Tacking techniques for racing

Experienced sailor, Ben Keys, explains the finer points of tacking during race conditions, covering technique, timing, responsibilities and communication between the crew.
Ben Keys: Gday. I'm Ben Keys for Club Marine TV and today we're going to talk about some tacking techniques for racing.

During any given race, you're going to be tacking dozens of times and a good tack is going to be the difference between your crew winning or losing.

New Speaker: How does that look Ian?

Ben Keys: So what makes a good tack? It's not having the latest sails, or how quickly your skipper is spinning the wheel, it's about having good communication between the crew. In the high pressure of a racing situation, there's plenty of things which can go wrong. So here's how to do it right. You want to assign roles to each crew member so everyone knows exactly what they're doing. Who's taking the wheel, who's releasing the lazy sheet, who's cranking in the winches. Everyone needs to know their place in the crew.

Another important role on board is the tactician. They're the one who's figuring out where the next mark is and how best we can get there. They're going to help the captain decide when there's time to tack and make sure there's enough water to do it. The next thing to consider is when you're going to tack. Are you being headed on the current course? Are you being lifted or are you trying to cover another boat? Maybe you're out in front and you're just trying to make your own way and stay ahead of everyone else.

So you're rolling up the race course and you've decided it's time to tack. Make sure everyone knows what they're doing and that its time to give the command 'ready about'.

Skipper: Ready about.

Ben Keys: 'Ready about' is a signal for everyone to get into position and be ready to tack. As captain, it's also the time you want to keep a visual on everyone. Make sure they're all ready to go and then have a look over your shoulder and make sure the course is clear.

So when you're ready to go, the skipper's going to give the command.

Skipper: Tacking.

Ben Keys: Just lets everyone know that you're about to turn the boat.

As the skipper swings the wheel through the wind, the mainsail's going to back wind and help turn the yacht as well.

The headsail trimmer should also tighten their release so the sheet is released as the sail back winds across the bow. Make sure the sheet runs free through the winch.

Now as the skipper, you want to be carrying lots of momentum through the turn. You want to get all of your crew up onto the windward rail as quickly as they can and get the boat down flat.

Whoever's working the winches can do most of it by hand, but you want to use the winch button or a handle on the final stages to crank them in really hard.

Whoever's working the mainsheet might need to adjust the travel a bit to flatten the main as you're building speed. But the mainsheet should have stayed strapped in pretty hard right through the turn.

So you're through the turn, all the sheets are strapped in hard and you're powering out of the tack. Sometimes it pays to dip down a little bit and build a bit of speed just so you can get your numbers up. Most problems in a poor tack can be boiled down to poor communication with the crew. You need everyone working together and ensuring that none of the sails are flogging as you go through the tack.

So there you have it. Tacking techniques that all come down to good communication. We'll see you out on a race course, hopefully behind us!

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