How to Watch a Sailboat Race

The sailboat race courses used most by the Lake Kegonsa Sailing Club, one of which will be used for Syttende Mai are what is know has W2 and O2 (Olympic Course.). W2 is a Windward – Leeward Course which each boat must navigate around twice. Hence W2. O2 is also Windward – Leeward, but with a side buoy much like a triangle.

All boats start upwind between the two buoys and must round the upwind (windward) buoy (mark). On the W2 they head downwind (leeward) through the starting buoys then back upwind again, around the upwind buoy and then downwind to the finish line, which is the same as the starting line.

They must round the marks exactly as is shown in the diagrams to the right. Counterclockwise around the windward mark, back through downwind buoys – clockwise or counterclockwise, then repeat the course. On the O2 course they go around the side buoy on the 2nd leg, then back to the finish … then around the windward buoy again, but this time straight down to the finish.

You really need binoculars to see what’s going on.

Between the start and rounding the first mark (windward buoy) it is virtually impossible to tell who the leaders are. You should be watching for who rounds the first mark first, then note the sale number and maybe the numbers of the 2nd and 3rd boat to round the first mark. You might just be able to distinguish by sail or boat type. Now you know who the leaders are and may be able to follow them downwind on the “second leg” of the race. As they approach the downwind buoys watch to see who goes through the buoys first, second, etc. The boats will now be headed upwind again and , again, it’s very difficult to tell who’s in first, second, etc. But at least you’ll have a good idea of who the leaders are.

Watch the windward mark as the boats approach it on the third leg (second time). Whoever goes around the windward mark first is, like the first time, the leader. Followed by 2nd, 3rd, etc. You can now watch the last “leg” of the race with some idea of who the leaders are. The first one to cross the finish line is the overall “time” winner.

The Syttende Mai race is a handicapped race. That is, all boats start at the same time but the slower boats will get time subtracted from their finishing time. By a predetermined formula, minutes will be subtracted from many of the boats’ finishing time. Therefore, the Portsmouth winner may not be the one who crosses the finish line first. The Portsmouth Rating is the universal handicapping system for all sailboats.

Watching the boats round the marks is especially interesting if there are a number of boats seemingly trying to do this at the same time. There are definite rules that must be followed when a number of boats are approaching a mark.

Another interesting maneuver is when a boat changes direction when heading into the wind. This is called tacking and requires skill when done effectively and with precision. Changing direction while headed downwind is called gybing and is a difficult maneuver in heavy wind.

Boats with 2 or more crew are fun to watch as the crews must work together in unison and harmony.

The boat and crew that makes the fewest mistakes is usually the winner. Sailing a perfect race means making all the maneuvers flawlessly. Fast does not always win.

All boats follow Rules of Racing and Rules of Right of Way.
The first rule of sailboat racing?

Assistance must be given to any stricken boat/sailor.