Skysail Training

£2.50 each

More information on Sail Trim and sailing in light airs


The Boat  ..   The Crew    ..  The Race    ..  The Rules

"Remember - Yacht Racing is the only sport where, if you have a good day, you can beat anybody….."

A lot of what follows may be taken to extremes – it all depends on the level you want to sail at.

In Dixon races a lot will depend on sailing the right course efficiently, rather than a perfect boat and a perfect knowledge of the rules.

Thinking about the points that follow will significantly improve your cruising as well as your racing.

The Boat            "Boat speed makes you a tactical genius.......      "Simplicate and add lightness" - William Boeing

There is not a lot you can do about your boat, but you can do something:

Ø Remove the Red Ensign to indicate you are racing.   Fly a racing pennant from the backstay, usually a No 1 pennant.

Ø Make sure everything works smoothly - fairleads, blocks, cleats, winches, halyards, reefing gear.

Ø Take off weight where it is possible (examples - Fuel, water, chain, and equipment). It’s amazing how much weight accumulates on the average cruising boat. Racers are ruthless about weight, particularly in the ends of the boat.

Ø Keep the hull clean and smooth, if only at the waterline.

Ø Reduce windage – fold the sprayhood, take off the dodgers if it’s easy.

Ø Folding or feathering props have less drag than fixed props.

Ø Check your insurance covers racing. Most insurers will give you this for free for just a few MOA type races per year, some may include the Round the Island Race.

The Crew

Again, you are not going to change very much. Just make sure of the following:

Give everyone a job:

o Helm

o Timekeeper for the start

o Navigator – check: the course,  marks, tides, depths, bearings etc.  Plot these with the GPS if you can.

o Sail trimmers

Very often these jobs will be combined. Make sure they know what is expected – no need for long briefings, just a brief chat.

The Race


Get to the start line with plenty of time to spare.

Read the start sequence issued. Listen to the Race Officer; understand the starting sequence, which may be 10 minutes or 5 minutes. If flags are used, they will usually follow the sequence:

Signal Flag

Sound signal

Minutes before start

Class flag hoisted

1 sound


Preparatory flag (P)

1 sound


Preparatory flag removed

1 long sound


Start - Class flag removed

1 sound


* or as shown in race instructions.
If flags are used, watch the flags, the sound signals are for information only.

  • Check the course, the sequence of marks and which side to round them. ie ‘Leave mark to Port’ means you round to Starboard of the mark.

  • Make a dummy run across the line to check the timing, starting direction, wind strength, and sail setting needed. 

  • Stay near the line. Avoid other boats that may interfere with your plan.

The most important factors at the start are:

  • Call the time to go in minutes. At one minute to go call every 10 seconds.
  • Start on starboard tack unless it’s obviously not required.
  • Be near the line, going fast, in clear air. Yachts take time to reach the best speed.
  • Watch for the tide carrying you over the line; conversely, you may take a long time to reach the line with the tide against you.


  • Concentrate on boat speed and pointing, but don’t pinch.

  • Sail trim – adjust the genoa sheet cars to get all the genoa tell-tales lifting at the same time. 
    If the top windward tell-tale lifts first, move the car forward. (All this is best done before the start!). If you don’t have tell-tales, fit them!
  • See    Sail Trim   and  Telling tales
  • Tack slowly if you are shorthanded, give the crew time to sheet in.

  • Get the boom near the centre line, practice using the traveller and kicker to increase twist in the mainsail in light winds.

  • Sail the boat flat – more than 20° heel slows you down because you have to apply rudder to keep the boat straight. (Weather helm).  Ease the main traveller or main sheet, or reef if necessary on a long leg.

  • Stay in a 60° cone to the mark (inside the lay lines). Don’t stay on the lay line – if the wind shifts your options are limited.
    (The lay lines are the outside limits of the course from where the boat can round the next mark without tacking).

  • Tack on big heading wind shifts, watch for the freeing shifts.

  • Keep the tide under the lee bow.

  • If you have any spare crew weight, keep it to windward.

Reaching - Remember to:

  • Sail the rhumb line, the shortest (and usually the fastest) course between any two marks in a straight line.

  • When it is windy sail higher in the lulls and bear away in the puffs.

  • Look for the next mark.

  • Check sail trim constantly on main and genoa.

  • Look to see what the rest of the fleet are doing, remember the tide.

  • Generally if in front of a bunch of boats go high, if behind a bunch go low.

  • Watch for gusts.

Downwind Leg:

  • Maximise your speed.

  • Sail the longer gybe first.

  • Stay near the centre of the course

  • Sail with the puffs and avoid the lulls.

  • Watch the current.

  • Keep clear air. Watch for boats blanketing you from behind


  • Remember the race isn't over till the finish!
  • Make sure you have the right finish mark. Use binoculars.
  • The finishing line can be biased just as much as a start line.
  • Decide on the favoured end while sailing downwind.
  • Try to push your opposition to the unfavoured end of the finish line.
  • If in front: cover, stay between the competition and the mark

"Never interrupt your opponent when he is making a mistake..." - Napoleon Bonaparte


  • Avoid being blanketed by other boats to windward and ahead.

  • Avoid being lee-bowed by other yachts, you are in dead air.

  • Start near the upwind end of the start line.
  • Ignore the position of the first mark when deciding where to start (provided the first leg is a beat).
  • Keep in the front rank before the start.

