Playbook of race-winning tactics

Published on July 20th, 2022

Why are certain people consistently at the top of the standings? For sure, they have good boat speed and boat handling, but the final ingredient is execution. What sets the best apart is they see situations occurring before they occur, and position themselves to either benefit or minimize loss.

For example, there are only so many ways to get around the windward mark, and in this report by Olympic silver medalist Steve Benjamin for Sailing World, he reveals them:


Congratulations, you’ve made it to the top of the beat. Now it’s time to nail the first weather-mark rounding, which, when done well, will set you up for a good position on the run. For simplicity, let’s look at three useful weather-mark moves: the starboard-tack approach, the port-tack approach and the 80 percent approach.

Starboard-Tack Approach
We are doing well in the day’s first race, on starboard tack, and comfortably laying the windward mark. We are slightly overstood and threatened by a lineup of port-tackers coming in just below the three-length zone. They will be looking to tack to starboard, inside and to leeward of us. Our concern is that, if they do tack, they might gain mark room on us and control our positioning going into the offset. To defend our position, we want all port-tackers to dip our stern rather than tack to leeward of us.

When you see this situation ­developing, the move is to bear off sharply and aim well to leeward of the windward mark until you get right on (or slightly below) the layline. Then aim for the mark. Done well, the port-tackers have some difficult escape options: 1) forcing their tack below the layline and attempting to pinch to the mark, which risks them hitting it; 2) taking our stern, and probably several other sterns as well; and 3) worst of all, being forced to tack or jibe before laying the mark. We all know how that plays out, and it’s not pretty.

Don’t give the port-tacker room to pass in front of you on port tack, or they might do so. Bear off just enough that you can still make the mark when you head up again, yet without giving the port-tacker the room they need to complete a tack and still lay the windward mark. In other words, you will make it but they will not. – Full report

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