How You’ll Know When The Wind Is Oscillating.


Oscillating shifts are the most common type of wind pattern, so if you’re not sure what the wind is doing assume it is oscillating until you discover otherwise.

It’s very important to figure out whether the wind shifts will be oscillating or persistent, but this is not always easy to
do. There are some visual clues (listed below) that often mean the wind direction will be shifting back and forth.

The wind is blowing offshore.
When the wind is blowing from the shore, it’s almost a sure bet that the land’s irregularities will cause oscillating shifts.

Your headings on each tack go up and down.
Your pre-race compass headings on port and starboard tack fluctuate around an average direction (which stays
roughly the same). Shifts happen fairly quickly, not gradually.

Boats are lifted and headed on both sides of the course.
As you look across the course, you see boats on both tacks on lifts and headers in a somewhat arbitrary pattern. Boats that
are lifted then get headed and vice versa.

You are sailing in a gradient wind after the passage of a cold front.
Oscillating shifts (and puffs) that come with a vertically unstable air mass.

The wind on the water looks patchy and/or puffy.
You look across the course and you can see lighter or darker spots that show puffs or lulls. Sometimes you can even see ripples indicating changes in wind direction. This wind is almost surely oscillating.

On the first beat, each tack is sometimes longer to the windward mark.
As the wind oscillates, so does the longer tack to the windward mark. That is, sometimes your bow points closer to the mark on port tack, and sometimes it points closer on starboard tack.

Boats gain (and lose) on both sides of the course.
As you sail up the beat, boats are as likely to pass (or be passed) on the right side as they are on the left. It all depends on who is in phase with the shifts, not on who goes farther to one side.

The ‘favoured’ end of the starting line switches from one end to the other and back again.
In shifty winds, most starting lines are set square to the median breeze. So when the wind is in a right phase the right (committee boat) end of the line is favoured. When the wind is in a left phase, the left (pin) end is favoured.



We need to deal with congested areas when sailing.

You will perhaps already have noticed that, shortly before the Start, when the boats have lined up in the Start area, that the wind is significantly weaker there, even if you are in the front row and have clear wind.

The reason for this effect is the congestion which forms in front of the regatta field producing a not insignificant resistance to the wind.


In addition to this effect, the wind blows around this congestion and is significantly stronger at the edges, as shown by the narrower lines.

If we find ourselves on the left-hand side of the congested area, the wind flows to the right soon after the start and we can run higher. But take care, after the congestion zone the wind turns back to its original direction again.

This left wind shift should not be misinterpreted as an oscillation to the left, and mislead us into a tack to the right-hand side of the course.

If we find ourselves on the other side of the congestion, we have the exact opposite effect and feel a header and the leeward boats can sail closer to the wind than we can. If we have the freedom to tack, a quick tack and a short run to the right is called for. Sailing on port tack on the right side of the congestion we don’t have to sail against the wind shift and can also benefit from the stronger wind at the edge of the congestion.

The starting line is often relatively clear in the middle, and a group of boats forms on the right and left of it, each group forming their own independent congestion ‘cloud’.

In this case, the yellow boat can also benefit from the wind shift. In the middle, between these two congestion zones the wind will be at its strongest for a short time; a further advantage of this position.

However, don’t forget: the pre-requisite for being able to use these effects is a start in the first row. Under cover of other boats, you won’t even notice them.

Special thanks – Article by Peter Czajka – The Tactics of Sailboat Racing


Sailing Instructions Checklist


There are a number of things that you should check in the sailing instructions even if you don’t get time to thoroughly read them which of course I thoroughly recommend if you want to prepare properly for a race or regatta.

