Many people have wondered exactly what we do when we are seem milling around out in the middle of the lake. We mill around, then we all sail away. Then we come back. Then we mill around some more.
For the benefit of Spectators and those curious about sail racing; what follows will provide a brief explanation of Sail Racing.
Explanation of Racing
The challenge of racing other boats is what appeals to many sailors. The race course is set by the Clubs Race Officer depending on the strength and direction of the wind and the amount of time the race is intended to go for.
The race may be to a destination or most often it will be around a set of yellow marks anchored on the lake. We usually use a windward mark and a leeward mark. The location of these markers and the sequence they must be rounded, and the number of times are given to the sailors in a set of sailing instructions.
Because sail boats cannot sail directly into the wind, the start will normally be into the wind, causing boats to set off at an angle to the wind either to the left or right.
The Points of Sail are explained and illustrated. The arrow represents the direction of the wind. The red is the “no sail zone” because it is impossible to sail into the wind.
- A. No Go Zone — 0-30°
- B. Going to Windward or Close Hauled — 30-50°
- C. Beam Reach — 90°
- D. Broad Reach — ~135°
- E. Running — 180°
Right of ways:
Boats on a Starboard tack (as illustrated on the left side of the illustration above) have right-of-way over boats on the Port tack. Boats on Port tack must give way and change their course when encountering boats on Starboard.
Boats to the leeward usually have right of way on the race-course.
Some models of boats are faster than others. To negate this factor and to render a level playing field where the skill of the Skipper and Crew is judged fairly, a handicapping system is used.
Each type of boat has a P.H.R.F. number which designates the particular handicap assigned to that model of boat. Boats with a lower PHRF owe seconds / mile to other boats depending on the differences in handicap.
A boat that for example: crosses the finish line in 3rd place may still be declared the winner if the other 2 boats have a lower PHRF and the 3rd boat has a large enough differential in PHRF to make up the time.
Boats with a PHRF lower that 200 sail in Division I. Boats with a PHRF above that sail in Division II. Division sails a longer course, and start times are staggered so each fleet sails independently.
Usually the first leg of the race is into the wind, across a start line perpendicular to the wind. Once you have sailed up the leg to what is called the top mark you round it, normally with it on your left hand side, before heading back downwind (from where you have come), to the leeward mark. Most races require 2 laps of the race course before an exciting run to the finish line.
The starting line (and the finishing line) is an imaginary line on the water. The ends of the line can be a Club Safety Boat (called a Committee Boat), a mark on the water or a mark on the shore e.g. the club safety tower.
A series of flags and horns tells the skippers when to start the race. The boats in a particular division will then sail around near the starting line trying to maneuver the boat into the best position for the starting gun. All the other boats in the race will be doing the same thing and the fleet is very close to each other.
There is one highly coveted sweet-spot on the start-line with fresh undisturbed wind. Everyone else in the race suffers the used wind and turbulences created by the boats ahead of them. There is an extreme amount of jockeying for best- position prior to the start and many races are won or lost because of a good or poor start position.
Going towards the wind
The first leg of the race is often towards the direction of the wind and the boat therefore needs to zig-zag or tack backwards and forwards at a course of about forty-five degrees from the direction of the wind.
The crew has to work hard to grind the sails on tight and then reset them as the boat changes tack (direction), which involves turning the boat so the front of the boat passes through the wind while the sails and the crew change sides.
The skipper will call out “Prepare to come about”.
The crew will reply: “Ready about” when all the gear is prepared.
At a decisive moment The Skipper declares: “Helms a lee” as they change the direction of the boat. The other exciting part is crossing tacks with other boats, avoiding them of course, and knowing who is ahead.
During this time, the boat will usually lean over a fair bit. A yacht with a keel usually isn’t tipped over by the wind. As the wind powers up the sails the heavy lead keel under the boat balances the force. A yacht can sail along heeled- over at angles of up to about forty-five degrees, however angles of only 15 degrees are usually most desirable. Crew uses their weight to maintain the heel of the boat, moving in or out as required.
The boat rounds the windward mark and the downwind leg begins.
When the wind is coming from behind it’s known as the downwind leg. Because the boat is moving along with the wind it will feel like the wind has stopped blowing. There is little apparent wind, which makes it the perfect time to have a soda. This is a good time for questions and conversation. The crew will ease the sails right out to the sides and sometimes a spinnaker will be hoisted. On the downwind leg the boat might need to gybe. Gybing takes the boat from one tack to the other when sailing downwind by turning the stern through the wind. During the gybe the boom swings quickly from one side of the boat to the other. It’s important to keep your head low during this maneuver. The skipper might yell “duck!!” and that warns the crew to duck.
After the race
At the end of the race, all the boats drop their sails and the crew help with cleaning the boat. After the boat is clean and everything has been packed away, everyone gathers at the club for a soda or social barbeque to discuss the day’s sailing action.