How to Point, Foot, and Change Gears

Gear changing is what separates the mid-fleet sailors from those who always seem to be a tad quicker and higher.

While most of the fleet starts the race with a similar setup created with the help of a tuning guide, the fast boats are constantly making additional adjustments. When conditions suddenly change—a puff hits or you sail into a lull, the fast sailors shift gears.

Fix Pointing Problems:

Trying to pinch to maintain height is most likely the reason for your pointing issues and by pinching, the boat is actually sliding to leeward. The remedy is to “foot then point”, a boat needs to go fast so the foils can develop lift, so ease the sails a little bear off a couple of degrees to get up to speed then point up and re-trim to the optimum setting.

Once the boat starts to slow down, be sure to ease the sails out, regain your speed, then start the process again.

While it may seem natural to let the boat heel more when trying to point, fight the urge, keeping the boat flat will maintain a balanced helm and maximize the efficiency of your underwater foils.

When sail trim is the cause of the problem, it’s usually the main, not the jib. The upper leech of the main provides most of your pointing ability so be sure to trim the main so the upper batten is at least parallel to the boom.

If you need more pointing ability, try trimming the main tighter. You can hook the upper batten as much as 15 degrees to weather for short periods but avoid the temptation to over-trim the jib to help pointing ability.

Fix Footing Problems:

The easiest fix is to ease the sails because more open leeches on both sails will help the boat sail lower and faster in a straight line but this can create a pointing problem. 

To correct this, first, check your helm balance because weather helm will hinder the boat’s ability to go fast. Instead of easing sheets try to sail the boat more level if you can’t keep the boat flat, induce more mast bend to flatten the main.

The next step is to ease the traveller until the helm is balanced. Other remedies are to tighten the outhaul, tension the Cunningham/jib halyard to pull the draft forward and open the leeches of both sails.

Gear Shift in a Puff:

When a small puff hits.

1. Ease the main.

2. Steer up to “feather” the boat.

3. Re-trim the main.

Because a puff typically lifts the boat due to a change in the apparent wind speed, you need to ease sheets and head up as it reaches you. Let the boat climb to windward and steer toward the upper end of your groove using the jib luff telltales.

If the puff is particularly severe, more adjustment may be necessary. If you can’t hold the boat down after making the above adjustments and there’s still too much helm, do the following until the helm is balanced.

1. Ease the traveller

2. Bend the mast (vang tension, backstay tension, etc.)

3. Tension the Cunningham on both main and jib.

Gear Shift in a Lull:

Lulls usually appear as headers and in a lull, it’s important that you bear off as smoothly as possible. Make sure the boat remains flat and resist the temptation to add heel to maintain “feel” in the helm.

Ease the main so the top batten angles outboard from parallel to the boom, leave the jib trimmed initially until the bow is pulled down to the lower end of your groove with both telltales streaming aft.

At that point, the jib should be eased so the leeward telltale doesn’t stall.

To maintain boatspeed in a lull

1. Ease the main.

2. Allow the boat to heel to weather, creating lee helm, to steer the boat down.

3. Ease the jib.

4. Level the boat.

5. Pull the traveller up (if the boom is below centerline).

If a lull lasts for a longer time

1. Straighten the mast and induce luff sag in the jib

2. Ease main and jib cunninghams to maintain correct draft position


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