  • The first is determining what penalty system is being used be it one or two turns, yellow flag or retire.
  • Next is the individual recall system, will there be a “hail” of sail numbers or bow numbers if provided, will there be one sound signal for each boat over or one sound signal no matter how many boats are over.
  • In the case of a General Recall, will it be a rolling start and you restart on the next 5-minute signal or will your class go to the end of the class start sequences?
  • Are there any special provisions for the I flag, Z flag or black flag penalties? For example, after a general recall is the one-minute rule automatically in effect, or will the RC fly flag I in accordance with rule 30.1?
  • Has the race committee made any changes or additions to the protest procedure found in rule 61? For example, are you required to notify the RC of your intent to protest when you cross the finish line? Is the filing time limit different than that stated in rule 61.3? 
  • At what time is your warning gun? 
  • What colour shape or flag will be displayed before and at your start?
  • What are the possible courses and how will each of them be signalled? 
  • On which side do you leave the marks? 
  • Will the RC boat signal the compass heading and/or distance to the first mark?
  • Is the committee allowed to shorten the course? (They are unless the SIs say they aren’t.)
  • What is the time limit for each race?
  • If the RC moves a mark, what procedure will they follow, and what will the new mark look like?
  • What constitutes the starting and finishing lines?
  • Are there any other rules you must be sure to follow? For example: Do you have to check in at the RC boat before the start? 

There is no substitute for reading the sailing instructions thoroughly and in fact you should read them a number iof times so that they are indelibly etched in your memory.

In a multi-crewed boat, one crew member should be tasked with reading the sailing instructions and understanding and remembering them.

On the way out to the course the crew member who is responsible for reading the SI’s should pass on the most important parts of the document to the team.


Your Head Must Be Out Of The Boat

Ben Lamb


You have to train yourself to use your eyes, and this takes practice – Buddy Melges.

“Get your head out of the boat” is pretty much a universal catch cry of just about any coach who is tasked with helping you to improve your racing results.

This is a skill that must be practised but if you look around the best one design crews, there will always be a crewman whose express job is to continually watch their competitors for strategic positioning, locate marks, look for pressure and watch around the course for shifts.

Once the skill is honed, winning sailors can sail fast whilst looking around. A sailor who is constantly at the front of the fleet will be able to remember tactical and strategic details about a race and will be able to recount them during discussion post-race, things like who was leading at different times, major shifts in both direction and pressure and will be able to relate that to a particular leg of the course.

The main reason they are able to do that is that they had their eyes out of the boat, constantly evaluating where their competitors were, where the next shift was coming from, the location of the next mark and changes in pressure.

A lesser sailor would be constantly watching telltales, adjusting trim, eyes glued to the compass or concentrating on steering thus missing many opportunities that are presented out on the course.

What should you be looking for:

  • Waves, both direction and size.
  • Wind on the water to anticipate shifts and pressure changes.
  • Watch other boats for changes in wind direction and pressure
  • Watch the position of other boats to plan strategy especially when about to cross or approaching marks.
  • Other indicators such as smoke, flags, current at fixed objects or cloud movements:


Ways to develop your senses so you can keep your head out of the boat:

  • Verbalise the feedback that you are getting from the feel of the tiller
  • Note the sound of the boat as it moves through the water
  • Verbalise the angle of heel e.g. flat, too heeled plus the fore and aft trim.
  • Predict the next wind shift, verbally calling – puff, header, lift or lull.
  • Verbalise whether you are underpowered or overpowered. 

When out training, make small changes whilst looking out of the boat and try to feel the effect, all the time trying to feel when the boat is in the groove. Another good way to develop this feel is to sail with your eyes closed,

Once you are able to sail fast without constantly looking in the boat, at the compass and up at the sails constantly stressing that something is not set perfectly and are able to continuously look around the course you will find your results will continue to improve.



Why Sailing the Long Tack First is a Winning Move

The long tack is the one that points your bow closest to the mark and is the one you spend the longest time on when heading upwind to the weather mark.

The long tack takes you towards the centre of the course and the centre of the course is directly downwind of the mark. 

When sailing the long tack first, you still need to be mindful of what the wind is doing but if you are not sure of what the wind will do next it is a rule of thumb that you must use.

The reason it works is that staying centred gives you more options when the wind shifts in either direction.

If you are certain about what will happen with the next shift or puff you can disregard sailing the long tack first. 

