by Mark Johnson
eine kurze Beschreibung: um was es während einer Regatta
eigentlich geht ...
When a sailor begins to race, many questions come up, such as, 'How do the sails
work', 'Why do I always get passed on the
mark roundings,' and 'What's a mark rounding?' You can
answer many of these questions by poring over various texts on aerodynamic
theory and tactics manuals. In fact, that's one of the best ways to
improve your knowledge about the sport in a thorough and detailed way.
However, this short intro should provide some quick answers to basic
questions in a relatively painless and comprehensive way. It should also
provide some background to make the reading of other sailing literature
I will assume a basic knowledge of sailing (being able to get the boat
to move, without running into a lot of stuff), as well as a basic
knowledge of how to get around a race course (knowing upwind, downwind,
and mark roundings, as well as a few basic rules). This guide is separated
into the major steps you will go through during a regatta, in
chronological order. Each chapter outlines the main ideas and theory
associated with these steps. Some chapters include 'TECHNIQUE'
sections explaining particular ideas which are important to boat speed,
and which are mentioned in outside racing literature. Also, 'SKILLS' sections may be included, providing particular tasks to
practice, directly applicable to the leg of the race upon which the
Every race, you'll make many mistakes. The key is to forget about them
for the moment, and go on with the race. It never helps your game to
dwell on a mistake. All the energy spent on the last blunder takes
concentration - concentration that is needed for sailing a great race. It
might help to say 'fuck,' but only once.
After the race, it will be time to recall the mistakes and put them on
paper. Get a notebook and write as much of the race as you can remember,
outlining it from start to finish. The point of your notebook is not to
dwell, but to compile a list of frequently made errors which can be
easily fixed. For instance, I often run into trouble at mark roundings
with other boats. Knowing that, I try to concentrate a little harder on
what will happen before I get to the mark, in order to avoid
problems. Use your mistakes later to clean up your game, but don't let
them interfere at the time they happen.
How to Practice
Keep in mind that sailing, like any other skill, should be practiced.
It should be practiced with the intent of improving the slowest part of
your game first. Roll tacks are fun, but if you can't 'stay on the
wind' on the first windward beat, you'll lose big, even if your
tacks are the best in the world (if you don't know what a roll tack is,
don't worry - it's explained a little later). You should always make a list
of priorities, with the goal of making the biggest improvement possible.
Many of the skills mentioned in the following chapters can be
practiced alone with no props, or with one buoy in the water. It is
always good to practice with other boats, if for no other reason than to
combat boredom. However, there is much to be gained even if no one else
is around. Read on.
Too many times new racers concentrate on skills that add very little
to their speed, given their skill level in other, more important areas.
It is far too easy to practice skills that are fun or that have already
been mastered. Also, many of the 'tricks' you can learn, like
the roll tack, take a great deal of concentration and practice to do them
correctly in a race. Don't crowd your brain with too many things to do -
the basics are what are important.
You will notice the huge emphasis on boat speed and boathandling in
the discussions below. Many times you will hear the phrase, 'get
your head out of the boat,' meaning you should watch what's going on
around you. That's BAD advice for the new racer. What you should
be doing if you're new to the sport is 'getting your head into
the boat.' You must develop the skills necessary to making the boat
go fast before you can worry about strategy or other boats. Learn the
basics first, or you will find yourself unable to use your new tactics
and go-fast tricks because you will be 1/2 mile behind by the first mark.
The remainder of this guide is ordered chronologically, given the
context of an actual race. This has been done to make reference to ideas
quick and simple. The priorities in this chapter, however, outline the
order you should follow to improve your racing skills.
Read this guide once, straight through, to see each idea. Then,
following the list above and referring to the appropriate chapters,
practice each skill and idea until it is mastered at a moderate level. At
that point, you'll notice different weaknesses because of your improved
skill level and awareness. You can then form a new priority set,
requiring new resources. These new resources can include self-speed
evaluation, observation of other racers, conversation with other racers,
aero/hydrodynamic texts, and sailing texts. Each offers a more detailed
look at a particular area, such as downwind tactics or the causes and
effects of induced drag.
When sailing, your attention should be split about 70% boatspeed and
30% other things. As you improve, you will be able to put more emphasis
on the other things, since your body and senses will take over most of
the boatspeed things. Going fast will just feel right. Learn to
drive the car before you learn to change the radio station while flipping
off the other drivers. After some practice, you can flip everybody off
while listening to Led Zeppelin, without crashing.
Basic Sail Theory
Upwind vs. Downwind
||The preceding and following discussions apply to a boat going
upwind. When the boat travels dead downwind, many things change, such
as the way the wind is used. When traveling downwind, the wind simply pushes
the sail. I will leave more discussion of downwind aerodynamics out for
brevity, and will concentrate on the first priority: beating.
Draft of the Sail
||The sail is the foil driving the boat. In order to
maximize the speed of the boat in different conditions, you must change
the depth of the foil. This depth is called the draft of the sail. Its
size and location can be changed using the sail controls discussed
below. These changes are important because the optimal draft position
and size change with the condition of the wind and water.
Position: It will be best to have the draft of the sail a
little forward of halfway.
Size: In general, the bigger the draft, the more power. A
large draft is like first gear in your car, giving lots of power to
accelerate, but topping out at a fairly low speed. A flat sail is fifth
gear. The sail attains a higher speed, and will point higher into the
wind, but it also takes longer to accelerate.
It should not be difficult to understand that air, when traveling
slowly, does not have the same high energy as when it is traveling
quickly. When a light wind hits the sail, it will try to get around the
sail as best it can, but it gives up quickly if the draft is too large.
Keeping the sail flat will help a very light wind get around the sail.
You should notice when a puff hits, those with fuller sails will pass
you. However, if the air is steady enough, your set-up will make you
faster in the long run, at least upwind.
In moderate winds, you can follow the rule: 'The bigger the
draft, the more power - the smaller the draft, the more speed.' Make
the decision how to set the sail based on your experience before and
during the day you are racing. If you are on the course, and are finding
your speed is okay, but the boat is not accelerating as quickly as the
others around, put more 'bag,' or draft, in the sail, using
the sail controls discussed below. If your acceleration is good, but
you're lacking in top speed upwind, flatten the sail.
In heavy winds, there will be an excess of power in the sails. As you
will see below, whenever the boat heels too much, lots of bad things
happen. Heavy winds and a large draft make it easy to heel the boat too
much, so any excess power should be 'squeezed' out of the
sails by flattening them. It won't be difficult to get the boat up to
speed since there will be plenty of power. Remember that everyone else
around will have flatter sails as well.
Lift is a product of the flow of air around the sails, which can be
classified as either attached or unattached. The attached flow is a
smooth flow of air that 'sticks' to the sail. This is very
desirable when going upwind as it generates much more lift than does
unattached flow. Unattached flow breaks off the sails with little
swirlies in it.
Certainly you can't directly see the action of the wind, but there
are things you can do to help it stick to the sail. For instance, when
the wind is light it separates from the sail when there is too much
draft. Flattening the sail will help the air stay attached, generating
more lift. Generally, the separation occurs when the wind has to make a
sharp turn, like when the draft is too large:
There will be other instances mentioned below where separation
occurs, which can be rectified through control of the sails.
Another product of airflow around the sails is drag, which slows the
There are basically two types of drag which are important to the
sailor. These forces, holding the boat back, can be reduced partially.
