The most important element of upwind boathandling is tacking, though every once in awhile an efficient reef or genoa change could also win you a race. Tacking seems like a minor thing, but the difference between a good tack and a poor one can be measured in boat lengths. In a race where you tack ten times, good tacks can provide the margin of victory. And in a close duel, superior tacks will allow you to break free from, or keep control of, a rival. Each crew plays a role in ensuring a good tack.
If you have some flexibility in timing, look ahead for a smooth spot. Avoid waves, chop, and wakes coming out of the tack. Also, make sure you will be in clear air coming out of the tack—don’t tack into another boat’s bad air.
The courtesy of a preparatory hail, “Ready about,” increases the likelihood of a good tack at “Hard-a-Lee.”
A proper tack starts with a slow, smooth turn to preserve momentum and allow the boat to coast upwind. As the boat comes head to wind and speed is lost, turn more quickly to finish the tack.
In waves a faster turn is called for, as momentum will be lost more rapidly. Start the turn on the face of one wave and turn quickly as the bow pops out over the crest. Try to get the bow around so the next wave pushes the bow down on the new tack, not back onto the old tack.
During the turn the helmsman must change sides and settle into position to work the boat up to speed. Come out of the tack a few degrees low and squeeze up as speed builds. Try to focus on the gradual push of the tiller as you are flattening the boat.
Keep crew movement to a minimum, and choreograph your tacks to reduce traffic. For example, at “Ready about” it makes little sense to have the genoa trimmer come to windward to tail the new sheet while another crew member moves to leeward to release. The genoa trimmer should handle the release, and crew from the rail should tail and grind. On some boats it works to have the genoa trimmer release the jib, and then turn to take the main. Meanwhile, the main trimmer abandons the main, and trims the jib.
Until you are on the layline you know your next maneuver, sooner or later, will be a tack. Let’s be ready sooner.
As soon as possible after the completion of the previous tack, load the lazy jib sheet on the winch and flake the working jib sheet. At “Ready about,” the trimmer should make sure she is prepared to release and the tailer should check the new winch, take up slack on the lazy sheet, and put the winch handle in place. No one else should move. You slow the boat if you get off the rail at “Ready about,” and you also telegraph your moves, letting your competitors know you are about to tack.
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