Clear air
Using windshifts
Light air
Heavy air
Small fleets

A Strategy and Tactics Primer

Shevy Gunter

This piece is mostly based on Stuart Walker's Advanced Racing Tactics.

Avoid Major Mistakes, such as:
Failing to understand the instructions
Failing to check the wind and the current
Failing to attain clear air at the start
Failing to attain freedom to tack early
Failing to recognize wind shifts and oscillations
Failing to recognize wind and current strength differences over the playing field
Failing to avoid right of way boats
Failing to plan the best approach and departure from each mark
Failing to steer properly due to lack of concentration

Attain Clear Air:
Avoid being backwinded more than being blanketed


Bear away and foot through to leeward, or
Tack away

Windward mark:

Overstand and reach in, or
Approach on port and tack close to mark


Sail high in gusty or increasing winds
Sail low in steady or decreasing winds


Luff away and foot through to windward, or
Gybe away

Leeward mark:

Sail wide and reach in high

Upwind Use of Shifts:
In a persistent shift, sail the headed tack toward the shift first, and then the lifted tack to the mark.
In an oscillating shift, sail the lifted tack, tacking on each header.

Downwind Use of Shifts:
In a persistent shift, sail the gybe away from the shift first, and then the headed tack to the mark.
In an oscillating shift, sail the headed tack, gybing on each lift.

Light Air Strategies:
Avoid the middle, head for the windier side.
Stay away from other boats. Achieve speed rather than pointing.
Treat all shifts as oscillations.
Tack only when an advantage is acquired, or
Tack only when there is a major increase in wind on the other side of the course.

Heavy Air Strategies:
Achieve low leeway and speed, before trying to head up and point.
Avoid tacking, especially lee-bow tacks and especially before the start.
Shoot for long approaches to the start line.
Stay away from boats to leeward.
Tack well short of laylines.
Utilize waves to increase speed.

Current Strategies:
Current pushes all boats at the same rate regardles of their angle of attack!
Select the side of each leg that provides the most favorable (least unfavorable) current.
Steer to the next mark to take into account the current's drift effect.
Approach a mark on the tack (or gybe) on which the current is more favorable.
Compensate for the current's drift effect more when the exposure to current will be longer.
. In an uneven cross-current and anything but light winds, use the current-induced persistent shifts.

Reaching Strategies:
Decide whether to go high or low on the next reaach before rounding the mark.
Adjust sail trim continuously.
If leading, reach low at the beginning of the first reach until the followers round the mark.
When the wind is moderate and steady, sail the rhumb line.
When the wind is variable, sail high in the lulls and low in the gusts.
When the wind is dying, sail low first and then high for the mark rounding.
When the wind is light but increasing, sail high first and then lower for the mark rounding.
When the wind is strong, sail the waves to facilitate planing and/or surfing.
Sail to stay inside at the gybe mark.
Go high immediately at the beginning of the second reach.

Tight Reaching Strategies:

Go high initially without a spinnaker, and set spinnaker later if:

- the wind is light but increasing,
- the wind is moderate and variable,
- the wind is expected to shift forward.

Go low initially with a spinnaker, and douse later if:

- the wind is light and dying,
- the wind is strong and planing or surfing is possible,
- the wind is expected to shift back.

Running Strategies:
Survey the course downwind before reaching the weather mark!
Break away from any congestion at the mark before assuming the preferred gybe.
Round to a higher course than the optimal to stay to windward.
Helmsman should not handle the mainsail rounding either the weather or the leeward mark.
After rounding the weather mark, sail the gybe better aligned with the rhumb line first.
Ceteris paribus, the favored tack upwind is the unfavored tack downwind.
Sail at the optimal angle to the apparent wind for the wind speed experienced.
Blanket the boats ahead.
Approach the leeward mark wide and then, sail high to round, unless approach is dead downwind.

6-10 Boat Races are Match-Races!
During the starting sequence, hold competitors close to windward, or follow them close astern.
Ignore wind shifts unless absolutely certain you will gain by tacking or gybing.
Once you gained on other boats, consolidate your gain and cover loosely.
Tack or gybe to stay between followers and the next mark.
Tack dead ahead or to lee-bow of competitors instead of crossing them ahead.
If crossing astern, tack to weather quarter of leader boat to prevent her from tacking.
If not leading, initiate tacking and gybing duals (only if competition is close).
Carry windward boats past laylines.
Slow down to force boats taking your stern to either crash-tack or fall off (going upwind). Do not forget to hail!