It is important to understand how drag is formed, in order to lessen its
Frictional and Form Drag
Frictional drag is what we all think of when we hear the word 'drag.' It is the scraping of a box on the ground as you try
to push it across the driveway when you're moving. It is the reason
there is oil in car engines, and one of many reasons we use edible body
Frictional drag is generated from the side stays, from the seams in
the sails, as well as from the skipper and crew. You can think of this
force as friction on the form of each of the elements of the boat and
Watch a movie sometime with an airplane flying through a cloud. In
that footage, it is easy to see large vortices of fog swirling off the
tip of the wing of the airplane.
What is happening is that the low and high pressure areas meet at the
tips of the wings. Much of the air and fog 'leak' suddenly
from the high pressure side (the windward side) to the lower pressure
side, creating big swirlies. These swirlies require a lot of energy to
form - energy which could be better used in propelling the airplane or
There have been numerous solutions proposed to slow this effect, such
as small vertical winglets on the ends of airplane wings. On a boat,
there will be two places this leakage occurs: the head and the foot of
the sail. In one of the early 1900's America's Cup races, the American
yacht had a 4 foot wide boom, dubbed the 'Park Avenue Boom'
for its size. The purpose of this was to slow the flow from the
windward, high pressure side, to the leeward, low pressure side. This
slowed the creation of the induced drag.
There are other, more reasonable solutions to this problem. For
instance, on modern windsurfers, the sail is built so that at high
speeds, the sail can be leaned back all the way to the board. This
closes the gap between the sail and the board, using the board as an 'end plate' to stop the flow, much as the fuselage of an
airplane does for its wings. Another instance of this end plating is the
'deck sweeper' jib, which is cut to come all the way down to
the deck of the boat. Deck sweeping jibs are now very common on most
modern sloop-rigged boats.
Neither of these solutions addresses the problem of the leakage at
the top of the sail. There is no way, so far, to prevent this type of
Trailing Edge of the Sail
One more place where vortices can form and sap energy from the sails
is at the trailing edge, or the leech. The wind needs to have a smooth
exit from the sail in order to keep it from getting angry and swirling.
Two ways to make the wind angry are: 1.) put the draft too far back in
the sail, so it has to make a sharp turn immediately before it exits;
and 2.) curl the leech of the sail inwards with too much boom vang.
You will see below how you can use basic sail controls to fix this.
This section outlines the major controls for the shape changes you have
seen above. Many times, in the beginning, it's not obvious how to
change the shape, location, or size of the draft in the sail. However,
with some practice, it will become second nature. All the myriad lines,
blocks, and grommets in the boat should begin to make sense, instead of
looking like part of a big bowl of spaghetti.
Before you learn to change the shape of your sail, you have to know
what types of changes to make. Much of your sailing will be done by the
feel of the wind, but there are also many visual aids for detecting
wind direction, and how the wind is interacting with the sails. These
aids are important when you begin to sail, and even after you have
mastered the basics. They are especially useful in very light winds,
when it's difficult to sense the wind by feel.
The windex is a small weather vane attached to the top of the mast. The
windexes at the top of the mast are often distracting since you have to
look away from where the boat is going, so it's best not to have one
here. One of the best racers I've ever known once said, 'Windexes
are great, if they're on someone else's boat.' You can watch
someone near you, but don't forget where you're going.
Sidestay telltales accomplish the same task as the windex. They are
good for a gross indication of the wind direction
The jib telltales are the most sensitive, accurate, and thus useful,
of the bunch. These should be placed about 1/3 of the way back from the
luff of the sail, and at 1/4, 1/2, 3/4 the distance from the bottom to
the top. They should be made of a light material which does not stick
to the sail, such as yarn or audiocassette tape.
Use these to see the attachment of the wind to the sail. Going
upwind, with the sail mostly flat, there should be attachment on both
sides. You will see both telltales flow straight back. Sometimes, as
when reaching, it is not possible to make both flow back, because of a
large draft in the jib. It's imperative that the flow be maintained on
the outside surface, so keep the outside telltale streaming back.
When there is a jib, these indicators are not as important. The
mainsail is used to keep the boat flat and it is best to trim it by
feel, so it pays to ignore visual indicators on the mainsail. However,
telltales can give a little information as to what's happening.
These give the same information as those on the jib. If they are
flowing straight back, there is attachment, and if not, separation.
Attach these to the leech of the sail, at the points where the
battens are inserted. When the air is leaving smoothly from the leech,
these will flow straight back, as they do on the surface of the sails.
The goal for these is to have them lifting (flowing) about 1/2 the
time. The theory is a little sticky, but this is a good goal for speed
If they lift more than 1/2 the time, there is too much air flowing
freely off the leech, so you need to capture more by trimming the sail,
or by tightening the vang (see discussions below on main sheet and boom
vang). If they lift less than this, the leech is too tight, and you
should let up on the mainsheet or the vang.
Outhaul - (bottom draft size)
One of the most basic of all the controls is the outhaul. It
controls the size of the draft in the bottom 40% of the mainsail. To
flatten the sail, pull on the outhaul - to give the sail more 'bag', or draft, let out the outhaul. It does just what the
name says - it hauls the back of the sail out. Often, it is set at the beginning of the race and left in that
position. If it is possible to adjust on the fly, its major purpose is
to make the transition between beating and going downwind. When
reaching, more draft in the sail will give more power. Dead downwind,
the outhaul is let off to make more bag in the sail. This bag allows
the sail to generate as much drag as possible, which is the driving
force dead downwind. Right before the leeward mark, the outhaul is then
brought back in to allow pointing. This is very important - try pointing
upwind sometime with the outhaul all the way off. You won't ever get
where you're going.
Cunningham - (draft location)
In one of the 1920 era America's Cup races, a skipper named
Cunningham designed his namesake sail control. The sails at that time
were made of canvas and were apt to stretch depending on the wind
conditions. Given the maximum sail size restriction, the sails had to
be cut short to meet that maximum when it was windy, leaving them small
in less demanding conditions. He realized if he put a grommet through
the sail near the tack and pulled it down, the sail area could be
increased in light air.
The cunningham is no longer used for this purpose, but it still
remains an important control. The modern purpose for this little line
is to control the location of the draft. When the cunningham is pulled
on, the draft in the sail moves forward.
As the wind speed increases, the draft tends to blow back in the
sail towards the leech. This is undesirable as it causes overpowering
and extra drag. The draft should be somewhere between 40% and 45% back
from the luff of the sail.
A by-product of a tighter cunningham is that the leech of the sail
begins to 'open up.' Sighting straight up above the boom, the
top batten of the sail should be parallel with the boom. If the
cunningham is pulled on tight, the top batten will then be pointing
outward, away from the boom. To bring it back in, you can put on more
boom vang, which is discussed below.
Of course, another by-product is that the sail will be flattened,
partially. However, the cunningham should not be used to flatten,
except in special cases, as it moves the draft while flattening.
Mast Bend - (draft size)
main purpose of mast bend is to depower the sail, and this can be done
in a variety of ways.
When sailing a Laser, you will soon find that the mast is quite
bendy. One of the ways to induce bend and decrease the draft of the
sail is to sheet very hard. In fact, while beating upwind in all but
the lightest winds, the two main sheet blocks at the stern of the boat
should be touching each other (called two- blocking).
Bend in the mast can be induced even before putting force in the
sails by pre-bending it. There are several ways to do this, but they
all have to do with forcibly pulling the bottom half of the mast
forward, toward the bow.
Pre-bend is used when it is obvious that conditions warrant a much
flatter sail - i.e., very windy. This way, the crew is never caught with
too much power over their heads.
Ever wonder what the spreaders (the horizontal supports for the
sidestays, located 1/3 of the way up the mast) on the FJ were for, or
more particularly, why they are adjustable backwards and forwards? If
the spreaders are pulled back, the force of the stays is directed more
toward the stern, pulling the top 1/2 of the mast back, bending it.
