I've had chance recently to sail with some skippers that did uncontrolled gybes, on purpose. As in, that's just how they gybed. We're going to unpack a lot here. What is a controlled vs uncontrolled gybe? Why does it matter? What can go wrong with an uncontrolled gybe? Before we can even define controlled vs uncontrolled, first I want to talk about different types of gybes and when they're appropriate. But before we can do that, first we need to talk about two different modes of sailing: planing vs non-planing.
We'll keep this quick and simple. Non-planing is the "normal" mode of a sail boat, and especially most of our boats, most of the time. The boat is pushing its way through the water, reluctantly and (relatively) slowly. The dinghies we learn and teach on operate in this mode, except for in extreme and exciting circumstances. When you get into more high-performance boats, like our RS500, they are made to plane, which means they pop up on top of the water and, almost literally, start flying across the top of the water.
Why is this relevant to gybes? Because you gybe these two types of boats very differently. On a planing boat, its fastest point of sail is, by far, on a broad reach. And often you're flying a gennaker, because that's what they're made for, so you're moving at near (or above) wind speed. To gybe, you go from a broad reach at really high speed and drive down fast onto a dead run, at which point the apparent wind drops to almost nothing (because you're still planing and moving fast). As you keep turning through the wind, you just let the main sail flop over on its own, because there's very little pressure on it (pressure on the sail is determined by wind speed minus your speed. i.e., apparent wind speed). Then you keep turning up onto the new broad reach, maintaining your speed, and continue on your very merry way (or you don't do everything perfectly and you capsize, but ssshhh we don't tell people about those). This is often referred to as a racing gybe, as you're doing it at high speed and with minimal loss of speed.
But on a non-planing boat, or more accurately, on a boat in non-planing mode, you want to gybe differently, which is from a stable dead downwind course. This is how we generally teach gybing in our lessons. Get on a dead run, grab the main sheet falls and pull the main across. Here is how I like to teach it. Now, what you DON'T want to do is perform a racing gybe when you're not planing – which would be an uncontrolled gybe. Let's talk about why this is significant.
Remember, the reason a racing gybe works on a boat that's planing is because the force on the main is fairly low, so the actual flop of the gybe is relatively gentle. But if you're not flying downwind at high speeds with the kite up, the force on the main sail is much higher (due to the higher apparent wind), so if you just turn through a downwind course and let the wind catch the back of the main and flop it across the boat, it's going to do so with MUCH more speed and force. Several things happen here: