Tacking to the Windward Mark and Back

I am writing this article in the hope we as a fleet can open a dialogue, on this web site, where the experienced sailors can give input and others can ask questions about rounding the weather mark.

The latest Racing Rules (2009-2012) were changed to address “Tacking when approaching a Mark”.  We also know that when our H20 fleet is approaching the windward mark on starboard, seemingly in a good position, it is common to end up in fourth place down wind, due to Prot Tackers.  This is what the new rule was designed to eliminate:  Yes or No???

Our Harbor 20, Idros, has a hole in its bow from a Weather mark conflagration, hence the frown on her face when you see her out racing.  The problem as I see it, has many parts to it.  These may uniquely relate to our one design fleet and our boats and may not necessarily be covered by “facts found” in a protest.

Here is our broad review as I see it:

The rule 18.3 says port tack boats, tacking within three boat lengths, have added restrictions on them

(a)  The port tack boat cannot force a starboard tack boat above close hauled as they round the mark.

–  Well, we all watch port tack boats squeak up to the mark clear the fleet of five boats coming on starboard and then come to a virtual stop as H20’s do when you have to push the tiller over hard.    The problem for the Starboard tack boats in 5knots (normal) of breeze as you approach the mark with 5 boats around and beside you, pinching will slow your boat significantly, causing everyone around you to bump, crash and burn.  So going above close haul will cause a collision for sure.  As I see it, the only advantage in doing this is you will be able to bring five witnesses to the hearing; the problem is you have lost the race and will most likely lose the hearing for causing a collision.

(b) The port tack boat must give an inside boat room at the mark.

– As one sailor has suggested, the starboard tack boat should fall off and point at the port tacker, in this way picking up speed to go inside.  Hopefully the port tacker will bail out and all will be good.  Our experience says, the port tacker does not bail out, now you will be the inside boat and the port tack boat must give you room.  In our experience this is also problematic.  The port tacker normally sees the gaggle of boats coming and tacks close to the mark to give maximum room and protect their ?? leading position. So even though you are now the inside boat, the port tacker cannot give you room because he is committed and even if the rest of the fleet gives her room, when they put the tiller down to give you room, the transom pivots about the keel again and either hits the inside starboard tacker or pushes her into the mark.

The aim of our fleet clearly has to be, to have clean fair racing.  I believe this is relatively easy, all that has to happen is; we all follow the rules or take our penalty turns when we make mistakes, which we ALL make.  To bring reality to this we have to occasionally protest and go to the room.

Well it should be easy, but we regularly have incidents where a starboard tacker went from first or second going to the mark to a long way back after the rounding.  More of Peter Haynes’s seminars on the rules will always help, but if we are to continue to grow our fleet, fun racing is where it’s at and losing 3 places at the windward mark or worse, a frown of the bow, is not fun.

My question is, how can we  show other competitors and judges she has to go above close hauled to avoid the tacking boat 18.3 (a) without causing problems for all boats except the port tacker.  To duck down inside 18.3 (b) and call for room will cause a collision 9 out of 10 times.

YES / NO ? what is the answer? Please click comment and add your input, a good positive discussion can only help our fleet get more enjoyment from our sport.

by Warren Duncan, #34 Idros


  • Gary Thorne

    Warren, I agree that a) the new rules are designed to discourage port-tack boats from tacking to starboard inside the weather mark zone, and b) they don’t solve the whole problem. The starboard-tack boat can help herself by falling off toward the port tacker, but I’m not familiar with the tactic of trying to round to leeward of the port tacker. Instead, I’d suggest falling off to force the port tacker to tack sooner, then heading up slowly to keep speed. It may be harder to win a protest this way, but at least you don’t lose a bunch of boats. If you want to protest, call out your movements to the port tacker (“You’re close-hauled now…I’m heading up now to avoid hitting you…My sails are luffing now…Protest!”), then ask nearby boats to witness for you when the dust settles after the rounding. This doesn’t always work (ask Nik), but it could help.

  • Nik

    I think there are two issues involved: 1) How do you best get the approaching Port tack boat to take your stern instead of trying to squeeze inside of you; and 2) If they do decide to go for it, how do you best set yourself up to win a protest? After all, unless you have witnesses that can tell the protest committee what happened, it will be your word against theirs, and somehow, you will need to convince the protest committee that you were forced to go above close hauled to avoid contact.

    I believe that if you fall off aggressively as you see the port tacker enter the zone, and hail them with a “We are in the zone, I’m starboard, there is no room” you will likely intimidate them, plus, with your new angle, it may seem to them that they will not be able to cross your bow. If the temporary change in direction doesn’t result in an immediate change from the port tacker, head up to a close hauled course and hail “I am on close hauled” and continue on your course. By now – and this is very important – you should be at or below the layline (assuming you were on the layline before heading down). If you were a bit above the layline, by heading down, you got yourself to the lay line.

    If you must head up above close hauled to avoid hitting the boat that tacked from port to starboard to round the mark, you should hail “going above close hauled to avoid contact, Protest!”.