  • Take a transit so you know when you are on the line.

  • If ahead, keep between your opponents and the next mark.

  • Off wind, keep your wind clear and try to sail straight for the next mark.


  • On a short beat keep to the right - hand side of the course.

  • Find out which way the current or tide is flowing.

  • Head for deep water and the outside of bends when the tide is with you. Stay in shallow water if the tide is against you.

  • If everything is equal, tack up a 60 - degree cone (well inside the lay lines).

  • Tack on headers.

  • Watch for the freeing wind shifts.

  • On a one - sided beat, sail the long leg first.

  • When sailing cross-tide, point into the tide and use a transit to sail a straight course "over the land". Check your track against the course to the mark with your GPS

  • Choose the gybe that takes you most directly to the leeward mark.

  • Keep strong tides under your lee bow.

  • Head for the downwind end of the finish line on a beat.

Rounding Marks

       Before rounding a mark, plan the course and time to the next mark.  Advise the crew what to expect for sail trim.

  1. Hundreds of yards can be lost or gained by
    good mark rounding.

  2. Use a transit or the GPS to correct tide effects on the approach. Don't get downtide of the mark.

  3. When rounding a mark, sail the boat round, trimming the sails progressively as you go; 
    avoid sudden changes of direction, and maintain boat speed.

  4. Keep the boat and sails trimmed.

  • At a downwind mark, approach wide and 
    take the buoy close as you set off upwind:

  • If you have to gybe to round a mark, do it 
    early and wide, exiting close to the mark.

PORTSMOUTH YARDSTICK HANDICAP LIST - Cruiser_Portsmouth_Yardsticks_2011.pdf


RACING RULES  (more here  NB 2004 rules, not updated  )

Summary of the Rules that Apply When Boats Meet   (Simplified, Condensed, Unofficial)

Below is a summary of the sailing rules that apply most often on the race course. This summary is intended as an aid to sailors and not as a substitute for the  Racing Rules of Sailing 2009-2012.pdf (500 KB pdf), a copy of which all racing sailors should own.  The racing rules do not override the IRPCS or IRPCAS (International Regulations for Preventing Collision at Sea). So if you meet a boat which is not racing , IRPCAS applies to both of you.

Do not be intimidated by other boats shouting  "We are racing ".  Shout back "So are we...."


PORT-STARBOARD. Port-tack boats must keep clear of starboard-tack boats. (Rule 10) Note: You are "keeping clear" of another boat when she doesn't have to avoid you.

WINDWARD-LEEWARD. When boats are overlapped on the same tack, the windward boat must keep clear. (Rule 11)

ON SAME TACK, ASTERN-AHEAD. When boats are on the same tack and not overlapped, the boat clear astern must keep clear. (Rule 12) Note: One boat is "clear astern" if she is entirely behind a line through the other boat's aft-most point, perpendicular to the other boat'. The other boat is "clear ahead." Two boats are "overlapped" if neither is clear ahead of the other.

TACKING TOO CLOSE. Before you tack, make sure your tack will keep you clear of all other boats. (Rule 13)


If the other boat must keep clear, you have "right of way". Even if you have right of way, there are limitations on what you can do:

AVOID CONTACT. You must avoid contact with other boats, but a right-of-way boat will not be penalized under this rule unless the contact causes damage. (Rule 14)

ACQUIRING RIGHT OF WAY. When you do something to become the right-of-way boat, you must give the other boat a chance to get away from you. (Rule 15)

CHANGING COURSE. When you change course, you must give the other boat a chance to keep clear. (Rule 16)

ON THE SAME TACK; PROPER COURSE. If you are overlapped to leeward of a boat on the same tack, and if just before the overlap began you were clear astern of her, you cannot sail above your proper course (i.e., the course that will take you to the next mark the fastest) while you remain overlapped. (Rule 17.1)


There is a set of special rules for boats that are about to pass a mark or obstruction. However, these special rules don't apply between boats on opposite tacks on a beat to windward. (Rule 18.1)

Except at a starting mark, you must give boats overlapped inside you room to pass a mark or obstruction, and boats clear astern must keep clear of you.

There is a two-length zone around marks and obstructions, and a boat's rights and obligations with respect to another boat are "frozen" when the first of them enters that zone. If you are clear astern of another boat when she enters the zone, you must keep clear of her until both boats are past the mark or obstruction, even if you later become overlapped inside her. (Rule 18.2)

TACKING NEAR A MARK. Don't tack within the two-length zone at a windward mark if you will cause a boat that is fetching the mark to sail above close-hauled to avoid you, or if you will prevent her from passing the mark. (Rule 18.3)

ROOM TO TACK AT AN OBSTRUCTION. When boats are on the same tack on a beat and come to an obstruction, the leeward boat gets to decide which way they are going to pass it. If the leeward boat hails for room to tack, the other boat must give it to her; but the leeward boat must give the other boat time to respond before she tacks. (Rule 19)


Before your Preparatory Signal, and after you finish, don't interfere with boats that are about to start or are racing. (Rule 22.1)

If you break a rule while racing, get away from other boats and do two 360-degree turns; if you hit a mark, do a tack and a gybe (not necessarily a full 360 turn). (Rules 20 and 44)

If you start too soon, keep clear of others until you get behind the line again.

(Rules 20 and 29)

You may meet other boats racing or not racing. Collision Regs apply.

posted 16th May 2011