The upwind leg is all about maintaining optimum boat speed on the favored course to the mark. This article explains how you can anticipate wind shifts maneuver toward the favored starboard layline. It also addresses what to can do when you find yourself in a good position on the left hand side of the course.

Anticipate wind shifts Edit

Use all available data to read tell-tale signs of wind shifts.

Check the weather bulletin Edit

Just as in real life, the weatherman is not always correct about details such as wind direction (TWD) or even wind strength (TWS) but the weather bulletin comments about variability are usually dependable. Did you read the course introduction screen? Some track creators will advertise the approximate cycle time of wind shifts.

Memorize the extreme shifts in TWD Edit

From the moment your boat spawns near the start line you should be making note of the extremes of the range of any variation in TWD. A scratch pad nearby is a good tool if you have a poor memory for detail.

If you have a reasonably decent internal clock or if you read the course introduction then you might gain some insight into any frequency of wind shifts that can be expected on the race course. This information will serve you well as you sail your course to the upwind mark.

Watch other boats Edit

Some wind changes reach one boat on the course sooner than others. If you sail with your camera zoomed in on your head-sail and pass the time admiring the skin of the boat nearest you then you might miss that important big picture told by the boats to windward of you change the amount they heal under the current wind.

Observe the water surface Edit

VSK uses large circular areas of darker or lighter water surface to indicate the movement of localized wind effects (puffs and lulls, respectively) across the course. If you can't see those textures then you may want to either experiment with your graphics settings or download the file from

Speed vs. heading Edit

Depending on the TWS and which boat you are sailing your TWA for optimum speed sailing close-hauled is going to be 27..47 TWA. Learn the thresholds for changing between #1 and #2 head-sail. e.g. on the ACC boat you can carry your #2 sail up to about 27..28k and you can get away with your #1 sail down to about 24-25k. This where your awareness of the water surface texture nearby can come into play. You might gladly tack to remain in a puff while you switch head-sails in preparation for a lull.

You can monitor VMG to see which point of sail is giving you the fastest progress upwind or you can be guided by the color of the wind arrow just to windward of your bow.

As you race other boats in the fleet you'll be constantly asking yourself whether you should optimize VMG, BS, SOG, HDG or COG. SOG and COG really only come into play in the presence of a strong current or stream. Suffice to say that in the presence of a prevailing steam there will usually be one tack that is assisted by the stream while the other tack is hindered by the stream.

Changing tack effectively Edit

It's rare for the upwind leg's CNM to be exactly the same bearing as TWD and even when CNM and TWD are the same, any wind shift will tilt the balance in favor of either left side or right side of the course. Change tack to the favored course but resolve to build up boat speed before changing tack again. In very shifty winds you could tack yourself into a near stand still .. e.g. 2-3 knots boat speed! Under these conditions optimize BS over HDG.

To initially build up boat speed (i.e. accelerate) after changing tack, you will need to sail a few degrees further away from the wind in order for your boat to present a larger area of sail to the wind (and therefore draw more power). A 3 degrees difference in course can mean the difference between taking 25-30 seconds to recover to maximum boat speed versus just 5-10 seconds! For those 5-10 seconds you are not sailing the optimal heading (course through the water) but you will discover you've more than made up for that with boat speed and the maneuverability that BS affords you if/when you must tack again should the wind shift come sooner rather than later.

Clear air is fastest Edit

Avoid the wind shadow behind other boats. Depending on the head-sail that shadow can extend 3 to 5 mast heights from the boat. There are no tell-tale signs on the water's surface so you'll have to watch your BS and TWS as you pass to leeward of another boat. Using your knowledge of ranges of expected TWD you might tack early to avoid sailing in another boat's wind shadow and hope that you have correctly anticipated a favorable wind shift back toward middle of the range of TWD you've been keeping track of since pre-start.

There is nothing quite so satisfying as gaining 2 or 3 places in the fleet on your upwind leg - especially when you can cross in front of a boat that not many minutes earlier crossed in front of you!

Jockey for starboard lay line Edit

Rule 10 gives the boat on starboard tack a right-of-way advantage so most skipper beating to windward will take every opportunity that presents to make their way to the starboard layline.

