BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY WHEN RACING SAILBOATS

Telephoto camera lenses can play tricks with our eyes and make boats and marks appear closer to each other than they really are. Here is such a compressed photo of two boats rounding a windward mark in close quarters. Should the port tacker be better safe than sorry? The starboard tacker is in the zone and steaming toward the windward mark. The port tacker, reportedly, saw an opening to sneak inside the starboard tacker. Could she sneak inside? Would she? Should she?

Even if the first answer is yes, it would still be an imprudent tactic. Rule 18.3 (Tacking in the Zone) clearly gives the starboard tack boat right or way by saying if a boat tacks in the zone “she shall not cause a boat that has been on starboard tack since entering the zone to sail above close-hauled to avoid contact.” That’s the first fact. But go beyond the rule for a moment and think of the times you’ve tried to stick your bow inside of a mark. Hopefully you tried it in boats smaller than these 47-footers! You throw in your tack a little shy of the layline and never fully accelerate after the tack. The starboard tacker rolls you and takes your wind. Your boat wallows as you attempt to luff around the mark.

Why get rolled when you don’t have to? Why risk fouling the right of way boat? Why risk not having enough way to get around the mark without hitting it?

The smart move, regardless of what size boat you’re sailing, is to duck the starboard tacker and tack on its weather hip. That would prevent a foul and let you tack with a lot of speed and get around the mark cleanly.

Low percentage plays are how we lose sailboat races as well as poker hands. Anticipate your port tack approach options; come into your rounding tack with a full head of steam, and don’t commit a foul. Be better safe than sorry.

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