The Mechanics of Mode

Published on September 18th, 2017

In this Sailing World report by Andy Horton with Dave Powlison, they explain how using your sail plan to shift gears upwind and downwind puts you in the right mode for the right time.


If the wind never changed, there was never a reason to get to one side of the course, or other boats never influenced your positioning, you could always sail to your target speed and angle, or velocity made good, but we know that seldom happens. That’s why you must rely on “moding”: sailing a little higher or lower than your targets for a tactical or strategic ­advantage, upwind as well as downwind.

Other than the target VMG, I like to think in terms of two other modes. Upwind, there’s high/slow and low/fast. Downwind, there’s low/slow and high/fast.

As an example, upwind, right off the starting line, you might find yourself in a position where you have to work hard to stay to windward of a group of boats. Then you switch to a high and slow mode. Or maybe you want to be the first one to reach a shift or puff ahead. Then you switch to the low and fast mode. If you’re sailing downwind, you get to that puff quicker by going to the high and fast mode. If you find yourself too high for the final approach to a leeward mark with not enough time and ­distance to jibe, then time for low and slow.

How much higher or lower are we ­talking about when switching into these modes? Not as much as you’d think, the difference between the slow modes, both upwind and down, and the optimum VMG angle, is only about 3 to 5 degrees. The difference between the fast modes, upwind and down, and the optimum VMG angle, is a bit more, sometimes as much as 10 degrees.

A common mistake is to move into a different mode by simply steering those few degrees higher or lower. Do only that, and you’ll never realize the advantage to the four modes:

• Upwind Low and Fast
• Upwind High and Slow
• Downwind High and Fast
• Downwind Low and Slow

Here’s a look at the mechanics behind each mode and what you need to do to make moding work for you…click here.

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