How to win in sailing regatta

I’ve got one basic comment for the title of this post.

“You have to be good – real good – no no I mean really really good”

They say if you loose a race it was bad luck but if you win it was pure skill. :) When you win a sailboat race, one thing is for sure, even if you got lucky, you’re a good sailor and not only a good sailor but a good racer. There is a big difference between the two. I consider myself a pretty darn good sailor but … a good racer? Well.. not so much when I compare myself against those that race every week.

Last Wednesday we raced in a local regatta. I was rail meat (or self moving ballast – which means the guy who hangs his weight out to balance the boat). About 50 boats were involved. Our fleet of Young 8.8 meter sailboats was about 10 strong. Wind was about 12- 15 knots. And just to prove the point from above, the skipper is an old college friend of mine and an accomplished racer, yet we didn’t win. I would have to say that no bad decisions were made. We raced an almost picture perfect race, yet came in about 5th. Spinnaker launches and retrievals were perfect and done in a timely manner at the correct places. We even rounded the bottom mark in third place and came out of the mark in first place.

One failing we probably did have was not enough rail meat. The boat was healing slightly more than the other Young 8.8’s who had more crew on the rail.

Just one other thing I noticed was that on the two upwind legs back up to the finish line, the skipper/helmsman was needing to call to the mainsheet trimmer to trim-in & sheet-out, this causes a second or so lag each time. Multiply this over 200-300 trim changes throughout a race and you can loose significant ground.

The main sheet trimmer has to be really good when it comes to a close hauled boat riding on the edge of being over powered. There is a fine and skilled balance of perfect trimming of the traveller and the sheet. You’ve got to know instantly which one to trim. Main sheet out to spill wind out of the top – main sheet in to power back up. Traveller down (out) do depower from a gust – traveler up to recover once the gust passes. And they all have to be done in unison. Additionally the trimming can’t be reactive – it has to be slightly preemptive to keep the boat going fast.

This is the stuff you can’t become proficient at through online lessons or even just a few practical lessons on the water. There is only one way and that is to get out there and just do it. We highly recommend joining a yacht club and putting a notice on the board that you’re available to race. Guaranteed you’ll get a call. Skippers are always looking for reliable people to show up with out fail. Start out as rail meat then you can move up to trimming.

However, saying that, you’ve got to learn the principles. At NauticEd, we teach the theory so that you understand what is happening and why you might sheet in / sheet out / traveller up / traveller down.

Shortly – NauticEd will launch a FREE Introduction to Basic Sail Trim lesson. We’re going to use some REALLY high tech interactive flash demonstrations so that you’ll really GET the picture. Once you’ve completed that you’ll be really jonesing to get your head around our full Sail Trim Course.

Additionally, this year we’re going to launch a Regatta Race Tactics course – we’re interviewing authors now. So stay tuned.

To complete the story from above – wow, what a fun race. At the bottom mark, we were inches from another boat. They we all yelling at us but we had overlap and rights – they needed a few lessons in race rules of right of way. Hee hee! At the last mark before the finish line, we were on a starboard tack going for the mark – another boat in our fleet was approaching on port. We hailed starboard to establish rights ( we were outside the three boat lengths from the mark). They had to come up on the wind  a little. Had we kept going, they would have had to tack over and we easily by the rules could have forced them to do that and make them loose a lot of time. However, there were other boats ahead of us in the course and so the prudent tactic was to tack on the layline to the mark and go for the finish. Because of the other boat’s momentum they were on top of us and beginning to pass as we picked up speed. Dave our skipper concentrated on making our boat go fast. I pulled my legs in from over the rail because they were so close. Then slowly because of everyone concentrating on making the boat go fast we pulled back ahead of the boat. We finished about 100 meters ahead of them but still in 5th place. Grrrrr!

It’s all extreme fun. If you want to learn to sail – learn the theory here at NauticEd then get out there and race. Man you’re going to learn a lot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  • Grant Headifen

    My vision for NauticEd is to provide the highest quality sailing and boating education available - and deliver competence wherever sailors live and go.

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Last updated on July 7th, 2022