Racing Concept of the Month #5
The “racing concept of the month” articles are way of sharing the general racing knowledge that has been developed over the decades in the Martin 242 fleet – this is the fifth of a series. All are loosely based on the excellent content in this article by Michael Clements.

Tips & Tricks for the Leeward Mark Rounding

The leeward mark rounding can be another pivotal moment of the race where many positions can be gained or lost in not a lot of time or distance.

In general, your key goals for a good leeward mark rounding are:
  1. keep your speed up – remember how long it takes a 242 to get back up to full speed at the start line; the same applies at a leeward mark rounding.
  2. be in full control – try to have at least two crew members (helm and one other) with their head out of the boat and focused on speed and heading during the rounding, and not focused on rescuing a wayward kite, untangling jib sheets, or fishing a crewmember out of the drink. This control also helps if tactically you need to spin right around the mark and tack immediately onto starboard.
  3. don’t lose position to other boats – most likely to occur due to other boats being overlapped on your inside at the mark.

Goals 1 and 2 are most easily achieved by practicing crew work, most importantly getting kite down well before the rounding starts.

The third goal – not losing position to inside boats – is a bit more interesting to discuss.

Unlike at the weather mark, interpretation and application of the rules at the leeward mark tends to be more straightforward. An inside overlapped boat has room – easy.

One thing to remember is that an overlap is defined by a line drawn at 90 degrees to a boat’s centerline at the transom. When approaching the leeward mark on port gybe from the left side of the course (looking upwind), depending on angle, this perpendicular line can sometimes overlap several boats, even boats that are set up to round well behind you:

Red is overlapped with all three boats here as they enter the zone

In extreme circumstances you may even be overlapped with most or all of the fleet, like in this example below where red has overstood the layline on port and is reaching in, and the unlucky black boat (#13 in this example) is well behind the pack having started OCS, but fighting hard to catch up. At this moment in time the red boat is even overlapped with black, and black would have room if they could somehow magically manage to catch up in time for the rounding (Editor’s note: not unheard of you know - remember Finisterre!)

Unfortunately for Fleet 1, we often race in an English Bay westerly. For the same reasons that it pays to go left upwind, it pays to go to the same side of the course downwind:
  • there is often more pressure to the south near the shore.
  • the progressive left shift in English Bay going upwind means downwind angles are better if you approach the leeward mark on port – you want to sail “away” from the shift to have the headed gybe coming into the mark downwind and in so doing sail less distance:

(exaggerated for effect)

This “Go Left in an English Bay Westerly” rule is not quite as cut and dry going downwind as going upwind, because in a flood tide there is more tide helping you get downwind the further away from shore you are, so the losses from an early gybe are often not that great. That said, the default downwind strategy in English Bay is basically to hit the beach, same as upwind.

The upshot is: coming into the leeward mark on or near the port gybe layline leaves you open to attack by any boats overlapped on the inside – which can be many boats! Leading to…the dreaded pinwheel:

(see…even that devious black boat managed to catch up)

Some tips for avoiding the pinwheel:

1. Defend the inside position - avoid the port gybe layline.

Even if you like the left side of the course, gybe a bit early so you can make your final approach on starboard, or on port but with no boats overlapped to the left of you. A starboard approach is trickier because the douse is harder – it involves a gybe around the mark rather than just pulling the kite down and heading up. But a starboard approach is safer for defending the inside overlap position.

2. Slow down!

If all else fails and you find yourself about to be stuck outside a pinwheel, the best solution is often, counter-intuitively, to try and slow the boat down and round behind the pack:

Try this One Neat Trick!

You will be giving up a spot or maybe two to the boats on the inside but will always gain relative to any other boats on the outside of a pinwheel. Sometimes you’ll even get lucky and the inside boat – harried by a late and complex spinnaker douse trying to gain and hold on to inside position – will forget about goals #1 and #2 and have a horrible rounding, leaving room for you to sneak in* and gain all those spots back.

*Note: even if a boat with an inside overlap has a poor rounding and leaves you room to squeeze between them and the mark when you’re coming in late behind – you have no rights here! If they manage to recover and can head up to close the gap, you must take a penalty if there’s a foul. Be careful.

In a Martin 242 you can accomplish the Slow Down trick several ways:
  1. simplest and most effective is to douse extra early. If you see the pinwheel situation start to develop, take the kite down really early and delay pulling the jib out to buy you some time to sneak behind the pack with a good rounding.
  2. pull the boom to near centerline. This is easier in lighter air – often the helm can do this quickly by just pulling the boom by hand to centerline without sheeting in (but watch for an accidental gybe). A doused kite and way over-trimmed main can slow the boat quickly.
  3. sail some extra distance. This works if there’s a bit of a gap to the next boat behind - you can douse, head up a bit (without trimming the main) or overstand the layline, wait for the inside overlapped boats to pass ahead or start their rounding, then aggressively head back towards the mark and round directly behind.
  4. arc the bow left to right a few times with some big tiller movements – getting the rudder to act as a brake. This is a bit tricky to pull off and takes some practice. The key is to not get off course or foul any boats nearby with aggressive direction changes, or knock any crew overboard, but with the large rudder on the M242 it can be quite effective if done properly.
Finally, it can be ok to allow a boat to round inside you if you’re far enough ahead. If you can end the rounding outside but far enough ahead that the inside boat ends up in your lee bow, it’s often easy to claw your way back into the lead as the inside boat struggles with dirty air and a boat directly to leeward. The key here is realizing when you’re far enough ahead to make this stick. If it’s looking like you’ll be ending the rounding either even with or behind an inside boat – better to try and slow down if possible and round directly behind. Otherwise leave plenty of room for the other boat and go for it!

That’s it! Remember that while kids might love a pinwheel – racing sailors don’t.

-written by Reto