Alternately, angling them more forward reduces bend. Angling them
forward might be done in lighter conditions when more power is needed.
The boom vang can be used on a bendy mast, just like the main sheet,
to pull the top half of the mast back. In fact, in the Laser, this is
often preferred, because the shape of the sail stays the same when it
is sheeted in and out. If all the control were left to the main sheet,
the sail would power up when eased and depower when pulled in. This
way, only the angle with which the sail hits the wind changes.
Boom Vang - (leech shape)
The main job of the boom vang on most boats is to control the shape
of the mainsail leech. When the vang is pulled on, the leech gets
tighter, and when released, the leech gets loose, and 'twists' off to leeward. The top batten, as mentioned above,
should be approximately parallel with the boom. If pulled in too much,
there will be excess drag. If left loose, too much power is lost out
the back of the sail.
Jib Leads - (leech shape)
The jib does not have as many controls as the main. In fact, most of
the time, the sheets offer the only interactive control. However, many
of the above shape qualities can still be changed. One important point
to keep in mind is that there is a 'slot' between the jib and
main. This slot should be kept fairly open to allow the correct flow to
form. The jib leech should also be kept mostly parallel with the
closest part of the main. That slot should be very nice and uniform, up
its entire length.
If the slot is too wide at the top (i.e. leech of the jib is too
open), too much of the air escapes through without affecting the jib.
If it is too narrow, the flow is 'choked,' and the boat will
not go as fast, or point as high. The way to control the slot is
through the jib leads.
The two blocks for the sheets can often be moved forward and back.
When moved backwards, think of the bottom of the sail being pulled
toward the stern, flattening the sail. Also, consider that the leech of
the sail will open up a little.
When the blocks are moved forward, the force of sheeting will mostly
be down, closing the leech of the sail, and allowing more bag to go
into the middle.
Main Sheet and Jib Sheets
These controls are the most interactive of all. Their major function
is to control the angle of attack on the wind. This is the angle at
which the wind hits the sail, with respect to the boom.
When the sail is brought in, the angle increases and the power
increases, but hopefully you already know that. You should also know
that if the angle of attack is too large (the sail is pulled in too
tight), the sail will 'stall' and the lift will be destroyed.
It will look the same, but it won't be working as it should any longer.
If the angle is too small (the sail isn't pulled in enough), it will
luff, generating no lift at all. You can use the telltales on the sail
to judge whether the flow you need is being generated. Remember that
this flow can be created and destroyed by changing the angle of attack.
Each boat will have its own rigging quirks. Some things will make
one boat go faster, while making another go deathly slow. When you
begin to sail in a particular class, make sure you discuss rigging with
people who have raced the boat before. When they give their hints, find
out why they work for this boat and not for others.
||Large gains and losses are made at the start. When your
boat comes off the line, you want to be in clear air, have good speed,
be on the preferred side of the line and course, and be on the right
tack. If you haven't done each of these, you could be lost behind 50
boats, and going slowly. In large fleets, it's important to have a good
start, so you must formulate a plan ahead of time, and spend the
last few minutes of the starting sequence executing that plan.
Form a Plan and Execute it
||It is imperative that you do formulate that plan, and
stick to it. Too many times, snap decisions are made because of all the
action on the starting line. It's much easier to think things through
thoroughly, and then just execute those thoughts, than it is to 'wing it.' Almost invariably,
'wung it' plans go
Technique: Safety Start
||If you are new to racing, starts can be very intimidating
- you have to think of timing, where you want to be, how fast
you're going, and most importantly, how not to run into anything. All
this happens with boats all around you - sometimes up to 100 other boats.
This section describes the simplest and most effective plan for starting
for the beginning racer.
Basic Idea: The entire plan consists of sailing anywhere you
want, until 1 1/2 minutes before the start. At that time, head for a
point about 6 boatlengths to starboard of the committee boat.
You should reach this point with 1 minute left. Tack onto starboard
and sit in that spot without moving (see 'Skills: Sitting
Still,' below). At 10 seconds before the start, bear off and head
for the line at full speed to start.
DANGER!! Your main goal in this process is to start with full
speed without fouling or hitting anyone!! Keep in mind that other
people with have your same idea, and you cannot be trapped
between them and the committee boat. Look back to figure 12, and you
will see two danger zones. These are the places you need to watch for
boats you may hit.
During the 50 seconds while you sit still, you need to be constantly
looking into these areas for boats heading your way. If there is anyone
there, you must figure out where they will go. The best thing you can do
if someone is converging on the same spot as you is to do a complete
circle and start behind them.
If you have full speed when you reach the line, you will sail away
from most of the fleet, even if you're late to the line! Most racers
concentrate on being in the right place at the start, but not on their
speed. They will be on the line but not moving, so you can sail right
DANGER!! I must say this one more time - If you see someone who
may hit you or trap you between the themselves and the committee boat,
GET THE HECK OUT OF THERE! Just tack around, and go in behind them. Late
with speed is fine, indeed!
There are many types of starts, and this is just one. Below, you will
find information on the best types of starts for different conditions,
and how to determine your best approach, once you are comfortable in the
Check the Wind, and Know What it Means
||At the start, because of the way the line and the course
are set, there are going to be some large possible gains at the outset.
There are three questions you should answer during the beginning of the
starting sequence: on which side of the line should you start, on what
tack should you be at the starting gun, and to which side of the course
should you go?
These questions can be answered in the pre-start, with more than 2
minutes to go. Once they are answered, formulate a plan, and use those
last 2 minutes to execute.
Favored end of the line
On which side of the line should you start? This question is simple.
Go to the middle of the line and go head to wind. Then look to either
side, left at the pin, and right at the committee boat. Whichever is
further ahead is the preferred end. This will be the closest end to the
windward mark, and why not begin with a head start?
Best tack off the line
||On which tack should you be immediately after the start?
This question is almost as simple. To decide the best tack, you need to
decide which will take you straightest to the windward mark. When you
are head to wind in the middle of the line, checking the favored end,
look also toward the windward mark and see which side of the boat it's
on. If it's dead ahead, your initial tack doesn't matter. If it's to the
right, the best tack is port, and to the left, starboard.
To remember these, just imagine the wind swinging a little further in
the same direction. If it goes far enough, you will be able to go to the
windward mark on one tack. A simple rule to follow is: take the tack
that will take your boat straightest to the mark, always. This is
useful, even on the other legs of the course.
Now, of course, you should keep in mind that starboard tack has right
of way over port tack, and this will have a bearing on your decision. If
port tack is the best to be on, it may pay to start on starboard, and
then tack to port as soon as you can. That is, unless you have complete
confidence in your ability to stay clear of the starboard (right of way)
Favored side of the course
||The favored side of the course is often a little more
nebulous than the above considerations. The favored side of the course
should be the side where the most wind is. This you can tell by standing
up in your boat and looking upwind. Do this about every 30 seconds
before the start. Keep in mind that the wind may move to the other side
of the course by the time you start. The time to start keeping track of
the wind on the course is about 1/2 hour before the start of your race.
Get out to the course early to determine what's happening.
Now, reaching the favored side of the course may be difficult,
considering where you start, and your initial tack. Try to get there as
quickly as possible, which means giving yourself room to tack. If you
are pinned to leeward of a windward boat, on starboard tack, it will be
hard to get to the right side of the course.
These three ingredients should be mixed and matched to get the most
out of the start. If it seems there is much more wind on the right, then
you might give up the favored pin end of the line, for a quick port tack
to the right. If there is no apparent advantage on either side, then go
with the favored end of the line, on the closest tack to the mark.
