Rounding the Weather Mark

by Charlie Pendleton

With Race Week in the rearview mirror and, by my count, 15 weather mark roundings, it’s a good opportunity to discuss getting around the windward mark. It is a seemingly simple maneuver, but there is a lot to consider! Lay lines, tactics, current, getting around the mark and setting the chute. A good windward mark rounding starts WAY before you get there.

Lay lines: Jim and I try to stay off the lay lines as long as possible. Getting on the lay line early usually means sitting in someone else’s bad air and dealing with a lot of traffic. We will typically find a lane on port or starboard tack, 10 to 20 boat lengths below the lay lines, that allows us to sail in clear air. Our goal is to get close enough to the windward mark to call an accurate lay line (trying to guess the lay line from too far away usually results in extra tacks or wasted boat lengths due to over-standing). Also, be careful – tacking onto the starboard lay line inside the three boat-length circle puts you at risk of fouling other boats under rule 18.3a. A good rule of thumb – don’t choose a port tack lay line that will leave you tacking onto the starboard lay line inside three boat lengths of the windward mark.

Tactics – think ahead:

As you approach the last 50 yards to the mark, start talking with your crew about your mark rounding tactics. Will you bear off or jibe? A lot will be based on the wind conditions at the mark. If you’re sailing in a big right shift, you will want to consider jibing around the mark as it will allow you to sail at a better angle that points closer to the leeward mark. If the breeze is in a left phase, simply bearing off and setting the chute may be the way to go. Traffic is also a consideration – sometimes jibing around the mark will put you into the fleet’s wind shadow. Know what you want to do before you get to the mark and talk it through. As you round the windward mark glance upwind to see what side of the course will have better pressure – as you sail down wind, try to position yourself to work that side of the course.


In an earlier article, I mentioned that you need to understand current strength/direction before the start. Current at the windward mark can wreak havoc if you don’t expect it. As you approach the windward mark on what you think is the starboard lay line, try lining it up with a point on land or a lobster pot behind it. If the land or lobster pot moves to the left of the mark, you’re not making it. If other boats are ahead of you, watch their approach and see if they are having difficulty making it. Don’t get stuck trying to pinch around the mark – Rhodes don’t do that very well and you’ll get into trouble.

Rounding the windward mark and preparing to set the chute: Jim and I try to give the crew enough time to set the spinnaker pole before we get to the windward mark. Assuming an offset mark that is set correctly, we use the time getting to the offset mark to get the spinnaker ready to hoist, put on enough vang to keep the leech from spilling wind during the downwind leg and ease the outhaul a little. If there is no offset mark, or the offset mark is far enough to leeward, be prepared to set the chute at the windward mark.

A few good tips on mark rounding and setting the chute: 1) When you round the windward mark and offset mark, keep the boat flat – steer with your weight not the rudder. Trying to turn a heeling Rhodes downwind requires enough rudder to slow you WAY down. 2) Don’t hoist the chute as you’re bearing off. Your apparent wind will be too low and the chute can tangle around the forestay. Bear off, then set. 3) When hoisting the chute, make sure the main sail is not all the way out. You will pin the spinnaker to the shrouds. Keep that barn door open during the set!

Editor’s note: We (982) hoist before bearing off, not after. It keeps the chute from getting caught between the main and spreaders, and also results in the chute being up and pulling as your transom goes by the mark.

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