    When it’s time to explain what happened to the protest committee, you should emphasize that fact that when you saw the port tacker enter the zone, you headed down to them before go back to close hauled (or above closed hauled). What this will do is help defend against a “finding” by the committee that you were in fact above the layline coming into starboard, and that you could have turned up to close hauled earlier to avoid contact. If the committee believes you were not on the layline, you will not be able to claim you were forced to go above Close-Hauled, which is required in order to protest under rule 18.3.

    In my personal experience, twice now I’ve had to go above close haul to avoid a port tacker tacking inside the zone at the windward mark, and in both occasions, the port tacking boat claimed I was above the layline anyway and was not “forced” to go above Close Hauled. If your in a protest room, and your opponent tells the protest committee that you were above the layline, you may have to prove that you were not. Setting the facts that you come down, will help you establish the fact that you were at or below the layline, which is such an important part winning a protest under 18.3.

  • Craig Lyons

    Hi Everyone. Great responses for a reoccurring problem. Just to try and clarify. Does rule 18.3 apply when BOTH the Port and Starboard tack Boats are in the 3 Boat length circle before the Port tack Boat tacks? And does the Port tack Boat need to complete, not begin, it’s tack before the Starboard tack Boat enters the 3 Boat Length Circle?

    I would think yes to both, as the Port Tacker is a Port Tacker until he isn’t. If this is true, can someone clarify for the readers, at what exact moment, while tacking, does the Port Tacker become a Starboard Tack Boat? And does the original Starboard tack Boat need to remain outside the Circle until that moment in order to avoid violateting 18.3? I would think yes.

    Last, if the two Boats are now both on Starboard Tack and 18.3 was not violated, the original Starboard Tacker may still have to sail above close hauled if they overtake the new Starboard Tacker. While, especially in light air, this may still cause a pile up at the Mark; no violation by the new Starboard tacker has occurred(?). The original Starboard Tacker has now become the overtaking Boat and must remain clear. Is this still correct or has something changed here as well?

    Hopefully our better rules guys can clarify any ambiguity in this common place sequence of events for us.

    Thanks and hope to see everyone out on the course!


  • I believe rule 18.3 applies to the Port tack boat if it enters the Zone on port, and then tacks to starboard, regardless if the starboard boat has entered the zone. In other words, if a boat enters the zone on port, and then tacks to starboard, and subsequently causes a starboard boat to sail above close hauled to avoid a collision, the boat that entered the zone as a port boat has violated rul 18.3 (regardless of whether or not the starboard boat was in the zone when the port boat entered the zone).

    The port tacker is subject to rule 10 while she is a port tacker, regardless of the mark (rule 18 and the zone does not apply to boats on a windward leg while on opposite tacks). She must keep clear to a starboard boat.

    While tacking, the tacking boat is subject to rule 13, and has no rights and must keep clear of all other boats. She is tacking from the point she passes head to wind to the point she is closed hauled on a starboard tack. At this point, the mark and the zone do not exists (for all intents and purposes) and rule 18 is not in effect.

    The starboard boat is never at risk of violating rule 18.3, regardless of the actions of the boat that entered the zone sailing port.

    The original Starboard boat must stay clear, typically, if they are clear astern (as you state in your example), however, since both boat are now on the same tack, and in the zone, rule 18 apples, and if the original starboard tack boat is forced to sail above close hauled to avoid hitting the starboard boat clear ahead (the one that came into the zone on port, and then tacked), then the first boat is in violation of rule 18.3.

    The rule states: Rule 18.3 Tacking at a Mark
    If two boats were approaching a mark on opposite tacks and one of them completes a tack in the two-length zone when the other is fetching the mark, rule 18.2 does not apply. The boat that tacked
    (a) shall not cause the other boat to sail above close-hauled to avoid her or prevent the other boat from passing the mark, and
    (b) shall give room if the other boat becomes overlapped inside her, in which case rule 15 does not apply.

    [I learned all this from attending the Racing Rules of Sailing Seminar]

  • Craig Lyons

    Thanks Nik

    Thanks for Helping everyone with this. I probably should have worded it more clearly as I do understand the original Starboard Tacker is not at risk of violating Rule 18.3 in this example. Thank you for clarifying when a tack is complete.

    As a wrap up, it appears that you are saying the following:
    If the Port Tack Boat Tacks in the zone, no matter when the Original Starboard Tacker enters the zone, any subsequent incident forcing the Original Starboard Tacker above close hauled causes The Port Tacker to be in violation of 18.3.

    I had an extremely light wind day in mind, when Boats can become ‘parked’. In this scenario, even a Boat that came from 20 Boat lengths back as the original Starboard Tacker will have Protest rights if he has to sail above close hauled to round the Mark and avoid the ‘parked’ Boat because the ‘parked’ previously Tacked within the zone. Is this correct? I.E. If you tack within the zone, it is ‘like’ Rule 13 and the Port Tacker must keep clear but in addition to Rule 13, Rule 18.3 requires the Port Tacker to continue to keep clear. Is that basically it?

    Also you mention a two Boat length zone under Rule 18.3. Is it two or three? The overlap zone at the Marks had changed a couple years ago and is now three isn’t it? Are these two zones different? Or is my information wrong?

    Thank you very much for your help. Sounds like the rules seminars are very worthy.


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