Weather Mark Speed and Tactics
By Andrew Kerr
September 11, 2010
Rounding the weather mark well is one of the more complex tasks in a Santana 20 sailboat race – boats approaching and leaving the mark from multiple directions, rules that change as boats enter and exit the zone around the mark, prepping and setting the spinnaker, maintaining good boat speed, keeping clear of nearby boats and their dirty air, sorting thru the tactical situations to find a smart lane to sail in, and more.
Due to the complexity of rounding a weather mark, even a small lapse in keeping your boat speed high thru the rounding can easily lead to lost places or being left with poor options on where to sail your boat. Here are some tips that will help you keep your your speed high while rounding the weather mark.
Be smooth in all actions. Be extra smooth in light wind conditions.
Keep your crew weight on rail as long as you can. This keeps the boat flat (less hull drag, less weather helm) and the sail plan upright (maximum power from your sails).
Ease the vang slightly prior to rounding the mark. This allows the mainsail to twist which helps reduce boat heel and weather helm, which resist your you attempt to steer the boat to a downwind course.
Ease the mainsheet smoothly and quickly. Using an automatic ratchet block on the mainsheet will help.
Keep your boat balanced, fore/aft and side to side. This requires practice and coordination - especially when the bow person goes up forward to work with the spinnaker pole and Genoa.
Even with good speed, there will be boats near by that you'll need to defend against. Speed, of course, is your best defense but in reality you'll be struggling to keep in clean air while sailing the best course to the next mark. Here are some tactical tips to consider when sailing with a symmetrical spinnaker shortly after the weather mark rounding.
Make it a goal to sail for best VMG by avoiding battles with other boats and their dirty air. Boat speed, clear air and the ability to sail the right mode is of high priority, especially as the fleet gets larger.
If in traffic, defend your clean air and position only as necessary– defending generally often results in others passing so be careful.
Defend against following boats with the “rule of halves” – if they come up 10 degrees – you come up 5 degrees – just enough to keep your air clear but minimize extra distance sailed.
Avoid packs of boats – they slow each other down – see if you can separate or even jibe away to be able to go fast and sail unhindered.