The windward mark is a literal and figurative turning
point in almost every race, so it's important to approach the mark smartly
and have a good rounding. As you get closer to the mark, there are many
things you can do to help improve your chances of success. Here is a
brainstorm list of some to consider.
Of course, it won't be possible to do all these things all the time. In
fact, if you're sailing a single-handed boat, you might do only a cursory
job on a handful of these items. But when you're racing a 50-footer, you
may do a fairly complete job on almost everything.
The key here is to divide up the responsibilities among your crew, since
on person can't do everything. For example, put one person in charge of
looking for the nest mark. Let the helmsperson focus 100% on speed if
possible, and make sure you have good communication so he or she receives
all the important information.
Confirm that you are heading for the correct mark. We've all gone to the
wrong windward mark, and it's not a great feeling. Worse yet, most of us
have gone to the wrong mark even when someone in our crew knew it was
probably the wrong (but assumed the skipper knew what he was doing).
To prevent this, verbalize which mark you are going to well before you get
there, and make sure everyone in your crew agrees.
Make sure you're planning to round the mark in the correct direction. OK,
the good news is you rounded the right mark - but the bad news is you went
around it the wrong way. This could be almost as bad as heading for the
wrong mark, so prevent mistakes with good communication. Before you get to
the mark, say "We're going around this mark to port," and be sure no one
Determine your final tactical approach. As you get closer to the windward
mark, it becomes more difficult to avoid other boats and maintain clear
air. So before you get stuck in a bad position, take a good look at the
boats around you.
Should you approach the mark on a starboard or port tack? When do you want
to get to the layline? What's the best way to maintain a lane of clear
air? Factor all of this into a plan that will get you around the mark as
quickly as possible.
Watch the roundings of the boats ahead of you. There's a lot you can learn
by watching the boats in your fleet. For example, if there's current are
they having a hard time getting around the mark on starboard tack? This
information could make a big difference in how you approach the mark.
If you're racing on handicap, take the times of boats ahead of you when
they round the mark. Compare these to your own time and figure out how
you're doing with them in the race. Knowing where you stand can be helpful
in deciding your strategy and tactics.
Locate the next mark visually. Unless you have poor visibility or bad
eyesight, this is an absolute must. Assign one crewmember to find the jibe
mark or leeward mark before you get to the windward mark. Look for easy
ways to identify the mark location. For example, before you reach the
windward mark you might tell your skipper, "On the nest leg aim for the
tall smokestack on land over there."
Knowing this location early will help you figure out where to point your
boat right after the mark and may also be useful in planning your strategy
for the next leg.
Figure out a compass bearing for the next leg. If you have a compass, try
to calculate a course to steer for the second leg of the race. This is
especially useful when it's difficult to see the second mark.
||If you are using fixed government marks, plot
your course on a chart. If the race committee is setting marks, you can
figure out the second-leg course if you know the bearing to the first mark
and the course geometry. For example, if the first mark is set at 185° and
you have a 90° turn at the jibe mark, your course on the first reach will
be 050° (185° minus a 135° turn at the windward mark).
angle of sail on the next leg. Well before you reach the windward mark,
figure out your apparent wind angle for the next leg. If you're going onto
a run this is easy, of course. But when the second leg is a reach,
determine how tight it is so you'll know if you can carry a spinnaker.
The easiest way to determine the angle of sail is by watching boats ahead
that are already on the second leg. Are they all carrying chutes? Are any
of them having problems? If there are no boats on the next leg, use
geometry to figure out your wind angle.
In the example I gave earlier, the wind direction is 185° and the jibe
mark bears 050°. This means your true wind angle on that reach will be
135°, which is broad enough to carry a spinnaker.
Talk over your strategy for the next leg. Just as you should develop a
first-leg strategy before the start, you need to devise a strategy for the
second leg before you round the windward mark.
This doesn't have to be too complex; it could simply be something like,
"We're going to jibe set and play the left side of the run where there is
more wind," or "Let's delay our spinnaker set so we can get up high in the
passing lane on this windy reach."
In order to come up with a good strategic plan, you must look ahead to the
next leg while you are still sailing up the first beat. Obviously, it
helps to do this a few minutes before you reach the windward mark, since
moves like a jibe set require a bit of preparation.
Get your spinnaker ready. If you will be flying a chute on the second leg,
get it ready so you can hoist as soon as you round the windward mark. Some
things you may need to do before the mark include uncleating the halyard
and sheets, setting the pole and moving the spinnaker to a hoist-ready
Think ahead and perform some of these tasks on your last port tack before
the mark. Otherwise you may have to move to leeward to accomplish them,
which is not too good if it's windy.
Review your crew's spinnaker set procedures. This is something that you
have hopefully done in practice sessions or before the start of the race.
However, it doesn't hurt to offer a few reminders just before you round
the mark and hoist.
Focus on a few key points that will make a difference. For example, "Bill,
you have the spinnaker sheet, right?" and "Sarah, remember to ease the jib
out when we hoist," and "Joe, don't forget to push the pole forward to the
clew." A few calm words like this can help keep things organized and
Note any race committee signals. Keep your eyes out for race committee
boats. It's possible they might shorten your course at the first windward
mark, but I've never seen this. More likely is a change of course if the
wind has shifted and the second leg is a run. In this case, take note of
the bearing to the new mark and try to locate this mark visually (it
probably has a special feature like a band). Factor its position into your
strategy for the next leg.
Work hard at going fast. Speed should be a priority all around the race
course, especially at a critical point like the first mark rounding. If
you have food speed, it will make tactics and boat handling that much
easier. While everything in this brainstorm list is important, don't let
it distract you from going fast.