The benefits of sailing the long tack first are greatest when:

  • You are uncertain about what the wind will do
  • The longer tack is much longer than the short tack
  • You are either in the early to mid part of the beat. Getting close to lay lines too soon really limits your options but remember as you get close to the mark, tactics and position become more important than the long tack.

How to use this rule of thumb in the context of various conditions:

  • Oscillating Breeze – In a truly oscillating breeze, with regular shifts around an average direction,  sail the shortest distance by sailing the lifted tack as much as possible. 
  • Random Shifts – When you can’t find a pattern to the shifts, sailing the long tack might become your primary strategy. Tack on the large headers, but don’t be a slave to your compass. if you’re not pointed at the mark, think about tacking.
  • One side is advantaged – if due to more wind or a persistent shift, you may end up sailing the short tack first to get to that side. However, once you reach that advantage, continuing further on the short tack becomes much riskier.
  • Light or variable pressure – either connecting the puffs or sailing to the side where there is more wind means that we should ignore the long tack strategy.

When sailing off the wind, the same principle applies, sail the long gybe first but be mindful of the exceptions above as they still apply even though you are travelling downwind.


Reaching Trim and Strategy

In these days of windward leeward courses reaching legs provide a bit of variety but how you sail them is no less important and plenty of gains can be made remembering that many competitors treat these legs as a procession and perhaps relax a bit.

As you bear away around the mark be mindful of what is going on ahead and around you, be careful not to get tangled up with other boats especially those that will try to cart you off the course. The best strategy is simply to ‘push’ the boats ahead of you fast down the reach by following behind them and not threatening their breeze.

The goal is to get both of you farther ahead of the pack behind then worry about passing them later in the race.

If a slow boat is holding you back, try to pass several boat lengths to windward of them, by the time they realize you are about to pass them it is usually difficult or impossible for them to head up. If possible, go for the pass in a puff and if you can get planing first it will be difficult for them to head up and defend.

On a typical reach the leading boats extend because the bulk of the following boats sail an arc which takes them above the rhumb line, they not only sail more distance but then having to sail low which is slower leaving them with not many options in the last part of the leg.

Wherever possible sail as close to the rhumb line as possible bearing off in the puffs and heating up in the lulls.


Ease the jib and for best performance move the lead outboard and forward, keep the halyard firm to hold the draft forward and prevent the back of the sail from becoming too round.

If the lead is not moved as the sheet is eased, then the top of the sail will twist open, spilling power, and the bottom of the sail will hook in toward the boat, creating excess drag.

With the jib trimmed outboard, ease the main, keep the vang tight, and ease the mainsheet or lower the traveller. As the main goes out, heeling forces decrease, and the boat accelerates. As the boom goes out, the vang is critical to control twist.

When overpowered on a reach, easing the vang will spill power, reduce heel, and balance the helm. Use the telltales to fine tune trim, the leech telltales should be flowing. If the sail luffs, then trim in.


Your Helm Has The Answers

The more you limit excessive helm or rudder drag, the faster you go and because of this, you need to evaluate what your helm is telling you. If you have excessive helm, the driver is working against the boat’s natural course and each movement of the tiller is creating drag. Helm on different boats varies quite a bit but one thing is consistent across them all and that is excessive helm equals drag and drag is slow.

There are 3 factors that contribute to excessive helm and these are:

