly against the prevailing wind. That zigzagging known as "Tacking".

Its certainly slower than sailing with the wind – but it does allow you to make headway if you need to be traveling in the direction the wind is blowing from.


Posted 2019-01-28T09:32:04.090

Reputation: 271

3The speed of a vessel with a triangular sail and a centerboard that is close hauled (i.e., sailing as close to upwind as possible) is actually its fastest speed. Running (sailing directly downwind) is the slowest speed of the boat (assuming a constant wind speed). I don't know all the physics that cause this. Depending on the boat geometry and the wind speed, you can actually make better time tacking straight upwind than you can running downwind. This is why racing vessels have spinnakers. They are special sails for running that catch as much wind as possible to try to run faster downwind. – Todd Wilcox – 2019-01-29T14:36:28.500

"Prevailing" is not part of the nautical expression, though. The metaphor would work just as well if it just say "tack against the wind of misinformation". The word "prevailing" makes the additional claim by the author that his (metaphorical) "wind of misinformation" is a prevailing wind.

– hmakholm left over Monica – 2019-01-30T03:27:06.150

@HenningMakholm, none of it is the nautical term, "beating" is the nautical term, but that doesn't work so well out of context. – Separatrix – 2019-01-30T08:02:15.660


@ToddWilcox the RYA say a beam reach is faster than a close reach, and that was certainly my experience in dinghy sailing.

– Chris H – 2019-01-30T09:40:24.667


@ChrisH And Physics.SE agrees with you also: https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/186515/why-is-a-beam-reach-the-fastest-point-of-sail-on-modern-sailboats I thought Chapman’s said close hauled was fasted. Close hauled is definitely not the slowest direction in any case. Maybe close hauled is just the most exciting (for me, at least) and my excitement at sailing close hauled gives me the false impression of speed.

– Todd Wilcox – 2019-01-30T14:07:15.833

1@ToddWilcox as some of your impression of speed will be from the feeling of wind, I suspect that the net airflow you feel will be (i) faster and (ii) more on your face when sailing close-hauled. – Chris H – 2019-01-30T14:13:22.510


From M-W:


c) to follow a course against the wind by a series of tacks.


Posted 2019-01-28T09:32:04.090

Reputation: 6 473

16I'm not sure it really helps to define "tack" the verb in terms of "tack" the noun without saying what that noun means and without even saying that the context is sailing ships. – David Richerby – 2019-01-28T15:24:01.057



Tacking is sometimes confused with beating to windward, which is a process of beating a course upwind and generally implies (but does not require) actually coming about. In the accompanying figure, the boat is seen to tack three times while beating to windward.

That is, beating windward is a process in which one moves towards the wind, but also has a sideways component to one's velocity. Tacking is the process by which one changes the direction of that sideways component, allowing one to have the sideways components cancel out and have a total movement that is directly into the wind. While in sailing, "tacking" refers specifically to the act of changing direction (a technique that is just one part of moving windward, and is used for movements other than moving windward), in general usage it tends to be used to refer to the entire process of moving windward, or, as in this example, metaphorically moving in a direction opposite to some prevailing tendency.


Posted 2019-01-28T09:32:04.090

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