Here, below, is a guest post written by my dear friend, George Moffat.  George has flown and sailed all over the globe, competing with and winning against the world’s most talented racers – both in the sky and on the ocean.  Here’s his post, based on a presentation of his (originally written for glider contest flying), and specifically modified for sailing competition. 

Low Loss Sailing

There are a number of ways that a sailor can increase the chances of winning boat races. New sails, a well-sanded bottom—mine took nine hours of wet sanding last Spring—every one knows that a fast boat can make a skipper look mighty good! But there is another approach to consider. Imagine that you are sailing a four-mile windward/leeward course in your trusty Twelve Footer. It’s a nice day, wind in the 12-14 knot range. Have you given any consideration to the number of maneuvers you will have to make, tacks, gybes, mark-roundings and so forth? Suppose you could save a few seconds on each? What’s a few seconds, you ask?  In gliding, a sport very similar to sailing, (except that it’s three dimensional) — in my first World Championships, I finished in fourth place, a mere 12 seconds out of third place, and 55 seconds out of second, over eight long days of competition.

As for sailing, let’s imagine a four-mile race, twice around (that’s 5.2 miles, counting the two windward legs) sailed by identical Twelve Footers, Boat A and Boat B. The only difference is that Boat A hasn’t practiced, and his maneuvers are sloppy, and Boat B does each perfectly. Each boat will make the following maneuvers in the race:

Boat Maneuver Time Loss/Seconds Cumulative Time Loss/Seconds
Boat A Start – late to the line 25 seconds 25 seconds
Boat A Tacks (8) – sloppy 15 seconds/tack 145 seconds
Boat A Gybes (4) – sloppy 20 seconds/gybe 225 seconds
Boat A Upwind Marks (2) – slow 20 seconds/rounding 265 seconds
Boat A Downwind Mark (1) – slow 30 seconds/rounding 295 seconds
Boat B All maneuvers perfect No time lost relative to Boat A Comes out almost 5 minutes ahead!!

Keep in mind that, once on course, in this illustration, the two boats have identical speeds. We have ignored spinnaker sets and take downs in the above, which could easily have added another minute to the mark-roundings. As you can see, Boat A’s careless maneuvering loses him nearly 5 minutes to Boat B!

So, let’s have a look at the three biggies where significant gains can be made in a race: tacks, gybes, and mark roundings:

Tacks:  A very common and very expensive mistake is putting the helm down abruptly and as much as 25 degrees. Rudders make very effective brakes. Start with 10-15 degrees and allow the boat to heel an extra 10 degrees. This allows the center of effort of the sails to move outboard a couple of feet, very effectively turning the boat into the wind with little rudder drag. As the boat comes head to wind, increase the rudder angle, but not too much. As the boat comes level the skipper can throw his or her weight into the after corner of the leeward seat to assist the turning. Unless the water is smooth, as the bow pays off, ease the main a foot or so, so it doesn’t try to weather-cock the boat back into the wind. As the sails fill head off ten degrees below your projected course as you trim the main. Be sure the crew has pushed the jib club to leeward and that the two of you are sitting close together, the crew busy reading the compass to spot wind shifts and moving to keep the angle of heel constant at about 10-12 degrees. The lee shroud should be vertical to the horizon.

Gybing:  Gybing can offer some big gains because most skippers don’t practice this enough. Keep in mind that on a run a Twelve Footer, with its long main boom, should be heeling to windward about 5 degrees. You have it right when there is no pressure on the tiller. When gybing, first pick out a target on the shore. It’s easy to swing too far. In anything over 14 knots, trim the main in so the boom is about 45 degrees off the centerline of the boat, keeping the boat flat throughout the maneuver. If there are waves, plan the gybe so you are going downhill. Use about 15 degrees of tiller. As the main starts over, change sides, with the helm amidships. As the main fills on the new side, the boat will want to heel and round up. Prevent this by easing the mainsheet quickly and meeting the round-up tendency with opposite rudder. This is where things can get out of hand in a broach. Having a target on shore is very helpful. Having practiced gybing a lot gives one a lot of confidence. While you’re at it, practice 720s, involving both tacks and gybes. What?!! You never need to do one???!!!

Mark Roundings:  These come in two varieties, the windward ones easier than the leeward, but both offer opportunities to screw up.

WindwardMark:  First, some basics: If the wind is shifty and you are approaching on the lifted tack, gybe after rounding. If on the headed tack, bear-off. If approaching on the port tack be sure to make your tack for the mark outside the Zone. If inside, a fetching boat does not have to give you mark room (Rule 18.3). As soon as the stern clears the mark, ease the mainsheet several feet to start the turn. Rudder alone will produce a slow turn with lots of braking action. Ease the jib slowly, it will help the bow to bear off. If spinnaker-equipped, get it up immediately and gybed if necessary. As soon as possible, drop the peak halyard until the tack-to-peak wrinkle disappears.

Leeward Mark:  On a twice around course, the mark will be left to port. If traffic allows, gybe to port five or six boat lengths away. Re-hoist the peak halyard, which should be marked for going to windward purposes. This is vital as it will be difficult to impossible once you have rounded the mark. Next, douse the spinnaker. Err on the conservative side, as trying to round the mark with the spinnaker half up is Very Slow. After the spinnaker is stowed, trim the jib to the marks for windward work. Plan to do a tactical rounding, wide going in, close to the mark as you leave. Use as little rudder as possible for the turn. The crew should be starting to sheet the main as you begin the turn. By the time you have turned 90 degrees it should be half way in at least, and coming the rest of the way as fast as the crew can manage as the boat comes on the wind. As soon as possible have the crew check the compass and call the favored tack. This last will save many seconds, especially if you are in the lead.

Mark-roundings, especially the leeward marks, deserve a lot of practice, and double or triple that if spinnakers are involved. A good workout is to set up a short windward/leeward course, maybe using harbor moorings for marks, and do ten or twelve rounds in various weights of wind. Use a stopwatch to time results.

George Moffat

George Moffat

George Moffat has been racing boats since 1955, in many countries, and has won the Eastern High Point Trophy three times, and the Douglass Trophy for match racing against Canada. For the last ten years he has raced Herreshoff Twelve Footers, with two National Championship wins to his credit. In an allied sport, glider flying, he has been twice World Champion, as well as Coach of the United States team.
George Moffat

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