  1. Sail Trim: The jib pulls the bow down away from the wind and the mainsail, when trimmed in, pushes the bow up into the wind. Using this knowledge, you must set your boat up in balance to eliminate drag by getting each sail to work with the other. Adjustment of each sail will affect helm, trim the main in and helm will increase, ease it and the helm will decrease. Using this information, consider other powering up and powering down factors such as vang sheeting, outhaul adjustment and traveller movement up or down. These too will affect helm so when you or your crew make these adjustments communicate with reference to the effect the new trim has had on the helm and thus drag and make adjustments to renew balance.
  2. Heel and Fore & Aft trim: Heel induces tug on the tiller and many boats load up quicker than others. Communication again is very important and you need to discuss the effect that sideways heel and fore and aft trim are having on the helm. Generally the flatter a boat is the faster it will go but you need to establish the transition point between windward and leeward helm, that’s the sweet spot and where you should aim to be. In light winds, you may need to establish a little windward helm to generate a little lift off the blades and this can be achieved by heeling slightly to leeward. As the breeze kicks, you will feel the helm load up so flatten the boat to reduce the rudder drag.
  3. Centreboard Position: In classes or boats where you are able to adjust centreboard depth or rake, pay particular attention to the effect that board position has on the helm. In boats where the board can be raised, by pulling the board up you move the centre of lateral resistance back which reduces helm and therefore drag. As a guide, when sailing in waves, a little bit of board up will ease the helm and alow you to steer more effectively around waves.

You should always be thinking about helm, by easing the mainsail, adjusting the centreboard or depowering you will be balancing the boat and achieving the best upwind performance


Roll Tacking – How and Why

Tacking the boat is one of the first things that we learn when we start sailing. We also learn what head to wind is and that most boats sail upwind at about 45 degrees to the wind. This is basic knowledge but is not something simply to be learned and never revisited.

Perfecting a roll tack is not easy, and has many parts to it. 

However, when perfected, your advantage over other boats is significant.

One of the biggest differences between a good roll tack and a great roll tack is the timing of the roll. 

Unless it is very windy, rolling the second the jib backwinds is not ideal for effective tacks.  Many sailors get really excited, and roll before the boat is ready.  It’s natural to think that the faster you start your roll, the faster the tack is.

 By rolling too early, you will get less help from the sails to turn the boat, and will actually steer the boat down with your weight while turning up with the tiller.  This creates a lot of friction with the rudder and the water, and you will have to steer much more to turn through the wind, slowing your boat down.  

Backwinding the jib helps the boat turn during a tack significantly, therefore, the longer you allow the jib to backwind, the less rudder you will have to use to steer through a tack.

As a general rule of thumb, you want to wait till the boat is at or just past head to wind before rolling the boat.  Waiting until this point will allow you to use less rudder, and will also allow you to use the wind to help roll over the boat.  

If you go earlier, you will roll the boat against the face of the wind, forcing you to use much more effort to roll the boat over.

There is no exact time to wait before rolling the boat over, and it will change depending on the wind.  For example, in light air, you want to wait a relatively long time before rolling over the boat, as it will take longer for the sails to help you steer through the wind.  

If it is really windy, you may want to cross sides quickly, as soon as the jib backwinds.  As soon as both sailors are hiking, you should not roll at all.  

Instead, you should still use the sails to keep power in the boat the entire time, and simply switch sides and start hiking, when the jib backwinds.


  • To initiate a roll tack, heel the boat to leeward to initiate the turn into the wind.
  • Steer smoothly into the wind and squeeze in on the mainsheet.
  • Uncleat the jib and be ready to move, as the boat reaches head to wind, both crews stay on the windward side. 
  • The sails will depower – the jib will flap first – and the boat will roll on top of you.
  • Remain on the (old) windward side until the boat has turned through the wind. 
  • Back the jib until the boom comes over and ease the mainsheet a bit as you begin to move
  • Keeping the steering smooth, centralise the tiller as both helm and crew now move to the new windward side.
  • Time your movements to be at the same time with the helm and crew hitting the new windward side at the same time.
  • Bringing the boat flat helps you to bear away onto the new tack without needing to over-steer.
  • Sheet in on the mainsheet as you flatten the boat; this is where you feel the speed gain. Set the jib for a fast mode then squeeze on once you’re up to speed.


Being fast upwind is usually the key to winning and tacking well is an essential component of this upwind speed.

As is always the case with sailing, there is no limit to how often you can practise tacking and still improve.

Even at the highest level of our sport, this basic manoeuvre can be the difference between victory and defeat.


