4 Tips to Coming First in Club Dinghy Sailing Races

By | May 1, 2017

So you want to start coming first instead of last in club racing?

Well you have come to the right place! In this article you will learn how through just 4 simple tips you can improve your ranking in sailing to get third, second or even first place.

These tips are used so little by amateur racers that they always end up last and wondering why the same top few keep coming in the top positions for racing. The secrets of racing are revealed. Follow them and become a club sailing dinghy champion!

These 4 tips outline an entire race strategy that the pros use to come so high up in the rankings. In the next ten minutes prepare to delve into a world in which winning had become standard!

Tip Number One: The Start

Welcome to the race course sailor! The start is the most important part of any race and many novice sailors do not understand the significance of the start in relation to the rest of the race and this is where they go wrong.

The start is the single most important part of the race for most sailors as if they are only moderately skilled, a bad start will break them. Only very skilled and experienced sailors can claw back to the top from a bad start and if you are reading this article I am assuming you are not an extremely skilled or experienced sailors. I am expecting you to be quite good, but always coming between last and middle place. You want to get up there with the pros and start to get some wins under your belt.

Well look no further, the start is the most important part of the race.

Here is a list of strategies that you should use on the line if you want to have a good start and a potentially good race:

  • Get a stop watch! – The number of people I have seen without stop watches on a race is appalling. No wonder it is so easy for the experienced sailors to get some lead over the more novice ones. All serious sailing racers need a stop watch in order to start on time and in the right place without being caught unawares
  • Learn the Flag types – The flags are there to tell you what is going on in a race. So not knowing them is hardly going to help you understand what is going on in the race. It is highly advisable to find a good rulebook from your national sailing organization or the ISAF (International Sailing Federation) and learn all the flag types that will be shown at any given race. Preparation make Perfect!
  • Learn where the marks are – If you are thinking of club racing regularly, then you should learn where the common marks that are used for racing actually are so that when the committee boat shows the marks you don’t have to glance at a map constantly during the race. This kind of preparation is essential for any serious racer.
  • Do a Transit – This little known tactic is something that very few novice sailors know about and proves to be a very useful technique in order to have a good start. A transit is where you find put the boat between the committee boat and the pin buoy an look for a recognizable object on the other side of the pin. This tells you exactly where the starting line is and if there is a black flag shown, you will know whether you are over the line or not.
  • Find out if there is a bias – A biased line is one in which a certain tack is favoured. For instance a port bias is a start in which a port tack is favoured. To find out if there is a port bias, a starboard bias or if it is square (no bias), you can do it accurately or roughly. Doing it accurately requires a compass. Go along your transit and note the compass bearing. Then add 90 degrees to that bearing and turn to that heading. If the boat tacks then the current tack is the favoured tack and the bias. If the boat doesn’t tack then the current tack is the favoured tack and the bias. If the boat goes head to wind then there is no bias and it is a square line. You can roughly do this by seeing if you are beating up one end of the line and broad reaching down the other end. If it is a square line then you should be beam reaching from one end to the other
  • Starting Position – This is also highly important for competitive racing. If there is a bias then most of the boats will be there. If you don’t want to be in a scrum and get a rubbish start, then start slightly lower than the bias end or start on the opposite tack and then tack on to the biased tack after horn goes off. By doing this you will have your own unique heading and start. The worse thing you can do is follow somebody throughout the whole race, because whatever happens you will never win.

If you can master all or most of those tactics, then your starts will become better and better. Make sure that you go over the line on the horn and at full speed as well as using the above tips.

So now the boat has crossed the line. You are on the beat!

Tip Number Two: The Beat

This is the hardest point of sailing to master and this is also where the fleet spreads out with the well trimmed and faster boats at the front whilst the untrimmed and slower boats lag at the back.

A good beat can propel an okay or bad start to being in the top ten or top five position. Here are some great tactics to try and improve your position on the beat.

  • Keep the boat flat! – Another incredibly common past time that I see on the race course is boats heeling constantly though out the race. This is terrible for boat speed as the sail is pulled away from the wind. Make sure that the boat is flat at all times. To actually achieve this make make sure boat crew members are hiking out of the boat in a comfortable position. If this doesn’t help then let out some main sail and pinch (go further up wind), this should bring down the heel. the moment this happens pull the main sheet back in so that when the boat is flat the mainsail is fully in. This has the effect of a massive pump on the boat, which causes a burst of acceleration. Continue to do this throughout the beat and you will find yourself overtaking everyone who is heeling constantly, greatly improving your position. You can also use the kicker and cunningham in especially high winds to depower the sail and keep the boat flat, but you must remember to remove the kicker and cunningham when the wind dies down or there is a lull.
  • Sit forward in the boat – When the boat is not heeling your crew should be sitting on the centreboard and you should be sitting up against the shroud. Why? Because if you both sit back then the stern will act like a massive drag in the water causing the boat to slow down considerably. If you both sit forward the stern comes out of the water and the boat is no longer hampered by an extra dead weight in the water.
  • Make sure that the slot is trimmed – This is a very unknown technique in sailing. The concept of the slot is very technical and is to do with the physics of sailing and aerodynamics, but here is a simplified version. The slot is the distance between the Genoa and the mainsail. If the slot is too small the airflow becomes constricted and the front bottom of the mainsail begins to luff. If the slot is too large the Genoa begins to luff. The slot must be trimmed correctly so that the Genoa is about one and a half inches off the leeward shroud so as to provide optimal airflow. This slot distance changes with wind speed so it must be constantly watched by the crew. This is something that only experienced sailors know about and so should be utilized against other sailors to improve your position and gain some ground on your opponent.
  • Take lifts and avoid headers – Lifts and headers are where the wind changes direction. If the change is more to windward, it is called a lift and if the the change is more to leeward it is called a header. You should always take lifts and avoid headers by changing the boat’s direction. In a lift turn windward and in a header bear away. In big lifts you should always expect a large header, which could make you tack so be careful about overshooting and taking the lift too far. Lifts are useful by taking you more windward of your opponent, which means closer to the windward mark.

