Finishing the race right

Published on July 14th, 2020

Just like everywhere else on the race course, there is a right way and a wrong way to approach the finish line. When you aren’t sure, we suggest you go to the end with photographers, so at least you get a keepsake. But to be sure, Ed Baird explains the important and subtle nuances of finishing a sailboat race at the favored end:


Finishing properly is too often overlooked, even by the top sailors. After all, it’s easy. All you do is sail between the committee boat and the mark, wait until you hear the horn, and head for the barn. By the time you’ve reached the finish, the race has been decided anyway. Compared to the hectic decision-making time of the start, that shifty first beat and those crowded mark roundings, finishing is like hanging up the phone after making a call—it just happens!

But what about when several boats cross the line overlapped? In one race at the 1979 Soling Worlds, 17 of us finished overlapped on a run. It certainly paid to finish at the right end of the line! Or how about racing in handicap fleets? You may be crossing the line by yourself, but often every second counts. I once won a handicap race on a 26-footer by only three seconds after 127 miles; if we’d sailed half a boat length more out of our way we’d have been second.

When approaching the finish, there are several tricks to get yourself across the line as quickly as possible. As usual, no hard and fast rules apply; every race ends differently, and good judgment must prevail. For instance, you wouldn’t tack away toward the better end if that meant splitting from a boat you were covering—unless, of course, there were other boats close behind heading for the proper end. There are, however, some general rules to obey when competitors are close or when you need to stop the clock as soon as possible. Full report.

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