Remember - PLAN AHEAD!!
Get Clear Air and Have Speed at the Start
||There is more detailed discussion of clear air below in
CHAPTER 4 - BEATING UPWIND, and you may want to read that now
(BLANKETING and BACKWINDING).
The best way to get wind is to make sure you are not in someone's bad
air. The biggest thing for which to watch is backwinding at the start.
This will slow you down, and make your pointing worse, and the worst
part of it is you won't be able to feel that the air is bad. The initial
goal, once the gun goes off, will be to get up to speed quickly, and
this means getting clear air, so separate from those around you if you
Also, in the few seconds before the start, you should bear off (foot)
about 5-10 degrees to build a little speed. Otherwise, you'll get rolled
by everyone who does have speed.
A Sample Plan and Execution
||The following is a sample starting scenario. This
situation will not apply all the time, but it's a good example. The wind
speed is about 10 mph and the line is the length of the 20 boats on the
course. See figure 16 below.
Imagine yourself in the boat, and what you would see. Now, formulate
a plan for the start, taking into account where you will start, and in
what direction you want to go. Then look at the sample solution to see
if you were close.
Solution: The first thing to notice is that the pin end is
further to windward, so this is the favored end. Also, the windward mark
is a little to the right of straight upwind, so the proper starting tack
is port tack. There is little difference in the wind between sides of
Now, it may be difficult to start on port tack if there is a large
fleet of boats, and they are all on starboard coming at you, so you may
want to start on starboard, with the intention of tacking soon after the
start. This means staying to the right of the bulk of the boats who will
naturally want to start at the pin.
You also want to start at the pin, but keep in mind that everyone
can't start in the same place. A safer thing to do is start about 1/3 of
the way from the pin on starboard, with the intention of tacking soon.
With about 2 minutes to go, start lining up your final run. You will
most likely want to be at the committee boat with about 20 seconds to
go, heading for your spot. If you are going too fast, and will overshoot
the target, slow down by letting the sail luff and heading up into the
With the final 10 seconds to go, start bearing off a little to build
speed, keeping an eye on the boats to leeward and windward. You should
hit the line at full speed, with a little room to leeward in case you
want to foot for speed, and a little room to windward, if you want to
tack. Then, since the port tack is preferred, tack as soon as possible.
||In fleet racing, you'll face many challenges, not the
least of which is avoiding collisions before the start. In some races,
there are as many as 50 boats swarming around a very small area. This
can be unnerving, but try to stay cool.
One thing to remember is that starboard tack has right of way over
port, but you're not allowed to maneuver your boat to keep someone from
staying clear (i.e., you can't keep changing course in order to hit
them, even if you have right of way), whether you're on port or
starboard. If you're the starboard boat, go about your business, but
keep sailing mostly straight lines. If you're port, change your course
as little as possible around other boats, but stay clear.
Below are some skills which will help in this maneuvering, as well as
in the execution of your plan.
Skills: Timing Practice
||One skill that must be learned is that of timing an
approach to an object. This will aid in getting to the starting line, in
the position you want, at the correct time.
Set a buoy in the water, or pick a dock, or something fixed, to which
you can sail. Then, set a time limit like 30 seconds for yourself. The
goal is to sail at full speed and reach the marker at exactly 30
seconds. Keep going back to try changing your distance and speed, until
you can judge the distance correctly.
Keep in mind that when the wind strength changes, so will your speed,
and thus the time to the marker. Practice this drill in all conditions,
when you're not racing. Another good time to do this is during the
starting sequence. With about 5 minutes to go, time how long it takes to
get from the pin to the committee boat on a beam reach. This will be
important information in the plan formulation and execution.
Skills: Close Sailing
||Most everything listed above is simple to do when you're
alone on the course, but that's not ever the case in a real race. To
keep from getting flustered, you must learn to sail close to other
boats, defining your limits. How close can you get while still in
When there is a group of boats on the water, you can try playing
follow-the-leader. Have one boat be at the front, with each of the
others following as closely as possible. The front boat should go
through normal starting maneuvers, such as tacking, jibing, heading up,
bearing off, etc.
Think about staying the same distance behind that boat at all times,
decreasing the distance as you get better. This will take concentration,
and you will have to learn to speed up your boat, as well as slow it
down, using the trim of the sails, crew placement, etc.
Skills: Sitting Still
||A third skill to practice is sitting still, without
losing control. This is important, since you will often misjudge the
time to the line, and you will need to slow down or stop.
Sail on a close reach and then head up into the wind until almost
head to wind. Then, practice staying in that position for as long as
possible. You will be able to do this using the trim of the sails and
the heel of the boat. Don't let the boat go straight into the
wind, or you will end up in irons, with no steerage. Keep the boat off
the wind by about 5-10 degrees.
Finally, when you have mastered sitting still, learn how to get boat
under way quickly. This you can do by heeling to windward to turn the
boat, and trimming in the sails to pick up speed.
||Going upwind is the most important skill for the
new racer to learn. You can come back from a bad start and you won't
lose that many places on the downwind legs, even if you are slow. If you
can't go upwind well, though, you can give up the game, because it is on
these legs that the most spots are gained and lost.
Boat Trim (as opposed to sail trim)
||The first thing you have to think about is that you are
sailing in a boat-a boat that floats in the water. Whatever movements
you make when you're sailing affect the relationship between the two,
and this relationship is vital to understand because it's the water that
slows the boat down the most.
Fore and Aft Trim
||Drag affecting the hull is sometimes a difficult thing to
detect, but there are ways to find and reduce it. For instance, while
you're sailing, move back in the boat until you're sitting on the
transom. Look down behind the boat and you will notice a lot of little
swirlies coming off the stern. You will also hear water rushing back
there. That noise is drag-your boat spending some of its energy making
pretty pictures in the water-ones that slow you down.
This is an easy problem to fix-just move forward until you see the
water smooth out behind the boat. This reduces the drag generated by the
stern sitting in the water. Now the water has a nice, smooth exit from
the stern, and it won't make as much noise.
Side to Side Heel
||Keep the Damn Boat Flat!!!
The most important rule for going upwind is to keep the boat as flat
as possible. This does some great things for the boat.
First, when the boat is completely flat, the centerboard will be as
deep in the water as possible.
Maximizing the depth of the board in the water allows it to do its
job the best. If you're slipping sideways while going upwind, you're
losing ground to those who aren't. As an experiment, lift the board
halfway while sailing upwind. You will notice the boat won't point as
high, and as an added bonus, you can watch the trees on the edge of the
lake go by sideways (a beautiful sight!).
Second, when the boat is heeled, the hull acts as a rudder and tries
to turn the boat in one direction or the other. In order to sail a
straight line, the real rudder will have to be used more in the opposite
direction. Whenever it's used in this fashion, you will see the nasty
drag swirlies coming off the transom. Again, these swirlies, as all
others, require energy to form-energy that is better used going fast in
a straight line. FLATTEN THE BOAT!!
Here's where you may learn something new: When that puff hits your
boat, if you're yelling at the crew to hike, you're doing the wrong
thing. You must ease the sail, even dump it way down sometimes.
If the boat heels up, it's only the skipper that is to blame.
Think about this: the crew's job is to keep the mainsail full, not
keep the boat down-that's the skipper's job. Here's how it should go:
- the puff hits,
- the skipper lets enough out to keep the boat flat,
- looking up at the sail, the skipper decides she or he would like to
use more of the main, so she or he calls the crew up to the rail.
