How to Properly Pass Thru a Puff
The normal reaction to a puff while going upwind is to luff into it while keeping the sails strapped in tight. (It is what I have been practicing since I was 10 years old.) The theory is that you can make some distance to windward because you are pointing higher. The big downside of this is that (1)the boat looses speed as it turns, and (2)the sail loses power while operating at the much smaller angle of attack. Then you have to (3)regain the speed you lost by easing the sheet a little and bearing off a little after the puff passes. You can loose a lot of speed for little or no gain to windward.
Here is a better way. You just skip the luffing up, then the heading down, Go straight to just easing the sheet. This works in both light and heavy winds.
When a puff hits, do this:
■ The sheet hand moves to leeward. (To depower the top of the sail.)
■ The tiller hand moves very slightly to leeward. (Maybe 2") (Because all puffs lift slightly.)
■ The body moves to windward. (To balance the boat.)
The boat will (1)not loose its speed by turning and (2)the sail will increase its drive while (3)reducing healing.
The basic routine is that, to stop the boat's healing, your two hands will start moving in the same direction as the masthead is moving, while your body will start moving in the other direction. Don't be surprised that once you have the feel for it, only relatively small hand movements will be necessary to keep the boat moving steadily and upright through a puff.
Try this in lighter winds to become used to it. Make the boat roll back and forth when you want it to. Move both hands simultaneously to leeward to make the boat roll more upright, and vice versa. Use small movements until you get the feel for it.
When you encounter puffs in really strong winds, stay hiked out, but do not luff into the gusts. Maintain your heading, and ease the sheet to keep the boat upright. The biggest difference between sailing in light winds, and in strong winds, is that in the lighter winds, the body moves while the sheet movement needed is small, while in the stronger winds, the body is already at full hike and the sheet movement needed becomes much greater. Try it, you'll like it!