June 09, 2013

Sailing in the Middle of the Fleet - When is Someone Behind or Ahead?

By Doug
A good question from TillermanMy problem is that I never know whether a boat in a position like that on the same tack would be behind or ahead of me (unless it's very extreme like I can see him through my window.) What's the trick to judging that?

A Laser/Torch tacks through 90 degrees in almost all conditions. So, put some tape along the deck that's at a 45 degree angle to the center of the boat. Start near the CB and have the tape go up to the gunnel beside the mast.

I'm at the committee boat close-hauled. The pin is behind the red line. Boat favored.
In this example, the boat end of the line is favored. If I was racing and a boat was where the pin is, that boat would be behind me. If it's on the line then we're equal.  If it's ahead, then it's ahead - how much ahead will help you prepare for a port-starboard possibility. These angles will change when you get lifted and knocked. For many people, this is much easier to understand than a compass.

After a while, remove all but the last 3" of tape at the gunnel for a quick reference. Pretty soon, you'll have a good feeling from the angles alone and won't need the tape.

Pam: When Doug recently told me about the tape thing, I wasn't sure it was right so I told him to take a picture and show me.  When he put up this post, I didn't know he'd done it and thought the middle of the fleet title wasn't appropriate because probably lots of middle of the fleet people can tell if they're ahead or behind.  When I saw the picture I thought that pin was favored and Doug said the boat was favored by about 4 boat lengths.  Then he blew up the picture to full screen and covered the red line portion and asked me if it was easy to tell if the pin was favored ... then I realized he was right ... again. 


  1. Thanks Doug. I am going to try that.

  2. About 20 years ago I bought a Tasar from Frank that had been a demo boat sailed mostly by him. Had sight lines all over it, both for upwind and down.

    Works well for boats to leeward, a little trickier for boats to windward. Would be interested how Doug judges those. For good upwind positioning though, whether you are ahead or behind is usually a less important consideration than whether you've changed to a better or worse relative position.


    1. You bring back fond memories. I was helping Frank at the factory when Julian was putting the fittings on the first Taser prototype. There were datum marks on all of the controls so that a novice could set up for light, medium, and fresh conditions. Brilliant stuff.

      You raise a great point. I tend to start at the boat end and focus on those below me. More work is needed on tracking things to windward. Check out some thought about the boats to windward here: http://www.impropercourse.com/2012/05/laser-cheat-sheet-sailing-smart.html

      Your other great point is relative positioning. I've had the privilege of sailing with many truly great sailors and have learned that it's best to let them call many of the tactical decisions: http://www.impropercourse.com/2012/05/laser-cheat-sailing-smart.html

  3. Thank you for this helpful and easy tip. As my starts are a catastrophe, I put the tapes on my boat before going to the European Masters in Sweden last week. They didn't help me with my starts; with 72 boats on the course, I had problems all the times. But the beats were long and people played both sides extensively, so first time in my short sailing history I could easily judge who was gaining and who not. That helped on the water and after the races I could join the crowd discussing all the tiny details of the day.

  4. I'm extremely inspired together with your writing talents and also with the structure to your weblog. Is this a paid topic or did you customize it your self? Anyway stay up the nice high quality writing, it's rare
    to peer a nice blog like this one these days..

    1. Thank you for your kind comments.

      Pam wanted me to write things down before I get too old to remember them (I just turned 63 this week), so she set up this blog. It's my way of giving back to a sport that has been very good to me.

      Most of my posts start by us talking about something, Pam asking for more details, and then I write them down. She edits the results and sometimes adds her own comments.

      We're both happy you like the results.

  5. Presumably that works for other classes as well, provided it starts from the centre of the boat? I like the way it can be used to see if the pin end is favoured! Seems much easier than messing about with compass headings or sailing along the line.

    1. My apologies, this was blocked as spam.

      This will work for all boats that tack through 90 degrees. Eventually, you'll be able to eyeball it without any help.

      Another way to judge this is ask yourself if a boat at the pin tacks, would it be able to cross you? If yes, then it's pin favored.


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