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Strategy For An Upwind Leg.

Question:

The wind has just shifted left so it has headed all boats around you on starboard tack – Should you keep sailing into the header, or take the instantaneous gain and tack? 

As always with sailing, the perfect answer begins with ‘It depends’

Possible scenarios for you to consider:

  • The wind has headed, but you are still certain there is more wind on the left-hand side of the course, and that is going to make more difference. You will keep heading towards the pressure, but revisit the decision if all the boats on your hip tack off before you get there.
  • You are still above your mean heading for starboard tack and you believe that the wind is still moving left. As soon as you are down to mean numbers you’ll tack onto port, and duck the boats on your hip if necessary.
  • You have no confidence in what the wind might do next, therefore positioning is your first priority. If you are getting closer to the port layline you need to look for an opportunity to head back to the centre of the leg.
  • The header has given you a gain on the boats to your right so you are going to tack to put that gain ‘in the bank’ right now.”

The Big Picture:

You should have an informed opinion gleaned from a practice beat before the start and that will usually narrow the basis for ‘staying’ or ‘going’ to one or two key factors.

Questions To Ask Yourself:

  • Can you see more pressure on either side of the course?
  • Is there tide or current affecting the course and the time of tide change?
  • Will there be a wind direction bend caused by land at either end of the course?
  • Is there a possibility of a persistent shift in wind direction?
  • Is the water less lumpy on one part of the course?
  • If the wind is shifty, are the shifts likely to be small or large?
  • Are the shifts oscillating, regular and repeating or completely random?
  • How many shifts do you expect per upwind leg?

Further Considerations:

  • Do you want to risk everything to win the race by a leg, or just be happy to arrive at the windward mark in touch with the leaders?
  • If you’ve spent most of the upwind leg chasing gains or tacking on the shifts, positioning rules should take over as the leg progresses.
  • If you are less willing to take a chance on a big gain on your own, the position of the next mark and the rest of the fleet must take a bigger part of your “tack or continue” considerations.

Tack or Continue:

  • Don’t get pushed around by the other boats, take every opportunity to work toward the favoured side of the course.
  • If there is a regular pattern and you are confident that there will be at least two cycles per beat, tack whenever you are headed below the average heading on that tack.
  • If you are not confident about what is going to happen next, start on the tack that takes you closest to the mark, keep away from the laylines and tack and cross or close gauge on boats to windward whenever the wind heads.

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