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On a given point of sail, the sailor adjusts the alignment of each sail with respect to the apparent wind direction (as perceived on the craft) to mobilize the power of the wind.
The forces transmitted via the sails are resisted by forces from the hull, keel, and rudder of a sailing craft, by forces from skate runners of an iceboat, or by forces from wheels of a land sailing craft to allow steering the course.
Advances in sailing technology from the Middle Ages onward enabled Arab, Chinese, Indian and European explorers to make longer voyages into regions with extreme weather and climatic conditions.
Conventional sailing craft cannot derive power from sails on a point of sail that is too close into the wind.From the 15th century onwards, European ships went further north, stayed longer on the Grand Banks and in the Gulf of St.Lawrence, and eventually began to explore the Pacific Northwest and the Western Arctic.Depending on the angle of attack of a set of sails with respect to the apparent wind, each sail is providing motive force to the sailing craft either from lift-dominant attached flow or drag-dominant separated flow.Additionally, sails may interact with one another to create forces that are different from the sum of the individual contributions each sail, when used alone.
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Likewise, the directly downwind speed of all conventional sailing craft is limited to the true wind speed.