Downwind tactics for planing conditions

Published on October 11th, 2022

Professional crew Carlos Robles gets paid to sail, and in this report for Sailing World, he explains why:


Anytime the wind picks up enough that we get to plane downwind, there’s huge opportunity to make gains. When boats start to plane, differences in speed between a fast and a slow boat could be in excess of 4 knots, or 6 feet per second. In other words, you could gain or lose 300 feet in less than a minute. Therefore, it is important to have in mind the following priorities when planing conditions are in play.

1. Set yourself up for a clean hoist and exit at the weather mark
Mark roundings are where the most gains or losses happen. When you get tangled up with another boat, it’s easy to get stuck sailing below target speed while other boats are planing away at full speed. It is, therefore, important to anticipate the exit and have this conversation with my team (or yourself, if you’re sailing a singlehander) in the last third of the upwind leg.

Ask yourself the following questions: Is the top mark going to be busy with traffic, or is the fleet spread out? What’s happening on this upwind beat and what side of the downwind is priority to defend? Is jibe setting an option? It could very well be that a jibe-set will keep you on the favored side of the downwind leg, but also think about staying in clear breeze and how far there wind shadow extends, especially if there’s a long offset leg. Sailing across a long wind shadow might be too big of a price to pay, so assess these factors, make a clear exit plan, and execute it successfully.

If it’s going to be a straight set, look around while you’re on the offset leg. If there’s space and you are not overlapped with boats around you, a clean bear-away and hoisting the kite at a low angle will work. If you are overlapped with boats to windward as you round the weather mark, delay the hoist if necessary and continue sailing on a broad reach across the offset leg. The key here is to make sure the boats to windward are not going to roll you before bearing away. As the leeward boat, you will decide when to put the kite up!  – Full report

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