Strategy at the leeward mark

Strategy at the leeward mark is critical and an ineffective plan can cause many places to be lost. Conversely, if you have planned well before reaching the mark, many places can be gained and a good rounding could affect the outcome of the race.


Rules at the Leeward Mark

Understanding rules at the leeward mark is probably more critical than anywhere else. The reason for this is that boats can approach from a multitude of different directions and attitudes of sail. Also the general rules of port and starboard crossings and windward leeward right of way don’t always apply.

As explained in rule 18.2, when two boats are approaching the leeward mark and the inside boat (closest to the mark) has an overlap on the outside boat, at the moment that the first boat enters the zone, the outside boat has to give the inside boat room to round the mark.

Even if the overlap is broken inside the zone, the inside boat still must be given room to round.

When rounding a downwind mark, there are times that a starboard tack boat has to give way to a port tack boat and a boat to leeward has to yield to a boat to windward.

If an inside boat has an overlap with a boat on the outside at a moment one or the other crosses a point 3 boat lengths from the mark, the boat on the outside has to give the boat on the inside room to make a rounding, regardless of its angle of sail or position in relation to the inside boat.


Strategies At The Mark

Especially in a big fleet, picking the right spot and executing a good rounding can make a huge difference. This will be reflected in the number of boat lengths gained or lost.

No matter how you choose to approach the rounding, always set yourself up to come in with speed. This is especially true with boats that have asymmetrical spinnakers.  A loss of speed will mean that you will be easy pickings for the competition.

The basic principle to follow when rounding a mark is wide in and tight out wherever traffic allows.

Use Your Sails To Assist The Rounding

As with any manoeuvre, the less rudder movement the better rudder movement equals drag. As you are about to round the leeward mark, trim the main in progressively to aid turning the boat towards the wind.

The headsail should be trimmed a little more slowly so as not to slow the turn. This is a great drill to practice and the ensuing reduction of drag from excess rudder use will see you leap ahead of opponents who don’t use this technique.


Leeward Mark Tips – Strategy at the leeward mark

  • When rounding the Gybe or leeward mark, always go in wide and come out tight.
  • When coming up on to the beat, sheet the main first letting the headsail lag to limit rudder use.
  • If you are the trailing boat, attempt to force your competitor to make a tight in and wide out turn. This gives you the opportunity to get inside and to weather of them.
  • When there is plenty of traffic at the leeward mark, get in the habit of dropping the spinnaker early and slowing down. You will have the advantage of being able to avoid the carnage and perhaps sneak around inside.