Sailing into the Wind

I am a sailor, and one of the questions that I get asked when out on the water is, “how does a sailboat sail into the wind?” It is a great question, and one of the marvels of sail design. Without going into too much detail, it can be boiled down to physics.

Physics, as a course, is challenging – just ask my kids. But physics is simply the way we humans explain some of the most fundamental truths of our world, like sailing upwind. So here goes – when sailing into the wind, the leading edge of a sail is pointed nearly directly into the flow of air. As the air splits around the sail, some travels on the inside, which has inward curve, and some on the outside, which has an outward curve. The wind on the outside accelerates and exerts more pressure on the sail than the inside, and lift is created. Lift, or the force against the sail, is translated through the boat and pushes it. The thing is, it mostly pushes sideways which should only make the boat move sideways, but there is a large keel and rudder under the water that opposes that force. Force does not just give up and go home, it translates through the path that the boat design allows, making the boat go forward. Ingenious, right?

While it took man a while to figure this one out, God knew it at creation, in fact He invented it, along with wind and everything else. It is the essence of Him, and that is why it reflects His story.

A sailboat that has been properly rigged and trimmed can move into the wind, because it has aligned itself properly to the direction of the wind, and is able to use its design to draw power from that force. A boat that is not properly trimmed can try to sail into the wind, but will get knocked off, or even knocked over, and fail to move ahead. A sailboat, no matter how beautiful, majestic, or even well trimmed, will go nowhere if there is no wind to lift it. The relationship must exist, and both parties must do their part. The wind must blow, and the sailboat must be in a right state to receive it and work from it.

In my life, I have been a sloppy rig at times, and I have seen the result of that in the way my wife, children, and the world reacts. I have sat in irons on the lake cursing my situation, not understanding that my sail trim was the majority of the problem, that the lift was there for me if I would only take it. I have also rode with amazing power through the water of this world sailing into the wind. I have received lift from that invisible force by aligning myself. When doing so, I have plowed new waters with ease, even with enjoyment. Likewise, there have been quiet times, with barely a breath of wind, when I was forced to sit still and wait on the wind.

I could give lots of deeper connections to this in our lives, but the point is Gods design, His essence, His creation, is imprinted on everything. The relationship between sail and wind is just one glimpse. We have been graced with a chance to understand God through understanding the physics of lift, and I believe that it delights our Lord that we figured it out, and that we use it.

James 4:10 says “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

Sailing anyone?