One more note. Between the above steps 1. and 2., the boat will
heel-that's your signal that the puff hit. However, learn to react
quickly enough so it goes up so slightly that only you notice. Your crew
shouldn't even feel the movement. That's your goal, and I'm not
For some techniques on staying flat and fast, read the two following
sections on EASE-HIKE-TRIMming and FEATHERING.
A Note About Light Winds
In very light winds, it is still important to be able to point into
the wind, but the main emphasis should be on speed. For this reason,
when the wind is so light that it doesn't have enough energy to keep the
sails open, you must use gravity.
Heel the boat slightly to leeward, enough to hold the sails open.
This way, when the next puff comes along, it will spend its energy
pushing the boat forward, instead of just opening the sail. Also,
whatever flow you may have will detach itself from the sail if it
doesn't have shape.
In this mode, the boat won't point very high, so don't force it. Let
the sail out at least to the corner of the transom, and be very, very
careful to keep the boat still. All your movements should be slow and
easy, so as not to disturb the intimate relationship your sail is
hopefully having with the wind. The goal is to keep the boat moving. If
you stop, you're dead!
||'Isn't it okay to let the boat heel up when the puff
hits-then I can hike it flat and use all the energy the wind just sent
my way?' NO WAY. Even if a puff hits and you feel you can hike it
flat, it's much better to ease the sail a bit, and there are two reasons
First, when the puff hits and heels the boat up, you will be blown
immediately sideways-not the direction you want to go. If there is too
much power in the sails, let some go-that's always better for your speed
to the next mark.
Second, when the wind hits, the apparent wind moves back because of
the new injection of true wind. I.e., every puff that heels your boat is
a lift. This means the sail, if it's kept in, is overtrimmed. You will
lose the connection the wind has with the sail, so let it out.
EASE-HIKE-TRIM is a great rule to make the boat go fast when
the puffs hit. Here's how it goes:
- When the puff hits the boat, EASE the sail, but just enough
to keep it flat.
- Immediately afterwards, start to HIKE a little, and at the
- TRIM the sail back in.
The HIKE and TRIM steps should happen at the same time,
counterbalancing each other.
Your concentration should be on keeping the boat completely flat,
throughout the entire puff (and don't be afraid to dump a lot if the
puff is a big one). The initial ease keeps the boat flat and prepares
the sail for the new wind direction. The goal is to use the puff to its
fullest, so as soon as you can rein in that power, with the hike and
trim, do it. This whole maneuver should take about 3 seconds.
Whenever you're going upwind you should hear the ratchet of the
mainsheet block almost constantly (in-out-in-out...). This is a sign
that you are adjusting the sail enough to keep it trimmed correctly.
Practice this in the puffs until it's very smooth and natural. It
will become ingrained the more you use it, and it soon won't take any
concentration at all.
||This is a short discussion on a phenomenon that is
important to keep in mind, no matter what leg of the course you're on.
The breeze you feel in the boat is a mixing of two separate breezes-one
which is from the real direction (true wind), and the other, from
straight ahead caused by the motion of your boat (generated wind). The
product is the apparent wind.
Imagine riding a bike, with the true wind coming straight from the
left at 5 mph. When you're standing still, you feel the force on your
left arm. Now ride the bike forward at 5 mph. The wind will feel like
it's coming at you at a 45 angle, between straight in front of you and
straight from the left. This is the apparent wind.
As the bike picks up speed, the wind will feel as though it has moved
more to the front of the bike. If you start riding down a hill at 45
mph, you won't be able to feel it from side any more-it's mostly from
the front. That generated wind has taken over.
Conversely, if the bike is going 5 mph and the speed of the breeze
from the left picks up to 30 mph, you probably won't feel the generated
wind any longer. You will feel all the true wind, because it is much
Now, imagine the same situation in the boat. The boat is traveling
forward at 5 mph, and the wind is straight across the beam at 5 mph. It
will feel as though you are on a close reach, with the apparent wind
coming at the boat from a 45 angle. When a puff hits, the wind will move
back toward the beam, causing a lift-and when you hit a lull and slow
down, the breeze moves to the bow, causing a header. Experiment with
this by sailing into lulls and puffs and watching the sidestay
'Feeling the Edge'
||No matter the body of water on which you sail, there will
be wind shifts-both headers and lifts. Often, these come with little or
no warning, and those racers that notice and adapt the most quickly will
After sailing for a while, it will be simple to detect and react to
the shifts-it will be second nature to do it while you are thinking of
something else. It's a sort of voodoo, especially for the best sailors.
They won't be able to tell you how they do it because they've done it
for so long.
Technique: Watching the Telltales
The eventual goal for your upwind development is to be able to sail
to windward by merely feeling the boat. However, in the beginning, and
also in some conditions, such as very light air, you will need to watch
the telltales on the jib (or the main if you're in a cat-rigged boat,
like the Laser). Read the section, JIB TELLTALES, in CHAPTER 2 -
Have the crew pull the jib in as far as possible. By 'as far as
possible,' I mean the point where it is as close to the centerline
of the boat, without 'squashing' all the power out). Don't
flatten it completely. To determine where this point is, sail against
someone while trying different settings on the jib. If the boat feels
sluggish, let the jib out a little to put some power back in. Remember,
also, that if the jib is cranked in too tight, this will close the slot
between the jib and the main (read the section, JIB LEADS - ..., in
CHAPTER 2 - RIGGING, especially discussion on the slot).
Once you have the jib trimmed correctly, you can start steering the
boat, using the telltales as guides. If the outside telltale 'piddles,' this means the sail is overtrimmed for the
direction of the wind on the boat. You don't want to let the sail out,
so you must head up. This, in effect, retrims the sails, except instead
of bringing the sails in, you 'brought the whole boat in.'
If the inside telltale piddles constantly, or if the sail luffs
(actual luffing, or just an inversion at the front edge of the sail),
the jib is undertrimmed. You don't want to crank in more on the sheet,
so you must retrim by bearing off.
Your goal is to make the outside tale flow straight back and the
inside tale 'lift' occasionally, meaning some air is getting
to it, but not all the time. If you don't know how often the inside tale
should be lifting, err on the side of too often. It's better to have too
much air flowing along the inside edge of the sail, than not enough.
When this happens, you should be pointing as high as possible.
Remember through all this adjusting that if the boat is not up to speed,
you won't be able to point, so make sure you're going as fast as you
can. Also, you should be able to feel when the power is gone from the
jib and the main. The following sections will give you an idea of how to
develop this 'feel.'
The most helpful article I've ever read about sailing a small dinghy
was an article in Sailing World called 'Ease-Hike-Trim.' At first I thought this was a stupid
article. 'Doesn't everyone do this?' It didn't take long to
realize this comes with experience.
Even though I thought the article was kind of silly at the time, I
came away with one piece of information that has helped my racing more
than any other, and that is the technique of Feathering. This technique,
when used in conjunction with Ease-Hike-Trim, can push your pointing up
at least another 5 -10 degrees.
Start by pointing into the wind as high as possible, and have the
mainsheet pulled in tight. Now, every time a puff hits, head up into the
wind until the boat is flat again. Then, when the puff has died off a
little, you will be sailing in what feels like a header, so bear off
until the power returns to the sail. You should be constantly making
adjustments to your course.
Notes on Feathering
- Before concentrating on this technique, you should have the
basics of Ease-Hike- Trim mastered. Often a puff will hit too quickly
to correct in time, and the boat will roll up on its side, killing all
your speed, and washing you downwind. The only way to stop this is to
- Ease-Hike-Trim should be used in conjunction with feathering. As
mentioned above, the puffs sometimes strike too hard to compensate
with only one method. The heading up should be done slowly, to keep
control. Also, the boat should not ever heel more than 10 degrees. If
it does, you're losing speed and ground.
