Yachts & Yachting|March 2020

Don’t let the leeward mark become a directionless flurry. The smart boats have their strategy sorted as they exit, says MARK RUSHALL

We made it! The spinnaker stayed out of the water and is safely stowed. The jib halyard needs a little more tension: we can do that on the next tack. The wind seems to have dropped: maybe we need to get the jib cars further forward and adjust the mast chocks when we get a chance. We remembered to get the outhaul back on and the centreboard fully down before the rounding. Now it’s time to find the next mark, check-in on the wind shift phase, and decide our upwind strategy: or is it?

The beginning of the next upwind leg is a sea of opportunity that is frequently overlooked in the frantic rush to get the leeward mark safely behind us. The smart boats began the planning process early. They were aligned to any changes in conditions during the downwind leg, got the boat set up before the mark, were aware of the next mark position and shift phase, and had the strategic priorities sorted. This meant they had a clear objective before the jostling began, and are already sailing fast towards the next gain, while the others are playing catch up.


What are the priorities for the next leg? If it’s a reach, the strategy may simply be to protect the “inside” side of the run to give the best chance of gaining or breaking an overlap before the zone, with a clear lane home.

If it’s a beat, there’s more to think about. What has been the winning strategy for the race so far? Oscillating shifts? A favoured side through wind or tide variations? What does the next leg look like? Is the beat square, or skewed so that most of the leg will be on one tack? The answers to these questions should shape your positioning against other boats on the second half of the off wind leg and not the other way around, even earlier if it’s a short leg.

If you want to tack early, avoid being overlapped outside another boat at the mark at all costs: drop early, weave around if necessary to fall clear astern, and exit nice and tight on the mark, especially on a starboard rounding, so there is no chance that any following boats can pin you out. If you are making a charge for the left-hand side following a port hand rounding, a tight rounding is only necessary if there are boats very close ahead: a smooth arc exiting at maximum speed puts you in better shape for an early tack than a harsh speed killing turn.

In a big or mixed class fleet, clusters of boats will affect the bottom beat strategy. Where are the clusters of beating boats ahead, and running boats behind? There is little point, as a leading boat, tacking immediately around the leeward mark if that puts you directly into the disturbed air from the large clump of running boats immediately behind.


If sailing a race against the clock with no other boats on the course, it would make sense to minimise the upwind distance sailed. An even turn takes the least amount of speed off the boat, and leads to a tight exit (diag 1 above). Even if there are no other boats, aim to get a complete, smooth turn in on the approach, and exit tight on the mark on a close-hauled course. With boats around, this racing turn gives some chance of finding a lane when following a beating boat whose execution is not so good, prevents the boat behind from doing just that, and ensures that you are clear to tack whenever you wish without fouling the boat behind. But check the ‘rules talk’ section on p22: if you are keep-clear boat, an inside overlap may not give you the option of following the racing line.

The actual radius of the turn depends on the type of boat, and the prevailing conditions; some time spent watching your class “experts” followed by half a day practising rounding a mark, preferably with a “buddy”, will develop an appreciation of your boats’ needs. The objective is to build and practise a consistent routine. As with every boat handling skill, the aim is a smooth, safe manoeuvre, with a minimum of speed-killing rudder drag.


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March 2020