Basic Principles of
BY DAVE DELLENBAUGH
Follow these rules of thumb. Every racing
situation is unique, and that’s why it’s important
to keep your eyes looking up the course. The wind and
water are always changing, so you must view every
moment of a race as completely new. There are,
however, certain strategic rules of thumb that will
work in almost any situation. So, whenever you’re in
doubt, stick with these tried-and-true principles to
minimize risk and have your best chance of success.
• Sail the longer tack or jibe first. In other
words, stay on the tack or jibe where your bow is
pointed closer to the next mark. This will keep you in
the middle of the course where you have more options.
• Sail toward the next shift (upwind). It doesn’t
matter whether the wind-shifts are oscillating or
persistent - one principle that will almost always
work on a beat is to sail in the direction of the next
• Sail away from the next shift (downwind). On a
run, you should do the opposite of what you do on a
beat. Instead of sailing toward the next shift, sail
away from it. This will put you on a lower ladder
• Tack on the headers (upwind). This is the best way
to sail toward the next shift when you have an
oscillating breeze on a beat. You tack when you’re
headed because the next shift will come from the other
• Jibe on the lifts (downwind). This is the best way
to sail away from the next shift when you have an
oscillating breeze on a run.
• Avoid laylines and corners. If you reach a layline
too early or a corner of the course, you have usually
come to a strategic dead end, both on beats and runs.
Keep your options open by staying more in the middle.
• In light air, sail for pressure first, shifts
second. When you don’t have much wind, getting a
little more can make a big difference in both speed
and pointing. so look hard for better pressure.
• In heavy air, sail for shifts first, then
pressure. When you’re already overpowered, more wind
won’t help you very much; that’s when you should
take advantage of shifts in direction.
• In shifty winds, don’t let other boats cross
you. When boats on a lift are about to cross your bow,
don’t let them. Tack ahead and to leeward of them so
you’ll get to the next shift before they do.
• In shifty winds, cross other boat when you can.
This is a corollary to the principle above. When you
start to look better relative to the boats on your
windward quarter, tack and cross them. This way you
will consolidate your gains and get to the next shift
• Minimize risk early. Don’t take chances until
you have to. When it’s early in a race or series,
you still have time to catch up by sailing smart, so
• When in doubt, sail the up current tack or jibe
first. If conditions (i.e. wind and current) remain
the same, it won’t matter whether you sail up
current or down current first. However, if something
does change, it’s usually better to have sailed the
up current tack first because that leaves you more in
the middle of the course.