These techniques are rarely used by inexperienced sailors and if you use them you can climb to the top of the fleet in no time and no-one will understand how you optimized your sails or managed to go so fast.

Tip Number Three: Rounding Marks

In a typical course, there are three marks: the windward mark, the gybe mark and the leeward mark. Of course all courses will be more complicated than this, but all marks can be assigned one of these types.

There are some great rules you can utilize at marks in order to take the advantage when you reach the mark.

  • The starboard rule – The starboard rule is the most important rule in sailing. It says that a port tack boat must giveaway to a starboard tack boat. This means that if you approach a mark on port and there is also a starboard boat coming towards it you must either tack or bear away a little. As you can see when approaching a mark it is always best to be on starboard and you must take this into account during your beat.
  • The windward rule – The windward rule is also an important rule that states that a windward boat must keep clear of a leeward boat. This is very important at the windward mark, because it means that the leeward boat can push the windward boat further up in order for the leeward boat to go round the mark first. This only applies when the leeward boat’s bow or stern overlaps the windward boat’s bow or stern.
  • The water rule – This is exclusively for mark rounding and states that the inside boat that has an overlap with in a certain number of boat lengths of the mark can call for water in which the outside boat must allow the inside boat room to round the mark. The rule has been changed in the ISAF 2009-2012 rulebook. It used to be that if the inside boat (the boat between one boat and a mark) had an overlap within 2 boat lengths they could call for water. Now however the rule has been changed to 3 boat lengths and you must take this into account and work out if there is an overlap or not. If there is an overlap call for water. If not make space for the outside boat to round the mark.
  • Wide in and Tight out – This is a great technique to use to start beating just as you round a leeward mark. If you go slightly lower to leeward than the mark and then tighten up as you round the mark, you should end up with a little burst of speed and be higher than a boat that doesn’t do this tactic.
  • Keep control of your wind! – The boat behind you when you approach a mark on a beam reach will try to go windward of you so that they take your wind and you slow down. Instead of letting them take it go windward yourself and push them higher up on the course until they decide it isn’t worth it. Remember though that reaches are faster than going up wind so you have to calculate whether or not it is worth going up wind.

These are very important tactics for mark rounding that any pro sailor will use and not tell anyone else about. Use them and see how far up the fleet you get to.

Tip Number Four: The Run

Running is the slowest point of sailing. Most dinghy classes have spinnakers or gennakers that are large sail bags that capture the wind and pull the boat forward. All serious sailors should master the techniques of using spinnakers and gennakers before reviewing this tip of the article.

  • Sit backwards – This the opposite to the beat where you have to sit forwards, in the run you have to sit backwards. This is because the boat naturally pushes the bow into the water creating drag or in especially high winds capsizing the boat. Instead sit slightly backwards and allow the bow to right itself.
  • Don’t go on a dead run – Dead runs slow down boats. Remember that! The worst point of sail you can be on is a dead run as there is no aerodynamics creating forces. All that is pushing the boat along is the pressure of the wind against the sail. The fastest point of sail is the broad reach as there is a force created through the aerodynamics as well as the pressure of the wind against the sail. At all times try and get on to a broad reach to go to the next mark, because it is much, much faster than a dead run or even a training run. The sails are far more efficient at broad reaches than runs.
  • Take off the kicker, cunningham and out haul – Very, very important. The whole point of these ropes are to depower the sail. If they are all on at the point of sail, which is the slowest you will inadvertently be slowing and depowering the sail even further. Make sure all these ropes are hanging loose and that the sail is sufficiently powered as to move the boat. To remember whether or not you have kept them on or off, check out the speed of other boats and see if they are traveling faster or slower than you and then tweak to compensate.

The run is my favorite part of sailing, because I love sailing the spinnaker. It is also the precursor to the finish, which is usually on the beat. So to make your finished better just revise the information on beating, to give yourself and advantage over your opponents.

So that is the ultimate guide to sailing better. Review this a few more times or send it to your crew or helm so that you are both on the same wavelength. This is practically everything you need to know to improve your sailing and your racing finishing position.

On the racecourse just watch as you fly by your racing comrades and see their shocked faces and then tell them the secret by emailing them this ultimate guide to sailing and see the looks on their faces when they find out it is so simple.

Or be evil and keep it all to yourself!

I hope you have enjoyed this article as much as I have enjoyed writing it and will be continuing to think about it for the rest of the day with an excitement and apprehension that you feel as you get closer and closer to the time when you can put these tips into practice.

Source by Alex Dotsch

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