System Sailing 3.4 - Fine Tuning

July 22, 2020

The little adjustments in sailing make big differences. A good close crossing on port, well-planned duck, or clean top mark rounding can win you the race in a competitive fleet. These simple things all add up and minimizing your mistakes is the name of the game.


The priority when tacking is keeping as tight of a tacking angle as possible while still allowing for a speed build. In waves, you will have a lower exit angle than you would in flat water. Crew movement is also important to use aggressively. The rolling and flattening will allow the boat to turn with less rudder movement and quicker acceleration after the tack. Lastly, the proper trim into and out of the tack will help get the boat up to speed quicker. Going into the tack, the main should be trimmed firmer, while the jib slightly backwinds to minimize the drag from luffing. After the tack, both sails are trimmed with more twist to help get the boat up to a target speed.


The angle out of the gybe is equally important to the angle out of the tack. Once you’ve settled in after gybing, you will most likely need to come down to a slightly higher number than your original exit angle of the gybe. For example, if you are sailing with a TWA of 145 you will probably come out of a gybe at 135. Once the crew flattens the boat, the new speed will allow you to get back down to the target TWA.  Both sails should be eased as the boat turns down into the gybe, but once the boat is on the new course the main should be slightly over-trimmed so there is more wind hitting the sail when the boat gets flattened.

Lee Bow

The perfect lee bow is set up when approaching another boat on the opposite tack thinking you have the possibility of crossing. If on port, it can be risky to cross in front of the starboard boat, so a lee bow tack is encouraged. On either tack, lee bowing can be used to force your competitor the opposite way.  The goal with a lee bow is to turn at a slower rate than you normally would turn. Tack to leeward, not in front of the approaching boat, but use the boat’s momentum to coast to windward an extra boat length or so while tacking. Once on the new tack, accelerate at a slower rate than you would in open water to stay high and close to the windward boat. Your position will quickly slow up the boat above and behind and eventually they will tack away.


When on port tack and it is clear you will collide with a starboard boat if you hold your course, a duck may be necessary. If it looks like you can cross the other boat, try a lee bow. If you are aiming at the middle to aft third of the other boat, you should duck. A good duck should be recognized early so you can maintain your speed throughout. Aim at the transom of the passing boat on starboard early and as you pass behind them, allow your boat to come back up to a close hauled course. Use a late duck only when you think the starboard boat might tack on you. In this case, sail bow to bow and once two boat lengths away, ease the main and jib, sail behind the boat, then return to your close hauled course on port tack.

Top Mark Rounding

At the top mark, you want to sail at a lower course than the boats around you, with or without a spinnaker. Set up before the mark is the key to using your boat’s momentum to get the boat on a lower course while the spinnaker is being hoisted. I like marking the spinnaker halyard with three marks that the mast person can call out -3,2,1. At three, the spinnaker is up all the way and the boat should be on the target TWA heading. At two, the jib should come down or get furled. At one, the helmsman should start brining the boat up to the target angle. Prior to that, the boat should be sailing about 10 degrees lower than a target TWA to set up lower than others while the sail is being hoisted.


Dropping spinnaker can be a challenge in bigger breeze. There are so many different systems based on buoy racing or offshore. The offshore drop is done either under the boom in the main hatch or through the boom between the main and boom, down the hatch. For buoy racing, the spinnaker should be doused through the forward hatch with a person below pulling in the sail. With a symmetrical, passing the lazy sheet down under the jib through the hatch is preferred. An asymmetrical should be doused with a patch and line in the lower third or using a tack line to windward of the headstay. I recommend a patch one third up from the foot so that portion of the sail can be stowed quickly while the head, clew and tack follow.

Bottom Mark Rounding

This is the most important mark to round properly. Your goal is to be on a close hauled course as you pass the mark closely. To do this you must work to first be the inside boat at the rounding and once established, sail away from the mark enough to make the turn upwind before the bow reaches the mark. You need an “in wide, out tight” approach to the mark. To assist the turn, the main should be sheeted in first, followed by the jib or genoa. More heel than normal during this time will also assist in speeding up the turn without using more rudder angle. Once you’ve rounded the mark, work hard to get up to target speed at a high angle.

Crew Weight Placement

The movement of your crew fore and aft and side to side will make your boat faster with less rudder movement. Keeping the weight proper fore and aft, (trim) will keep the boat closer to the wind with weight forward in lighter winds and faster with weight aft as the breeze increases. The movement side to side does help steer the boat without rudder movement and can accelerate when flattening after a light air tack and gybe. A team that moves together fore and aft, side to side and hiking in bigger winds will increase the boat’s performance.

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about building a system, please contact Quantum’s Wally Cross. You can check out other episodes of System Sailing here or download the playbook here.

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