- The initial heel not only indicates the puff (or lift), but it also
helps the boat to turn up into the wind to point higher. Use this heel
to steer, minimizing rudder usage. The same is true when the lull (or
header) hits. The boat will heel to windward, turning the boat away
from the wind-exactly what you want.
- It is important to recognize that, as mentioned above in the
section, 'Apparent Wind,' a gust has almost the same effect
on the boat that a lift does. Similarly, a lull feels like a header.
- What you will be doing when you bear off, is building up
speed-then, the 'feather' up into the wind uses that speed
to shoot you closer toward the windward mark.
Skills: Blindfolded Sailing
Now, once the above techniques have been mastered, you can sail
upwind using only feel. A great way to practice is to close your eyes.
If you are sailing with a crew, you can even go so far as to blindfold
yourself, with the crew standing as a lookout for obstacles.
This may seem silly, but there is no better exercise to force
yourself to get used to sailing without staring at your telltales. Your
eventual goal should be to put your boat on auto pilot, as far as speed
and pointing are concerned. This leaves your eyes open for tactical and
Skills: Two-Boat Speed Testing
You will always find that competition improves your performance, and
this is especially true with sailing. You can work on your upwind speed
alone, but it is always nice to practice with someone else, both to
gauge your progress and to provide incentive to sail harder. However,
there are a few things you must know to maximize your practice with
First, the goal of speed testing is to gauge and improve your speed
and pointing-not to practice tacking or tactics. Choose an open stretch
of water where you won't have to tack for a while.
Second, get the boats far enough apart so neither is in the other's
bad air (read the BLANKETING and BACKWINDING sections below), but close
enough to be in the same wind. You must have the same conditions for
each boat to get a true reading. See the figure below. Notice that these
boats are on a parallel course, and they are about 3 boatlengths apart.
Third, set the sails on each of the boats to have the same shape. The
object is to test and improve your sailing abilities, not to see if more
draft is faster.
Start out in this position and sail until one boat is blanketing or
backwinding the other. Then tack and start the process over. You will
find your speed and pointing improve almost by themselves. Your body
will start doing what it must to make the boat go fast and high, using
the other boat as a reference. Use all the ideas outlined above and
below, including ease-hike-trim and feathering.
||Tacking is a very important transition. You can lose or
gain many boatlengths relative to other boats, depending on the quality
of your tacks. This is because of the great potential for costly
mistakes on each tack. There are 3 keys to a good tack:
- The turn through the tack should be gradual, not fast. A
tack that begins too quickly bleeds off a lot of speed. Make sure you
initiate the tack slowly, with as little rudder movement as possible,
keeping the rudder drag to a minimum. Also, if the tack is gradual,
your boat is actually going straight into the wind for a longer time
(remember, however, that the boat is slowing down through this whole
process, so don't make the tack too slow).
- The boat should not tack through too large an angle. When
you begin the tack, you should be on a close-hauled course. When
finished, your angle should be 5 past close-hauled on the other side.
If this angle is too large, you're wasting speed because you're going
in the wrong direction. It's important to rehearse your tacks until
you tack the right amount.
- The boat should accelerate well after the tack. Every time
you tack the boat, you lose speed. This is obvious, right? Half the
tack you spend luffing the sails, with the wind pushing you backwards.
This is why it's so important to accelerate immediately afterwards. To
do that quickly, make sure you are 5 past close-hauled when you finish
the tack. In this position, you can pick up speed quickly.
Then, when you are at full speed, you can begin to point. Head up
into the wind slowly, while trimming in the sail. If you begin
pointing while going slowly, the centerboard will not have the speed
it needs to start working, and the boat will just slip sideways, and
this is never fast.
You can think of the whole process of accelerating as shifting gears.
Immediately after the tack, you want to shift down into first gear
(footing mode), with the sails out, and the boat footing to pick up
speed. Then, slowly shift up into fifth gear (pointing mode). If you try
to start out in fifth gear, you'll eventually get up to speed, but just
as in a car, it will take a long time.
These are the keys to executing a good tack without losing speed. If
you follow them and concentrate on each tack, you won't lose ground to
those around you. There is a method called roll tacking which allows you
to speed the tacking process, and it helps to accelerate the boat more
quickly, especially in light winds. One note of caution: Roll tacking
takes a lot of concentration, as well as perfect timing. If part of the
tack is blown, it can really cut your speed, and you will lose ground.
But if used correctly, it can be a powerful tool.
Technique: Roll Tacking
Roll tacking is a method for getting the boat through a tack quickly,
without losing much speed or ground. Listed below are three basic
advantages to a roll tack, which is used primarily in light air when
boatspeed out of a tack is important. However, keep in mind this is not
the end-all, be- all of dinghy racing. The best roll tacks in the world
do not guarantee a win, and sometimes they can blow your concentration
if they are used before you have mastered them.
Roll Tacking Basics
- Heel the boat to leeward about 10 degrees. This initial heel
allows the boat to turn itself, cutting down on the rudder usage
necessary to initiate the tack. Don't heel the boat too far. The
object is to turn the boat slowly enough so you can control the tack.
During this step, you should be able to let the tiller extension slip
through your hand, with the hull of the boat doing all the work.
- As the boat starts to come down on you, rock it hard to
windward. Timing is important in this step. The goal here is to
help the boat do what it wants. The biggest mistake you can make is to
try to roll the boat too soon, 'squashing' the tack, finding
yourself head to wind, or on the same tack on which you started. This
mistake costs much more than a regular tack would (and it feels
horrible). Wait until the jib luffs and the boat feels as though it
wants to come down on top of you. Then rock it hard.
Rocking the boat to windward may feel funny, as though you're going
to capsize. However, it's important to rock it this way. Sometimes the
boat will stop the rock on its own, if you don't help. In fact, it may
be good to practice this maneuver until you capsize a few times. If
you're afraid of capsizing, your tacks will be mediocre. You must get
the feel for how far you can go.
The purpose for this step is to get the sail through the tack as
quickly as possible. Notice that, usually when you're tacking, there
is a long period of time where the sail luffs through the tack. This
step will alleviate that luffing, with a telltale 'pop' of
- Once the boat is on the new tack, and still heeled up from the
rock, flatten it quickly. This is the heart of the roll tack. The
rock should have put the rail of the boat in the water. Now, when you
flatten it, you are pulling the sails through the air, effectively
increasing the wind speed over them. This gives you a nice push
forward, accelerating you out of the tack.
Note the position of the sails. They should be trimmed in during
the flattening, but not all the way. When this 'wind' is
created, it acts as a lift, so the sails should be eased slightly.
Then, when the boat is flat and up to speed, trim in the sails to
pointing mode again.
This flattening should be done after the sails fill, but as soon
after the rock as possible. With the boat up on its ear at 45 , it
will slip sideways very quickly. Just watch someone who doesn't
flatten immediately. They will lose a lot of distance to leeward, much
more quickly than you would think.
||FYI, you will hear the words, strategy and tactics,
often in sailing literature. There is a subtle difference between the
two. Strategy is the overall plan you make for your path around the
course. This plan accounts for wind speed and direction on the different
legs of the course. Tactics is the name for what happens during the
race, with respect to the other boats around you. This includes
decisions such as tacking when a starboard boat is approaching, feeding
someone bad air, or tacking back with the rest of the fleet so you don't
Covered below are some of the more important facets of tactics, as
well as a little strategy. Read this section, keeping in mind there is
much more to learn. There are many books that discuss strategy and
tactics, but these should be consulted only after you have mastered the
basics in this guide.