Getting Value From a Coach

Using a sailing coach to get better does not have to be expensive. Coaching is an investment that will pay dividends whether it be to work on a particular aspect of your sailing or to prepare for a club, national or world championship regatta.

There are a number of steps that you should take to gain the greatest benefit for the time and money you will invest:

  1. Find the right coach: you need a coach who will be an expert in the areas that you are weak in and not someone who gives you the answers but someone who guides you in the process of improvement and who can help you find the answers from within yourself. Be open to change, sometimes you need a coach whose personality is different to yours but the biggest changes come about from coaches who can spot your weaknesses.
  2. Questions: Don’t arrive at a training session with a blank sheet of paper hoping to be lectured to and the off chance that the coach may touch on something that you believe need improvement. Every sailor will achieve more from the session if the coach can address what the individual or team is interested in.
  3. Come to the training session ready to learn:  Many sailors come to training and treat it as a necessary chore, come with an open mind and be ready to learn something new. You need to keep your emotions under control, you are not there to show the coach how much you know, you are there to add every bit of knowledge you can.
  4. Know all roles on your boat: You are being coached to improve your sailing in your chosen position but knowing what is expected of your teammates will help you to work more efficiently together. You should pay attention when the coach is talking about a manoeuvre that doesn’t involve you.
  5. Debrief: Have a get together with your teammates after the coaching session to talk over what you have each learnt and then formulate a plan to implement and practice to make those new techniques second nature.
  6. Make notes: One of the best ways to guarantee that new ideas are remembered is to write them down. Have a notebook and put down what you have learnt in your own words. Don’t be afraid to make sketches if that helps you to remember better.
  7. Video and voice recording:  Get your on-water sessions videoed, even use your mobile phone to record as much of the session as possible. When you are having the debrief with the coach and then the debrief with the crew, at least record the sound and then rewatch or relisten at a later date. You will be amazed at what extra benefit you will gain by hearing and seeing it all again.
  8. Further ways of learning to get better: Watch videos of sailing events with your team and critique them. Sail with your fellow competitors from time to time and see how they sail and manage their boat. Attend seminars run by clubs, sailmakers and other class associations. Attend training clinics with other sailors not necessarily run by your chosen class, there is plenty to be learned from those sailing in differnt boats than your own.


Trimming Sails Together

Generally, on boats that are going slow, one sail will be much looser or tighter than the other or conversely, it might be flatter or fuller than the other.

Fast boats have similar depth in the main and jib as well as similar twist profiles. It is worth noting though that even if conditions don’t dictate flat sails, flat sails trimmed well and together will still be faster than mismatched sails. Matching sails keeps the slot a similar distance apart from top to bottom.

The best way to match your sails is to talk in terms of power, and the main trimmer or the helmsman usually make that call.

The main trimmer should communicate power to the jib trimmer as an example say, “Perfect power”, that lets the jib trimmer know we are trimmed to the sweet-spot, if a lull comes and you have to trim harder to get more power, communicate that and if the wind lightens off call “searching for power” which alerts trimmers that it is time to adjust controls such as outhaul and jib cars to create more depth and power in both sails.

Other controls that have an effect on power are the vang and cunningham and as the wind lightens off both will need to be eased. The reverse is true as the breeze increases, the controls that were eased when you were powering up need to tightened to depower but as always the contols for each sail need to be adjusted in unison.

Helm load information is another way to talk about coordinating sail trim. If the boat is heeling too much and the helmsman is feeling too much helm, they should mention it to the main trimmer so they can depower the main, which reduces heel angle and reduces helm.

If the main trimmer needs help from the jib trimmer, for example, if the backstay is already tight and the traveller is down, that information gets passed forward.

Communicating what’s happening with the backstay and traveller queues the jib trimmer to adjust the jib to match the new mainsail twist profile.

Small changes to the backstay and traveller need not be communicated but big changes warrant adjustments of both the main and jib sheets.

It doesn’t make any difference which person makes the call as long as the sails are adjusted together, you’ll be faster.