How To Lose A Sailboat Race
by Earl Schnur, USWA Representative to the WIC

(ed. note: What you should only do if you want to lose the race is shown in italics. The winner’s approach is shown in regular ‘print’.)

The Start:
1.  Do not find which end is favoured. Give the other boats a two or three boat length lead at the start!
To find the favoured end, sail on a reach to the pin end of the line and head straight to windward outside the pin. While sitting head to wind, sight across the pin toward the committee boat. If the boat is forward of abeam, the boat end is favored.

2.  Do not hoist the spinnaker before the start to make sure it is rigged properly. You were embarrassed to beat everyone to the first mark anyway and you want them to drive over you on the first reach so that you can try to play catch up.
Run the spi up and down at least once before the start. Then store it on the port side so that you can fly it on the first reach of a buoys to port course with no twisted lines, missing pole, etc.

3.  Do not time the line.
You may be forced onto the line early and have to reach down the line. If you do not have enough space to reach down the line, you will have to jibe around and go off on port below the whole fleet. Instant last! Sail from the committee boat to the pin, noting the time required. This will usually not change during the starting sequence.

4.  Wander away from the line in light air. It may take you two or three minutes to get back to the line if there is no breeze. By now the rest of the boats are gone.
In light weather, never be more than 50 feet or so from the line, preferably close to the favoured end. Be luffing in the right area with about one minute to go. No one can move you if you are not moving very fast and on starboard tack near head to wind.

5.  Do not know how long it takes to get from where you are to the line. Guarantee that you will be early or late.
Get a feel for how fast your boat accelerates from a luffing condition and know how long it will take to get to the line from where you are luffing. You can practice this at the committee boat early in the pre-start manoeuvres. Many good sailors hold such a position and accelerate to the line with just 5 seconds left.

6.  Start at the port end of the line on starboard tack. If the fleet is headed after the start, you are ahead but sailing in the wrong direction and will get to tack last. If the fleet is lifted, the rest of the fleet is ahead of you.
Find a way to start somewhere in the right-hand 25% of the fleet. This will allow you some freedom to move up the centre of the course.

7. Be going slowly as you cross the line. Give everyone else a nice feeling while they grind over you as they cross the line. Instant second row start. Eat bad air for half the first leg.
Make sure your boat is moving at or near top speed as you come across the line. Luff up before the start to get some room below you so that you can reach off a bit to get some speed up. Go for speed over pointing at the start. Once it is safe to do so, you can shift into pointing mode.

First Beat:
1. Stay on starboard and go left. Guarantee that every boat you meet after you tack back will have the right of way. Three or four ducked transoms and you are now three of four boat lengths behind the leaders.
Tack to port when the wind is right and the opportunity presents itself. If everything else is equal, favour the right side of the course. When you meet boats as you come back into the middle, you can force them left or tack on top of them. Either way, the odds are in your favour.

2. Take the short tack first and get onto the layline really early. That way, any lift will have you reaching and going faster than the rest of the fleet. Of course, they will have much less distance to sail, but so what?
Take the long tack first (the tack that is at significantly less than 45º to the mark). This guarantees you a benefit from any shift over the boats already on the lay line.

3. Sail right to the lay line. Make sure that any boat not yet at the layline gets the advantage from any windshift. If you are on the lay line early, a lift has you reaching for the mark and you will be sailing a longer distance that the rest of the boats. A header allows the inside boats to tack and still sail a shorter course than you.
Stay near the rhumb line and do not go out to the lay line until late in the beat. This gives you freedom to play the shifts and sail the shortest course.

4. Underlay the windward mark on your final approach to it. Be forced to take one more tack onto port with a host of starboard boats coming up. Get a chance to lose four or five boats because of greed.
Give yourself some leeway at the mark. Hitting the mark is a fine way to spoil your day.

First Reach:
1. Do not look around. Just set the spinnaker immediately. Let the rest of the boats go up to windward and blanket you. While they roar off toward the jibe mark, you lose some more because now it turns out the reach was too tight for a spinnaker.
Reach up to windward a bit and get a fix on the next mark. Allow no one to go by to windward of you. Set the spinnaker in slow motion so that it actually happens fast. Go down with the puffs to stay in them longer, and up in the light spots to reach the next puff quicker.

2.  Make sure you are the outside boat going around the jibe mark. That way you can watch all the inside boats jibe before you. Note how well they make their boats go in clear air while your telltales revolve like beanie spinners in their wind shadow.
Get inside as you near the jibe mark, even if you have to slow down. This way you will start the second reach with clear air that will keep you in the race and in control of your strategy.

3.  Make sure you mess up the spinnaker jibe. The trailing boats will appreciate the boat lengths this costs you.
Work hard at perfecting your spinnaker jibes. At the very least, make sure the spi ends up on the new leeward side of the boat after the jibe and get the main and jib drawing immediately after the jibe. As at the start of reach #1, do not let them pass you to windward. If necessary let the spinnaker hang to leeward with the guy pre-cleated while you and your crew fight off those who would steal your wind. Once this is settled, get the pole on and spinnaker away!

Leeward Mark:
1.  Do not clear the halyard or take the spinnaker down a bit early. A little excitement with a fouled spinnaker at the mark is just what you need to make the pizza taste better on the way home!
Clear the halyard and get the spinnaker into the boat a bit early so that you can concentrate on tactics at the rounding.

2.  Make sure you round wide so that the hot shot following you has room to round up inside you and sail a little higher and a little faster. You'll enjoy lying awake for a few hours with a knot in your stomach, wondering why you did not think ahead a bit.
Avoid tacking for a while after rounding the mark even if you have to eat some bad air. Wait until you get up to speed and until your tack will put you into clean air.

Second Beat:
1.  Forget about the rest of the fleet. You know where the wind will be. And you do not like to mix it up anyway. It is always fun to watch the boats that were behind you ride up a lift on the other side of the course while you hobby horse in the power boat swells.
Keep a loose cover on your competition. A win by four seconds counts just as much as one by four minutes. They cannot pass you if you stay between them and the windward mark - unless they are better sailors in which case they will pass you anyway!

The Run:
1. Break out a can of soda, sit on the transom and enjoy life. No race is ever won on a run anyway. Watch the sharp boats ride down the streaks and pass you on both sides!
Pay attention to the wind streaks on the water. You will go much faster if you can find and stay in one. If it lightens up, look for another streak and reach over to it. Then run down with it. Sail smart on the runs and soon everyone will be telling you how fast your boat is down wind.

Final Beat:
1.  Do not cover anyone since you are way ahead. You have the race won since no one has been able to match your upwind speed all day. Think a lot about that fact as they are handing out the hardware to the two boats that caught you because you did not cover.
It is even more important to cover on the last beat because you can make the following boats do desperate things since there is no tomorrow.

2. Do not figure out which end of the finish line is favoured. Who cares? As you zip along the finish line on starboard, you make three port tackers bear off to go behind you. Compared to a thrill such as that, what does it matter that they all finished before you did because you were sailing along the line while they crossed it??!!
Decide which end of the line is favoured early enough to go there by the shortest possible route. Nothing else matters (as long as you do not foul anyone in the process).

Earl Schnur USWA Chief Measurer and WIC representative
March 1995 Whiffle & UKWA News #77/Spring 1998