All the work you've done to gain places can quickly go down the flusher if you find your self approaching the windward mark as the give-way boat. On a starboard rounding you might sail wide enough of the windward mark as you approach on port tack to avoid right-of-way boats altogether but the chances are there will be one right-of-way boat that sails out to meet you and force you to lose precious momentum as you tack away.

Whenever possible position your self to fetch the mark on starboard tack.

Assess a collision course Edit

Use the camera angle rotation to line up your boat and another then observe relative progress. If the bow or foot of the mast on the other boat is gradually progressing forward relative to some fixed point on your boat then the other boat will cross your bow ... and vice verse. if there is no relative progress then you are on a collision course. Great news if you have right-of-way and time to thinks about tactics if you do not have right-of-way.

Early on test small changes in heading to observe effect on likelihood of collision. If port boat likely to pass ahead then tack early to preserve your clear air and boat speed. If port boat is marginally ahead then tack at lee bow position to pin the port tack boat and direct bad air her way.

If solitary starboard boat is likely to pass ahead then sail close hauled for as long as practical before bearing away to duck behind as you accelerate BS. Then smoothly round up to only just-miss the passing stern. Sharp tiller movements will cause drag and loss of BS. If lead starboard boat in pack is likely to pass ahead then tack early to preserve your clear air and boat speed. If starboard boat is marginally ahead then tack at lee bow position to direct bad air her way while focusing on BS before heading back up to a close hauled course usually overlapped with the other boat.

Assert your right of wayEdit

Hail starboard early and repeat if no change of course. Sacrifice heading for boat speed if it ensures a (more) obvious penalty situation. Keep tiller on center-line as boats approach. (Rule 16) Minimize loss of forward momentum using duck behind with only grazing of stern. Assert non contact rule 10 penalty by tacking to avoid collision.

Keep clear and enjoy clear air Edit

Fighting your way to the starboard lay line is about speed to get ahead and tacking to keep your boat sails in clear air. When you don't have right-of-way then optimize BS rather than HDG. When you do have right-of-way don't be afraid to assert that right-of-way but never allow your sails to luff - you'll lose precious momentum if you do.

If you must pass behind a boat crossing your bow then take advantage of a brief lift as the boat passes. It may allow you a 2 or 3 degree change in heading wit no loss of BS just be sure to anticipate the lift expiring and fall away to the original close-hauled course sooner rather than risk stalling. Sometimes you get very lucky with this 2-3second lift and discover that a wind shift has occurred at the same time so you don't fall away afterward but continue turning and change tack.

When to duck and when to tack Edit

If you can't pass ahead then tack early for clear air. If you plan on ducking then mitigate loss of boat speed by gradual tiller movements and carefully orchestrated near-miss of the passing boat's stern.

If you are facing a pack of boats all having right-of-way over you then ducking is just a bad choice so read those situations early enough to tack in clear air and hope for better boat speed than the pack. The lead boat of the pack is the one you should measure yourself against as the other boats will be sailing in bad air.

Lee bow pinning Edit

Once you understand your own boat's effect of spilling turbulent air behind it you can tack just ahead and to the lee of a boat on the opposite tack and cause that boat to sail in bad air. If you've mastered the art of tacking smoothly to a few degrees below close hauled and allow your boat to accelerate before gradually heading back up to a close hauled point of sail then you may find that the combination of your smooth turning and the other boat dealing with your bad air is enough to get ahead to the point where you can tack again on your terms and either safely cross their bow on port tack or force the other boat to tack away from you on starboard tack.

When the left side is favored Edit

Some times you'll find your self way out on the left side of the course and making good headway to the mark while most of the fleet is gravitating toward the starboard layline. Of course if you are facing the prospect of a starboard rounding then that is a sweet position to be in so long as you overstand the mark sufficiently to avoid receiving a penalty at the rounding.

But if you are facing the need for a port rounding then at some point you must decide to head for that starboard lay line. We'll discuss mark rounding in another article so it should be sufficient to say here that you should aim to intercept that starboard layline well outside the 2 boat length zone around the windward mark. At least 4 boat lengths from the mark to be safe and 3 BL at pinch.

If you only need to contend with a single right-of-way boat then you can risk crossing and tacking inside the zone but if there are multiple boats you need to merge with then your fastest way to round will be to maintain boat speed as you duck behind and avoid penalties.