Sailboat Racing Tips: Rounding Marks

What You'll Need
Winch handles
Course chart
Race instructions

Rounding marks well can mean the difference between winning or losing, and is one of the most important techniques to get right in sailboat racing. Often there are many boats reaching a mark at the same time, but the boat that rounded the mark the best will end up many boat lengths ahead.

Step 1 - Read Race Instructions and Course Chart

Different races might have different procedures for rounding marks. Make sure that you are familiar with the procedures for your race. Check the course chart to make sure you are rounding the correct mark.

Step 2 - Round the Windward Mark

Round a windward mark by coming onto it full steam and accelerating evenly. Make sure not to overstand it. Hook the spinnaker up and load its sheet onto a winch in an appropriate trimming location. Come in a 1/2 to a full boat length above the lay line then, as you bear off, let out the sails evenly, but not enough for them to luff. If you are 1/2 a boat length below the lay line, tack once to get about it, then tack again to round the mark.

Alternately, you can shoot straight for the mark until you are 3/4 a boatlegth away from it, and then shoot straight into the wind, which will allow you to get around the mark if you have enough speed. Then all you have to do is bear off and continue.

Step 3 - Round the Reach Mark

Reverse the sail adjustments you made with rounding the last mark. With a reach mark, remember to head up for a moment or two after rounding. This provides you with clean air from the other boats coming down from the mark and puts you inside, which is advantageous for the leeward mark.

Step 4 - Round the Leeward Mark

Rounding a leeward mark is the most interesting and exciting part of the course, and where sailors can showcase their skills best. Again, reverse the sail adjustments you made before. Make sure your jib is ready for upward sailing and that your spinnaker is stowed. While still sailing downwind, adjust your backstay, outhaul, and halyard tension for upwind sailing.

Racing rules dictate that those on the outside must give room which always forces these unfortunate boats to lose much ground. If there are boats behind you, you should, counterintuitively, stay a good distance away from the mark before rounding. This is because of the nature of boat turning radiuses. Then you can round the mark on the other side quite tightly.

Throughout the turn, trim your sails in an even manner to the upwind setting. Tell the crew to move to the high windward side in a smooth manner.

Step 5 - Settle in Post-Mark

According to racing rules, settle into your tuning roles and prepare to round the next mark.