Windward Mark Preparation

All windward mark roundings (and especially on the first windward mark) are an opportunity for gain or loss, and good windward mark preparation is therefore crucial.

What the Experts Say

Ben Tan – The Complete Introduction to Laser Racing
Mark rounding involves much more than just turning the boat – there is much to do. Developing and practicing a routine for each mark will leave more time to think of other things

Jon Emmett – Be Your Own Sailing Coach
The setting changes from upwind to reaching need to be done as efficiently as possible at the windward mark, or, if possible, very slightly beforehand

Paul Goodison – Laser Handbook
Before arriving at the windward mark you need to decide which way you want to go on the next leg…if the next leg of the course is a tight reach…or you want to go right…make sure that you are on the outside at the mark…if you want to go low…or left…then it is important to round as close to the buoy as possible

Videos for Windward Mark Preparation

Paul Goodison explains and demonstrates excellent windward mark preparation, describing what you need to be doing, looking for and thinking about. The three examples begin here, here and here

This video from Jon Emmett gives a couple of good demonstrations of a windward mark rounding, with some tips for the approach and post-rounding checks

A good view of a sailor making sail adjustments on approach to the windward mark

In this 470 video you can see the helms making sail adjustments as they approach the windward mark to facilitate the rounding and be well set for the next leg. Also, one boat comes in slightly above the lay line, and uses the extra space to execute a nice gybe-set manoeuvre as they round. There is another windward mark rounding from the same race here.

Laser Medal Race, London 2012. These views of the second windward mark  and third windward mark shows the sailors preparing early with the sail controls before making their rounding

Tom Slingsby preparing to round a windward mark

The Laser medal race in the 2008 Olympics was a light wind affair. The footage of the windward mark roundings (here and here) show the sailors releasing the sail controls (vang, cunningham and outhaul) as they approach the mark.

As these Finns approach the Windward Mark the leader is releasing the controls a boatlength or two before the rounding, enabling an immediate gybe after the mark. The second windward mark rounding is here

These guys have obviously been practising untangling their mainsheets before rounding, and their use of pulling an arm above their heads as they approach the mark ensures a smooth release of the main:

Books with information on Windward Mark Preparation

Complete Introduction To Laser Racing - Ben Tan, page 70 and page 136

Laser Handbook - Paul Goodison, page 56

Be Your Own Sailing Coach - Jon Emmett, page 168

Websites and online articles with information on Windward Mark Preparation

A good piece on Windward Mark Roundings

This article has some useful bits on preparing for the approach to the windward mark

What We Learned...

Windward Mark Preparation

The first windward mark is a crucial point in any race, and all windward mark roundings are an opportunity for gain (or loss) of positions. The first windward mark rounding tends to be the first point where you become accurately aware of your position in the race, and from here on in gaining positions becomes progressively more difficult as the fleet tends to spread. They also tend to be the first big coming together of large numbers of boats after the start, so there are therefore several key areas to work on when thinking about the windward mark:

  • Preparing to round the windward mark
  • The tactical considerations as you approach the windward the mark
  • Your options when crossing tacks near the windward mark
  • The actual rounding of the windward mark

This article deals with the basics of windward mark preparation.

The first thing you need to be acutely aware of is: where is the windward mark? You should have an awareness of the position of the first buoy all through the first beat. A common mistake for mid- or back-of-the-fleet sailors is assuming they will have someone to follow. Firstly, this psychologically sets you up to not be first to the top mark, so don’t do it. Secondly, more often than you would think, people make errors with the course. If you follow a boat to the wrong mark then not only do you lose out to other boats that don’t make the mistake, but you pass up a big opportunity to gain on those boats that have made a mistake.

You also need to know where the next mark is (the one after the windward mark). This is for the same reasons as above, but also because:

a)      You want to get on course for the next mark as quickly as possible
b)      You want to set your boat up for the next leg before you round the windward mark (as far as possible)
c)       You want to start thinking about the likely tactical situations that are likely to occur immediately after the windward mark (high or low on the next leg; possible luffing matches; etc.)

Now you need to get into your windward mark routine:

  1. As you get near the mark you need to have a quick check and, if necessary, disentangle the mainsheet. How many times have you rounded the mark, and spent the next 10 boatlengths untangling an unwanted knot in your mainsheet, all the while losing ground to the boats around you? Get this sorted early (good sheeting technique at the start and leeward mark will help cut down on tangles) so that it is never a problem.
  2. Now ease the outhaul to the required setting for the next mark. You can normally do this with around 5 boatlengths from the mark, but take into account your situation. If you have someone below you who will be luffing you to make the mark then delay releasing the outhaul till closer to the mark.
  3. Next, ease the vang (you can do this before the outhaul if the situation requires it). Depending on your boat, you may need to ease the mainsheet temporarily, release the vang, then sheet in again in order to let the tension off. It is quite important to have the vang released before the windward mark, as an open leech will encourage the boat to bear away for you, while a tight leech will try to nudge you up to the wind making your bear away slower and increasing the use of the rudder – slow.
  4. The next sail adjustment should be to ease the cunningham. However, it is worth putting in a little thought here. On a windy day where the boat may struggle to bear off for you, it may be worthwhile delaying this until just after the windward mark. As the Cunningham opens the leech a tight Cunningham will help you bear away. In normal conditions it tends to be better to make the adjustment just before the windward mark.
  5. The final thing you can do before the windward mark is raise the daggerboard a little. Obviously, if you have laid the windward mark perfectly then you will have to delay this till after the mark – great. However, if you have slightly overstood, then raise your board a little:
    a)      Your boatspeed should be slightly better as you approach.
    b)      A raised board helps with the bear away as you have less foil resistance to the manoeuvre.

Now all you have to do is execute the perfect rounding and away you go.

As you improve your windward mark technique you can leave the adjustments later and later, until you are going through the routine at the last minute (but in a controlled way). This keeps you sailing the boat at the optimum set-up for as long as possible.

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