Race Training Hints

by Bob Carter 1st April 2001
(Non tidal version)

Basic Rules

Port tack boat gives way to starboard tack boat (you are on port tack if your sail is on the starboard side of the boat).

When on the same tack, windward boat gives way to leeward boat.

At marks you can only claim water if you have established an overlap at 2 boat lengths from the mark. Closer does not qualify.

In the final analysis - avoid collisions at all costs - irrespective of the right of way. Even if you are in the right you can be disqualified if there is damage to the other boat.


Plan to be at the start line in plenty of time before your start to assess the position.

Assess the bias of the line to decide which end is preferred. Do this by either:

reaching along the line in both directions and determine which direction is most close hauled - if starboard tack is most close hauled then plan to start at the port end of the line.
try a short beat from each end of the line and determine which tack makes most distance to windward - if it is starboard tack then plan to start at the starboard end of the line (or vice versa).

Plan to start on starboard tack unless you are very confident of making a clear port tack start. You have no rights on a port tack start. Do not start on port tack if the line is short and there are many boats, especially if some are fast cats which can point higher than a Dart 15.

Watch the starts of other fleets - to assess where the best advantage is to be gained.

Pick your preferred starting position and try a dummy start close hauled from down wind. Find an object to get a line of sight for the correct approach angle. Never plan to approach the line on a reach (from "Coffin Corner"). You have no rights and no where to go. This is the easiest way to damage your boat.

Set your watch from the 6 and 3 minute warnings (or the start sequence time, if different) so you know exactly when to start.

Plan to be on the line for the start (i.e. not 15 feet from it). You need to try and keep clear water to leeward so that you can bear off a little on the gun to gather speed and get clear air. Once you have got clear air point up to you normal pointing angle.

In light wind never stray very far from the line - if the wind drops, you may not be able to get to the line in time.


Have the traveller 100mm from the centre line of the boat and sheet the mainsail in reasonably tight without causing the mainsail to hook. The stronger the wind the tighter you need to have the mainsail. If you cannot keep the boat from healing let the traveller out. The downhaul should be down just enough to remove the wrinkles in the sail. The stronger the wind the tighter both the mainsheet and the downhaul need to be. Once you start to get over powered and cannot sit out further let the traveller out.

Sail with the boat reasonably flat. Excessive heal increases leeway and looses power. In strong wind it is quite normal to have the traveller a foot or more from the centreline of boat, but keep the mainsheet tight, except if briefly over powered. In very strong winds it is quite possible to sail upwind with the traveller at the end of the track, provided that the mainsheet is tight.

Keep your weight forward. Keep the transoms from becoming immersed. The water line on the inside bow is a good indicator.

Do not over point. Sail to get the middle woollies streaming on both sides of the sail. If you keep the windward one streaming in the wind for ~50% of the time (and lifting off the sail about 50%) that is about right. The leeward one should not be lifting off the sail at all or you are not pointing high enough.

When sailing with the jib, once the sails are set sail concentrate on the jib woolies instead of the mainsail woolies.

Take a sighting of what you are heading for. If you have to bear away significantly consider tacking. If you get lifted stay with it.

Do not sail in the wind shadow of another boat. Tack if necessary for clear air.

Watch for the wind on the water. Head for the dark areas not the flat spots.


Head for the next mark and adjust your sails to the new course. Let the traveller out before the main sheet to keep maximum power. Try and get all woollies streaming in the wind (the middle woollies are the most important).

Keep the boat level by hiking out if necessary. Keep the fore and aft trim correct to prevent burying the bows (or transoms). In general you need to sit further back the stronger the wind and the broader the reach.

Keep alert for wind shifts and gusts. If you see a gust on the water prepare for it - hike out, and be prepared to sheet in as the boat speed increases.

Bear away on the gusts, head up in the lulls.

In strong winds you might find the leeward bow submerges - get right back with one leg each side of the rear beam and hike out, before you slacken off the main. On broad reaches do not slacken the main to the extent the battens wrap around a shroud.

If the boat submerges big time and a pitch-pole threatens - sit well back and head up (push the tiller fully away from you) and wait. As long as you do this before the rudders are out of the water it usually recovers.

In very strong winds (force 6-9) there is an angle of broad reaches which are very prone to pitch-poling. This is overcome by sailing the reach as a series of runs followed by less broad reaches (both of which are more controllable).


The boat will sail directly down wind in una-rig form (sailing with the jib is very different - see below). It is best to sail with the wind 5-10deg from the centreline of the boat.

The woollies and the wind indicator are useless in this direction. I find a burgee essential.

In wind strengths of force 1 - 4 slacken off the downhaul to get a fuller sail. Above force 4 don't bother.

Sit well forward in light winds to reduce the wetted area. As the wind picks up sit further back.

In stronger wind do not let the battens bend around the shrouds. In really strong winds sheet in the main to reduce power.

Watch for wind shifts. Gybe on unfavourable wind shifts.

When gybing in a blow, gybe from run to run (not from the reach). Pull the sail over with the block - do not let it fly over by itself or battens can break.

Avoid letting the boat behind take your wind.

Running with jib

The boat will not sail directly downwind with the jib - you must go down wind in a series of broad reach tacks.

Set the course/sails such that the jib is not collapsed in the lee of the main sail. An approximate guide to the angle to sail is when the (standard equipment Dart 15) wind indicator on the bridle fitting touches the leeward bridle wire. Once both the sails are trimmed set the course by watching the luff of the jib, point up if it collapses, bear away on the gusts. Sail for speed.

Gybe on unfavourable windshifts.


After a race or event, think about what went wrong and determine why. Ask someone if you need advice. Next time you will know what to do without too much thought.

Essential Reading

"Stay Tooned" by Paul Smith, Dart15 Assn. article - April 97

"Sailing in a Blow" by George Carter, Dart15 Assn. article - June 97

"The Catamaran Book" by Brian Phipps, Fernhurst Books 1989