Even with the best tac­ti­cal fore­sight, we can find our­selves in a jam, but keep these three tips in your tac­ti­cal tool­box, and you’ll al­ways have a Plan B.

Sailing World - - Contents -

Pin­wheels, slow ducks, and over­stood marks are all pit­falls of the race­course, but there are ways to avoid them al­to­gether.


This one’s a clas­sic: If you’re the out­side boat of a group ap­proach­ing the lee­ward mark and blindly carry on with pace, you’ll sail ex­tra dis­tance in bad air, carry wide around the mark, and then exit in a ter­ri­ble lane. This is one of the rare times when it pays to slow down and let other boats move ahead.

To kill speed, take your spinnaker down early and steer a lit­tle ex­tra dis­tance. If you’re slightly ad­vanced on the group and they barely have room, you can slow down a lot by steer­ing hard, swerv­ing back and forth, and swing­ing wide to slow your boat and kill time.

Once you’ve slowed, let the pinwheel un­fold, and watch as the boats swing­ing around the out­side be­come pinned and stuck in bad air. These boats had room on you, but be­cause they are now pinned wide from the mark, they can no longer make a tight round­ing and close you out.

When you can round the mark tightly with­out foul­ing those boats ( be­cause you don’t have room), sail to­ward the mark, ide­ally reach­ing a lit­tle bit be­fore round­ing so you have speed. You will now be on the in­side track going up­wind, no doubt pass­ing a boat or two. More im­por­tant, you’re set­ting your­self up on the in­side track for a nice beat.

One cau­tion­ary note: When slow­ing down and wait­ing for your opportunity to round in­side, there might be boats com­ing up from be­hind with no room who want to speed into the gap you’re shoot­ing for. They might not slow down and wait their turn, so be sure to com­mu­ni­cate to them that they have no rights, thus sav­ing your­self the drama of an ugly foul and big pileup.


Over­stand­ing a mark is a big no-no, but we still end up do­ing it from time to time. The key to recovery is to start haul­ing butt, get­ting to the mark as quickly as pos­si­ble. Up­wind, you need to put the bow down, but in medium and heavy air, crack­ing off causes too much heel, so de­power the rig — trav­eler down, back­stay on, hike hard, and scoot back about a foot on the rail. The goal is to re­duce helm and let it rip.

Al­ways keep a lit­tle money in the bank by sail­ing a touch high of the mark, just in case you get headed or a boat tacks on you. Con­stantly gauge your bear­ing to the mark by com­par­ing it to the land be­hind, es­pe­cially if you’re sail­ing in cur­rent. The worst sit­u­a­tion is to have to tack again.

Down­wind, if the lane is clear, sail high and fast to­ward the lee­ward mark. If sail­ing higher puts you in the dirty air from boats ahead, sail low to keep your air clear as long as pos­si­ble, then heat it up late near the mark. With sym­met­ric spin­nakers, ease the pole for­ward and lower the top­ping lift, tighten the foreguy so the pole is sta­ble, trim your main in, and hike hard to keep the boat flat.

With an asym­met­ric spinnaker, head up, trim all sails to your new an­gle, and hike. When reach­ing, re­mem­ber the vang is your throt­tle: on for more power and off to re­duce power. Don’t let the boat heel or you’ll go side­ways.


The goal when ducking an­other boat is to minimize loss, and if done well, pos­si­bly even pass them on the next cross­ing. To duck well, gen­er­ate ex­tra speed by bear­ing off and then tak­ing ad­van­tage of the small lift as you cross close to the other boat’s tran­som. It all hinges upon mak­ing as small a course change as pos­si­ble.

If it’s going to be a big duck, bear away early to set up a small turn as you are ducking. When bear­ing away, ease the main and jib, and hike hard to gen­er­ate speed. If it’s breezy, ease the vang. Again, the goal is to bear away early, sail straight, tight reach­ing, for a few sec­onds to build speed, then head up as you ap­proach the other boat’s stern, avoid­ing a big turn. As you cross be­hind with speed, you can smoothly re­turn to close­hauled trim.

Since you are going faster than up­wind sail­ing speed dur­ing and after the duck, and you get a small lift from the other boat’s sails, you can burn some of that speed by pinch­ing slightly after head­ing up, giv­ing you a lit­tle more gain to wind­ward. This will last for only a few sec­onds. Make the front of the jib bub­ble just a touch. As the boat slows, bear away to a nor­mal an­gle and speed. If you do this well, when ducking on port tack, you might be able to get a piece of the boat next time you come to­gether with star­board- tack ad­van­tage. This is es­pe­cially pow­er­ful at the top of the course a few lengths un­der star­board tack- lay­line.

What if it ap­pears the other boat will lee­bow you and you want to con­tinue? If you’re in a light­weight boat with good ma­neu­ver­abil­ity, try a late duck, which will keep from giv­ing away your in­ten­tions and pos­si­bly freeze them. The rules pre­vent them from tack­ing too close, so when you duck at the last minute, hail “Don’t tack!” This might freeze the star­board tacker enough to give you a bow- out po­si­tion after the meet­ing.

On heav­ier and big­ger boats, bear away early and gen­er­ate as much speed as pos­si­ble. If they tack to lee­bow and you have tons of speed, you can head up firmly and smoothly, glid­ing above close­hauled for a while and cre­at­ing a lat­eral gap. Your mo­men­tum will carry you to weather of them, with enough of a gap to hold your lane. Q

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