Gate marks: Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

Published on March 7th, 2022

For windward-leeward courses with drop marks, the gate configuration at end of the downwind leg can offer either opportunity or adversity. The choice is made easier when in the lead, though getting it wrong becomes more painful. Also, the angles for symmetrical and asymmetrical spinnaker boats changes the “what’s better” decision.

Andy Burdick quizzed his colleagues at Quantum Sails Zenda and narrowed the decision-making down into three simple factors:

1) Which side of the racecourse has more wind? Start the decision process halfway down your downwind run. Wind is a major factor in your decision, so stand up, look around, and begin to decide well before the leeward mark.

2) Which mark will have less traffic? Not only should you look for less traffic as you enter the leeward gates, but you should also determine which mark will have less traffic as you exit the gate. In a big fleet, the downwind boats will create a lot of bad air – enter the marks clean and exit on the side with less downwind traffic so that you can sail full speed.

3) Which mark is closer? If there is a large discrepancy between the gates pick the mark that is closer and prepare for the rounding well in advance. Board down, outhaul on, cunningham set, sitting on the high-side ready to trim your sail fast and smooth. Exit the gate, focus on angle of heel, mainsheet trim, and speed. Focus is key after you exit the mark.

While simple in theory, none of these are that simple. Determining wind strength often comes quickest based on the experience on the upwind leg, plus how the fleet is shifting downwind. Assessing traffic requires a crystal ball, particularly as the approach to the mark is done in the final third of the leg. And then there’s deciding which of the bobbing marks looks closer. However, ask the questions early, involve the whole crew, and commit to your decision.

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