Tips From The Top. Upwind Tactics

This is an introduction to how Jack (Banks) and I consider our upwind route and is by no means a best practice guide, but hopefully it will give some ideas and suggestions that you can try. There are of course many different facets to the route, each having a different weighting depending on the wind and conditions, but what we will do is introduce the concepts and some considerations based on conditions. There are many things to consider when planning the upwind route but the key elements I will focus on are: wind on the course, forecast, numbers and lanes.

Wind on the courselookingupwind

Before the start and regularly throughout the beat we will be looking up the course for the next band of wind and which side it looks like it will come in. More wind will cause more ripples on the water so will appear darker. There will also likely be more clouds on that side of the course. Also, keep an eye on the horizon for clouds building or local features that will affect the wind up the course. Or example, if there is a valley towards the top of the beat the wind may funnel down it, causing more wind on that side of the course.

Looking upwind there is more cloud and darker water on the left, so chances are there’s more wind and speed to be had!

Looking for the wind on the course gives us the overall game plan as to which way to go. Similarly to what Tom was talking about, this will probably drive our starting end more than the line bias if the line is pretty square. In light winds looking for the wind becomes more and more important as it is a real shame when everyone sails past you when you are stuck stationary in no wind! As the wind builds it becomes less of a driving factor, but still important.


We have always found it worth getting a few forecasts, particularly on the sea, so we know which way theforecast wind is expected to go. They can be quite different. Options are (for example the figure below), XCweather, the shipping forecast,, and many more. Beware though, because it doesn’t always do what is predicted! But if 3 fore
casts all say that the wind is going to veer (clockwise) all day and it starts to go right, we know that it will probably be doing as forecast.

So looking at the forecast, forexample this windguru excerpt on the left, the wind is forecast to back (go anti-clockwise) all day. This means that we want to try to stay to the left side of the beat, because as we get further up the course if the wind has gone left then the boats coming in on the Port lay-line for the windward mark will be on a lift. This is called ‘protecting the left’. If the big left shift comes in then boats to the left of you will do better so you have to protect it. You will the do better than boats to the right of you.

Forecast shows wind going left, so go left


So before the start we will do some practice tacks up the beat and get an idea of the compass numbers range. We usually have a base and a few degrees either side. For example, we might be sailing upwind and getting numbers from 260-270 on Starboard and 330-340 on Port, so our base would be 265 and 335. If the windward mark heading is displayed it may also give you an idea of bias, e.g. if it’s at 290 then you are closer on Starboard tack (so this is the favoured tack) and the wind is coming from the right of the course.

Going upwind we would then
keep an eye on our numbers. A header on Starboard tack would be below 265 and a lift would be above. On Port a header would be above 335 and a lift below (see diagram). So going up the beat on Starboard (since it is the payinanglesg/closest-to-the-windward-mark tack, if our compass numbers were down at 255 then we would consider tacking. If they were at base or above we would keep going.

The size of the shift that you would tack on also depends on the conditions. On the sea there tend to be bigger, longer shifts, so we would wait for a bigger number change before considering tacking. Inshore and in shifty conditions we would tack on smaller changes, e.g. 5 degrees, and more frequently. Also, in light wind heading towards the gusts is more important than tacking for a small shift, so it’s always a compromise between the factors.

Last but not least, my final rationale for using numbers (even on ponds) is this. Say you were going upwind and got a 10 degree header, without a compass you might be inclined to tack; however, if you had been on a 20 degree lift and had a 10 degree header you would still be on a 10 degree lift and the paying tack. This is hard to know without the numbers.



Now it’s all very well saying we want to tack but if there are lots of boats and you will just be tacking into dirty wind (the disturbed air that comes off windward boats sails) then it may not be worth it. I have
sailed in the mid-fleet and I have sailed in the top 3 and I can tell you upwind tactics are a lot easier up at the front! In the pack there is a lot more to think about and it does make it harder to tack on shifts.

For example, say you were in Boat number 3 in the situation below (Fig 1). You are downwind from Boat 2 and so in his wind shadow/dirty wind. This will cause you to go slower and not point as well. You would want to tack, but if you did you would end up in Boat 1’s wind shadow/dirty wind (Fig 2). So what you would do instead is wait until the position whe
re if you tack then you will be to windward, albeit behind, Boat 1. This means that you have a clear lane (Fig 3). It is very important, particularly in the mid-pack, to pick your lanes carefully.

In dirty from 2, but can’t tack out because will get dirty from 1. Wait and then tack into clear lane


lanesall and finally…

Watch what your competitors and locals do, they may know something you don’t. If all the local guys start heading out to the right even though the wind is even on the course, it may be because of local topography causing better wind or shifts over there.

I hope this was helpful and gives you something to think about upwind, feel free to ask if you have any questions.



Penny Jeffcoate
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