Get Out of the Bad Wind
||If you're sailing in the bad air created by other boats,
you will go much more slowly than they will, obviously. Your mission, if
you choose to accept, is to get to clear air. The first step in this
process is determining the location of the bad air, relative to the
boats around you.
Blanketing is just as it sounds. The boat to windward is blanketing
or stopping the air from getting to you. This is the dark patch in
figure 20. It is fairly small, but it is intense. If you're caught in
this area, there are two options. First, if it's possible to tack
without hitting the blanketer, do it. The second option is to bear off
and try to speed your way through the zone. You will lose distance to
windward, but once you have clear air, you should be able to point
again. For this method, you must have speed, or you will wallow for a
while in little or no wind.
The backwind zone is the lighter area to windward of the boat in
figure 20. You'll notice this area extends much further than the blanket
zone. That is what makes it so dangerous. Its effect is slightly
smaller, but the area through which you must sail is much larger.
The wind will be reduced here, and more importantly you will be
sailing in a header, from the air deflected off the leeward boat's
sails. Try sailing with someone on your lee bow. That is, you are just
behind and to windward of them.
The wind coming of their sail is shot to windward as well as slowed
down, causing the header.
One of the main tactics in racing is to lee-bow an approaching
starboard tacker. If you can do it, this is a great way to force them to
tack to the bad side of the course. Simply sail on the port tack until
just before you cross, then tack onto their lee bow.
If you have enough speed, you can feed the windward boat bad air.
However, be careful, because if you're moving too slowly, the starboard
tacker will drive right over you.
Sail in the Good Wind and Cover
||Now for some basic wind shift philosophy and fleet
Lifts and Headers
If you haven't yet figured out the terms lift and header, now's the
time. Both are wind shifts, and they get their names from their effect
on your course. Sailing on a close-hauled course, a header is a shift
which forces you to bear off to keep the sails full. When this happens,
you will not be heading as close to the windward mark as you were. If
the header is severe enough, you should consider tacking, since those on
the other tack are experiencing the same shift, but to them it's a lift.
A lift is a shift which allows your boat to head up toward the windward
mark more. It 'lifts' your course higher.
One important aspect of lifts and headers is what it does to two
boats which are side-by-side. A lift will immediately give an inside
boat an advantage.
Similarly, a header will give the outside boat the advantage.
Keep this effect in mind, but don't really worry about using it for
the moment. To use this fact, you must know what the wind will do next,
and this is difficult to do.
A talented sailor once gave me a piece of advice that seems stupidly
simple, but it's often overlooked. 'Take the tack that gets you
where you're going the fastest.' A simple piece of advice, but how
do you know which tack is best?
Start by noticing that your boat tacks through about 90°. Then,
notice that one of the tacks, either the one you're on or the opposite
tack, usually points more closely at the mark.
It is important to determine which tack gets you closer to the mark,
so you can take it. Now, consider when a lift or a header hits you. That
tack may change, so as soon as you realize the wind shift, re-evaluate
your course, and make changes accordingly.
One very simple rule to follow is to stay between your opponent and
the next mark. If you are in the lead, or in front of someone you wish
to beat, stay on their side of the course. You may sail in worse wind
than if you were on the other side, but you will remain ahead of you
opponent(s). If you're on opposite sides, they could get lucky with a
favorable shift or more wind, while you don't.
Sometimes you will find yourself on the opposite side of the course
from the rest of the fleet. This should scare you. If you happen to get
lucky and get a good shift or an extra breeze, that's nice. However, if
the other side gets lucky, the entire fleet can pass you by and pull
away from you. If you're ahead, always cover.
If you watch the America's Cup, you'll see 'tacking duels.'
This is because the boat behind is trying to get to the other side of
the course. She can't lose - she could get unlucky and get a bad shift,
but she's already behind. The boat in front can't afford to lose ground,
so she tacks to 'cover,' or stay between her opponent and the
next mark. It is always the rear boat initiating the 'duel,'
trying to get away. The leading yacht must tack back to stay ahead.
||Rounding the marks on the course can actually be fun to
practice. This is a good thing, because many gains and losses are made
at mark roundings. Often a pack of boats will approach the mark,
basically tied with each other. Because of the nature of the rounding,
someone will come out on top, and depending on the number of boats and
the skill of the skippers, the last boat could end up 20 boatlengths
The windward mark, with small fleets, often provides an
uneventful rounding, but it can get exciting. The goal for this rounding
is to come into the mark on starboard with a full head of steam, and
accelerate evenly as you bear off for the next leg.
To have a full head of steam at the mark, you should plan to come in
about 1/2 to 1 boatlength above the layline, to be able to bear off as
you approach. Then, as you bear off for the next leg, begin to let the
sails out evenly. Let them out enough to keep the telltales flowing, but
don't let them luff.
Occasionally, you will be below the layline by 1/2 boatlength. In
this case, the safe thing to do is tack once to get above it, and then
tack again to round. However, it is possible, if you have enough speed,
to get around the mark without the 2 extra tacks. The technique is to
head straight at the mark until about 3/4 boatlengths, and then 'shoot' straight up into the wind. With enough speed, the boat
will coast past the mark, pissing off all those who thought you had to
tack to get around. Then, just bear off, and continue the smooth
Laylines, if you don't know by now, are the lines upon which you can
sail close-hauled and just make it around the mark.
It is best to avoid the laylines until the end of the windward leg.
Don't get to them until there are about 10 boatlengths to go. There are
many reasons for this:
- While on the layline early, the boats who tack onto the layline in
front of you, feed you bad air all the way to the mark.
You certainly won't want to tack away and sail a lot of extra
distance, so you're stuck.
- If you are on the layline with boats to leeward and you get a lift,
the boats below you can now 'fetch' the mark, while you
overstood. This means you sailed further than you needed to get to the
They simply waited for the layline to 'come to them.'
This means if you sailed 4 boatlengths to get where you are, the boats
around you that didn't go as far, gained 4 boatlengths from a shift of
- If you get to the layline way early, and the fleet gets a header,
those to leeward pull ahead. You can see this by looking back to
Anything that happens with you on the layline early spells trouble.
Just say WHOA!
||Now, this is the exciting and challenging part of the
course. This is the area where knowledge about the rules of racing, as
well as skill in boat handling are at a premium. Just as at the windward
mark, a lot of separation can occur afterwards, but everyone here is
just a little more aggressive and bunched up than before. The beat tends
to spread boats out, while the reach tends to bunch them together, so
there will be much more traffic.
The racing rules allow those with an inside overlap at the 2
boatlength circle to round the mark more easily than those on the
outside (please refer to the rule book for the exact rule). This means
everyone will want to be there, and those on the outside must give room,
invariably losing many boatlengths.
Below are some skills to practice for the leeward mark rounding.
Follow them carefully and you will pick up many places, or at the very
least, not lose a lot.
All the following skills can be practiced with one buoy in the water.
They are good to practice in groups, but there are still gains you can
Skills: Rounding Wide, then Tight
||When there are a few boats directly behind you (not
overlapped) at the rounding, they will have an opportunity to pass you
if your rounding is sloppy. The tendency here is to stay close to the
mark, so they can't squeeze in at the last second and pass you. This
tendency leads to the worst possible outcome.
Every boat has a certain optimal turning radius, and none have a
turning radius tight enough to stay close to the mark.
If you approach the mark at some distance, then you can round up
tight next to it. If those boats behind try to squeeze in too early,
they may hit you, fouling you. Most racers will not try this if you look
like you know what you're doing, i.e. if you're swinging wide early.
