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August 13, 2018 3 min read

Sailing Rules of Thumb: Rule #1 Pre-Race Routine

Strategies to improve your fleet racing by George Cousins, Sailing Chandlery sponsored sailor who has recently finished in 12th place at the Laser Nationals and in 3rd place at the RS Aero 9 World Championships.

Develop a pre-race routine and stick to it. The top sailors will launch early, getting a feel for the conditions, tune up and begin their routine.

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A sample routine will resemble:

  • Compass work: There is no excuse for not having a new generation of digital compass. Use your sail out to the course to familiarise yourself with the conditions. Take a compass reading at both the bottom and top of the course and begin tracking the shifts. Is there a wind bend? How frequently is the wind shifting? How frequent are the gusts? Use your compass to establish line bias also.
  • Tuning: Sail upwind to get a feel for the conditions. Does one tack feel more powered up than the other? If so why? Consider doing a split tack with another boat to establish which side is favoured. Never sail more than 4 minutes upwind away from the start line incase the warning signal is made.
  • Tide: What direction is the tide flowing and is there a difference across the course? How will the tide impact the start-line, courses-skew, lay-lines and your strategy?
  • Waves: Is there a wave bend across the course? Will this make one side of the beat/run favourable?
  • Start-line: Assess line bias. If one end is favoured how will this impact your first-beat strategy? If the line is only slightly biased then start at the end you are intending to sail up the beat. However if the line is heavily biased then this cannot be ignored. Things become more complicated if the line is heavily Pin based but the right hand side of the course looks favourable. In this instance it pays to be near the pin end but with an option to tack off after the gun, so position yourself 1/3 up or just to windward of the pack.
  • Transits: Get a transit sighting from the committee boat to the pin end and also a back-transit from the pin back to the committee boat if possible.
  • Windward mark location: Is the windward mark offset or skewed? Sail the long tack first unless you are very sure one side will pay.
  • Clouds & pressure: Look upwind; is there more wind on one side of the course? What are the clouds signalling? Is the wind a sea breeze or gradient? Will there be a persistent shift throughout the day? Is the wind forecast to back or veer throughout the day?

Once all of this is done you should have some idea of a race strategy. If you are still unsure which side will pay on the beat then simply focus on getting a good start enabling options to tack. Sail a low risk first beat by staying between the fleet and the top mark. After the first beat is is more apparent which side will pay on subsequent laps. Doing this will ensure you arrive at the top mark in consistently good shape.

Next Article

Read the next article in the series - Sailing Rules of Thumb: Rule #2 The Start

Other Articles

Read the other articles in the series, Sailing Rules of Thumb.

  1. Pre Race Routine
  2. The Start
  3. The First Beat
  4. The Reach
  5. The Run
  6. Consolidation and Self Coaching

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