SAILING PRINCIPLES divided into Tactical and Philosophical.

With Special thanks to Mike Hobson – J Boats, Chesapeake USA.


  • Sail on the tack or gybe that points closer to the next mark.
  • Sail in clean air.
  • Sail toward, and in, the most wind pressure.
  • Keep manoeuvres to a minimum.
  • Form a game plan where you want to be after the start and first leg. What is your goal?
  • Be flexible. Even though you have a game plan, be ready to change.
  • A general rule is to be up-current of the rhumb line.
  • Cross the pack when you can. Take the advantage when you get it.
  • Get a clean start; allow yourself the start so you can execute your game plan.
  • Avoid the lay lines too early in the leg.


  • Go fast, don’t let outside distractions interfere with your boat speed.
  • Sail fair, don’t break the rules. Like Elvstrom says.
  • Stay out of trouble with competitors. Focus on getting around the course the fastest.
  • Relax, and keep it fun.
  • Think ahead; be observant of what the fleet is going to do on the next wind shift.
  • Don’t panic, be patient, wait for opportunities to develop.
  • Be prepared; have weather, current, sailing instructions.
  • Don’t think too much, rely on your experience.
  • Don’t gamble or get greedy.



Boatspeed requires a combination of sail trim, accurate helming, and good balance and trim. Sounds easy, doesn’t it?

The problem is that settings for a particular wind speed in flat water won’t work in big waves, nor in light airs.

Just like riding a bike you need to be able to change gear to suit the conditions.

Acceleration gear is used when sailing upwind in waves — each wave will tend to slow the boat — and after coming out of a tack it can take precious seconds to build up to target close-hauled speed and wind angle, depending on the boat.

Acceleration gear is also often needed in extreme conditions — either lots of wind or very little — when it’s difficult to get the boat moving.

This gear is achieved by sailing with bow down trim, with sheets eased to suit and with slightly fuller sails, with Cunningham and outhaul eased if the acceleration gear is to be used for any period of time.

Another aim should be to work on basic manoeuvres in light to moderate wind strengths — up to the strength at which moderate hiking is required.

Roll tacking and gybing are crucial skills for dinghy sailors, especially in light and moderate conditions — the boat should emerge from the tack faster than when entering it.

Mark rounding is also important — make sure you follow the ‘wide in, narrow out’ principle — it’s amazing how many otherwise relatively good sailors fail to do this.

Spinnaker hoists, drops and gybes are really crucial to clean mark roundings, yet few crews practice them outside of races.

Having done this, then aim to master the same skills for super light weather and for strong winds.




Of course, there are some things you can do by yourself in areas such as boat preparation, sail shape and boat handling but it is almost impossible to improve your boatspeed very much by working alone.

For you to make substantial progress on speed development you need to line up with two boats side by side. The best way to judge your boat’s upwind or downwind performance is to compare it to the performance of a similar boat sailing in the same conditions.

As part of your pre-season, pre-regatta or championship preparation it is important to include another boat in your plan.

Ideally, you and your tuning partner should put together one or more training days to carry out a systematic test of various sail-trim and rig settings through a range of different wind conditions.

An important part of the training days is the keeping of notes to refer back to and then having a de-brief to discuss what each of you found to work and not work.

Prior to the start of individual races, it is essential for you and your tuning partner to sail part or all off the first leg of the course making sure that you each have the fastest settings for the conditions.

However, if time has beaten you or there has been a quick turnaround between races even a three-minute line-up before the start of the next race will be extremely helpful.




I recently re-read the following article by the late and great Paul Elvstrom and have reproduced it here because I believe that if we can internalise these points we will go a long way to overcoming our feelings of self-doubt and self-belief on the race track.

You must not believe that a fellow competitor is better than you. If he is currently sailing a little faster than you, you have to say to yourself that this is just happening at this moment, soon it will be my turn to be faster.”

“In a regatta it is important to sail in the practice races and to show your worth and always arrive at a regatta a number of days before the event, sail around the course and tune your boat. This will not go unnoticed by your adversaries.”

“When lining up against practice partners or other competitors sail your hardest and you can bet that your fellow competitors may get a complex about you.”

“You must always keep your spirits up and say you are hurting after a long beat just remember that so are your fellow competitors.”

“If you are behind in the fleet and you are tired and hurting, remember so are the guys in front of you.”

“If you get a bad start you must still go the way that is the fastest, you should not get flustered and start taking chances or going off on a flyer, never do the opposite of what the leading boats are doing in the hope that you may pick up a little advantage.”

“If you are sure the leading boats are going the right way then all you have to do is follow them. If you think they are going the wrong way, of course, you shouldn’t follow them.”

“It is really important to recognise the difference between good and bad luck and also skill and good fortune.”

“It is important that when you have a bit of good luck, recognise it for what it is because in the next race or leg you may not concentrate or think it through as thoroughly.”

“Don’t keep clear of the better sailors on a run for fear of interfering with them, compete hard and sail your own race taking all factors into account.”