To practice this, set a mark in the water and approach it on a port
broad reach. Aim to be 1 boat width away when the nose of your boat
overlaps the mark. Then, start to head up, heeling the boat slightly,
until you reach a close-hauled course. If you are more than 6 inches
away from the mark at this point, you were too far. Try this exercise,
moving in or out at the beginning, to get closer to the mark when you
have assumed the close-hauled course.
Skills: Slowing Down
||Often, coming into the mark, everyone ahead will begin to
slow because of the wind shadow created by the boats behind. At this
point, you will find yourself gaining an overlap on the outside, or
worse yet, a late inside overlap, with no rights. This is disastrous, as
you may have to do a circle just to keep from hitting everyone. One
important thing to remember is, it's better to be right behind than it
is to be outside or late inside.
The skill you'll need to learn is slowing down when sailing a broad
reach or a run. This can be accomplished in many ways:
- Overtrim the mainsail. This will 'stall' the sail and
slow you down, but slowly.
- Steer a curvy course, instead of straight ahead. This means really
big rudder movements. Make the tiller movements quickly enough (once a
second), and your course changes won't even be that big, but you'll
steer extra distance and slow down. Watch out for other boats around
- Move your weight back to the transom. This creates drag from the
stern sitting in the water. This, also, is a fairly quick way to slow
One great exercise to do is to get a group of boats and play follow
the leader. The lead boat just steers normally, tacking and jibing and
sailing straight, while the others stay close behind. Try to keep your
bow about 1-2 ft. from the stern of the boat ahead. You will have to
learn how to slow down, or you'll hit them. This is also great for
building confidence in close sailing conditions.
Skills: Sheeting with Both Hands
In order to round the leeward mark, and keep all your
speed, you must not only steer a good course, but the sail must come in
quickly. This cannot be done with one hand.
Try sailing in a straight line on a broad reach, with the sail all
the way out. Without turning, use both hands and sheet the sail quickly.
Obviously, one hand will have the tiller extension, so you need to learn
to steer at the same time. Going in a straight line is not too
difficult-just move the tiller extension without affecting the tiller.
Once you've mastered the straight line while sheeting, get a buoy and
attempt rounding and trimming. Concentrate on trimming and not
necessarily on getting a good rounding. Be sure to pull in the sail as
far as it will go when you're through.
The whole goal of the exercise is to make sheeting second nature.
Eventually, your concentration at the mark will need to be on the
rounding and not on sail trim.
Reaching and Running
||These legs are often the fastest legs because of the
increased speed of the boat. This means that there aren't as many lead
changes as in the beat legs. Your goal on these legs should be to set up
for the leeward mark rounding, without getting passed. The boats behind
will catch up, but you'll be pretty hard to pass on the downwind legs if
you are doing things right. Even if you do get passed by 1 or 2 boats,
don't let it bother you too much-there is always time to catch up at the
mark rounding or on the next windward leg.
||Below are a few basic techniques for keeping the boat
moving. Keep in mind, also, that clear air is important. If someone is
driving over you on top of your wind, try your best to get away without
making too much of a course change (large course changes are mostly bad
since you sail a lot of extra distance).
Technique: Sheeting Off the Boom
If the class rules allow, you should sheet the mainsail directly off
the boom, ignoring the last block in the cockpit. This gives you a great
feel for the sail, and it also allows much faster reaction time when you
need to sheet in or out.
Your attention on the downwind leg should be split 70% speed watching
and 30% watching what's happening around you. The 70% speed watching is
imperative. You can gain or lose a lot on the downwind leg due to
correct or incorrect sail trim. It can be the difference between
grabbing the puff and passing 3 or 4 boats, and getting 'rolled' by 3 or 4 others who did it right. Sheeting off the
boom allows you to react more quickly, and it also allows you to feel
the power in the sail, while you're watching your surroundings the other
30% of the time.
Technique: Heeling the Boat to Windward
If you ever see pictures of Lasers racing downwind, you will notice
that most, if not all, are heeled to windward. There are two reasons for
this. First, heeling the boat gets the sails higher into the air, where
the wind speed is often greater. Second, it reduces the surface area
where the boat touches the water, reducing drag.
Most importantly, the boat is heeled to reduce the pressure on the
tiller. When going almost straight downwind, with most of the sail area
on one side of the boat, it will want to head up. This tendency forces
you to use the rudder more than you should to keep the boat going
straight. To counteract this, simply heel the boat to windward until you
no longer feel any tiller pressure. You should be able to steer with
your fingertips loosely gripping the extension.
Technique: Steering the Boat with Heel
Given what you have learned above about drag on the rudder and
steering the boat without it, this should now be easy. Because the boat
is going so much faster, heeling the boat is very effective for
steering. Also because of your greater speed, the drag on the rudder is
increased, so you should be steering as much as possible without it.
Just remember, when you want to bear off, heel to windward. To head
up, heel to leeward. You should always make your movements small since
course changes cost extra distance. Unless it is necessary to make the
correction quickly, keep the amount of heel to only 5 -10 degrees.
||Jibing is one of the two major transitions mentioned in
the PRIORITIES chapter. It is a very important maneuver because there is
a huge potential for things to go wrong. When going downwind, the boat
is much less stable. When the force of the wind changes drastically
during a jibe, the boat can carve up into the wind, running you way off
course, into another boat, or at the very worst, capsizing. The key to
keeping control of the jibe is to keep the boat steady.
First, don't make a large movement with the tiller to turn the boat.
Keep a straight course as you bring the boom across the center line.
Also, keep your weight in the center of the boat, and keep it mobile in
case you need to throw it to either side to prevent a capsize.
Finally, and most importantly, if the winds are moderate or heavy,
make sure the boat is up to speed. Think about that-make the boat go as
fast as possible before jibing. The reason for this is: If the wind is
from straight behind at 15mph and the boat is going 5mph, you feel 10mph
of wind. That's a lot of force! If, however, you are going 13mph, you
only feel 2mph of wind. This reduces the force on the sails
considerably, keeping the jibe under control. Wait until you are up to
speed, then, when a lull in the wind comes, throw the boom across the
Watching the Wind
||Keeping an eye out behind you on the reach or run is
always a good idea, especially when you're looking for wind. The main
idea is to pick a side of the course and stick with it, but within that
side, you can move a little to use the wind.
When a puff is approaching from behind, you want to head up slightly,
so it gets to you sooner. Then, when you're in it, bear off and ride it
until it runs out. The idea here is to get to the puff quickly, and then
stay in it as long as possible. You can increase your speed if you head
up while in the puff, but this is not a good idea most of the time. If
you're going quickly across it, you will come out the other side sooner
than you want-so stay in it.
||For this last part of the race, I have 4 comments:
- As you come around the leeward mark, look to the finish line to see
which side is closest to you. That is the side to which you should go.
This idea is similar to that of choosing a favored side of the line
when starting. However, if the wind has stayed constant, and if the
line is where it started, the favored finishing end is the opposite
end from the favored starting end.
- Once you set this plan, stick with it. Too many times racers tack
at the last second, only to lose the place because they got worried.
Set up your run so you're coming at the line at full speed, and don't
tack too much. It throws off your concentration for going fast, and
this is where you need the speed the most-the race is almost over.
- Just like a runner throws his or her body forward into the tape
when finishing, you 'throw' the boat over the line. If
you're confident you have the speed, once you're about 1 boatlength
from the finish, 'shoot' the boat straight into the wind.
This cuts down the distance you have to travel to finish.
You must make sure you have enough speed for this maneuver. It
would be a shame to be in front, only to come to a dead stop just
inches from the line.
- Since you have read all the way through this guide, you should be
so far ahead of the rest of the fleet that it won't matter what you do
at the finish.