Sailing Skills, The Art of Sailing

When to Foot and When to Point


Keeping the boat in the groove is important but you won’t win against the best until you know when to sail fast and when to sail high.  If you are expecting a header you want to get to it as fast as possible, so you sail in the fast mode upwind by slightly footing.  When anticipating a lift you should sail high upwind because that will help you get to the shift first.  Keep in mind that sailing high and sailing fast (upwind) is only a few degrees difference.  Developing a feel for the helm, the trim, and the boat will greatly help you in fine tuning your adjustments.  When you can feel the boat slow down as you are sailing high, you can adjust by turning down before the speed is lost.  Likewise, if you feel that you have great speed you can turn the boat up to gain height.  If this can be done by feel you will start crushing the boats around you.


by Bruce Goldsmith  Reprinted from Rebel Rabble


Maybe you have wondered what happened to the boat that was right next to
you for most of the way up the windward leg, but all of a sudden was at the mark
way ahead of you. You know you did not do anything drastically wrong-but what
did he do that was so drastically right? Just how did he getaway?


Your “boat speed” was good, you hung in there for most of the weather leg,
only to be on the outside of 8 boats that “Just squeezed around the mark” ahead
of you, or you were on the inside of 8 boats that “powered over” you as you tried
to squeeze around the mark. You simply ended up in the wrong place! What really
happened was that your judgement of when to foot and when to point has not been



Tell Tales

Tell Tales (Photo credit: Bill Gracey)


To change direction when sailing to windward, you can tack of foot or point.
You have to continuously choose where you would like to be relative to other boats
within these limitations. This article will explore when to foot and when to point.
Footing is steering below a normal windward angle to gain more forward speed at the
expense of windward pointing. Pointing is steering closer to the wind than a normal
windward angle to gain windward distance at the expense of speed. Either can fine
tune our position without such a drastic measure as tacking. The difference in the
effective sailing angle between footing and pointing might be up to 25 degrees, where
as tacking varies between 70 and 100 degrees.


The basic rule is to foot to the headers and point to the lifts. In this way you
end up on the upwind side of the next shift relative to boats around you. When we
consider footing and pointing, we always have six different ways to go instead of
just two. The top sailor is constantly juggling the six possibilities of: sailing
either tack, footing. pointing, or normal. He picks spots that can be reached by one
or a combination of the above that will improve or protect his position. Usually
footing or pointing is a subtle way of positioning yourself on a few boats around you.
For example, assume you are 20 yards astern of a pack but in clear air. Footing puts
you in bad air, sailing normal gains nothing. Tacking gains big if wind lifts later,
but loses big if wind heads. Pointing avoids bad air, gains if wind lifts later,
loses slightly if wind heads, but allows a tack that gives clear air ahead and to
leeward of the pack rather than just to leeward. Now we again have the option of
pointing up or footing, where as any other choice but pointing would have given us
no choice.


Sometimes footing or pointing can cause more than subtle positioning.
The most extreme usually occurs right after the start or near the weather mark.
After the start, you generally cannot tack because of starboard boats, so close
attention must be paid to keeping your air clear by footing or pointing. If boats
to weather are rolling over you, you should foot only as much as you need to keep
your sells ahead of their wind shadow. If boats to leeward are pinching you off,
you must point enough to stay to windward of their backwind. When both problems
exist, you either started late or are just plain slow. Normally, however, it is
a time to be very aware of footing or pointing. If successful you are in the first
row among the leaders, if not you are automatically in bad air and back in the pack
looking for a place to tack.


Near the weather marks it can become very critical to foot or point. For
instance, you may be just short of the starboard layline on starboard tack. Pointing
gets you around the mark ahead of a wall of starboard layline boats. If you don’t
start pointing soon enough, a tack loses to the whole wall. When you have overstood
slightly, you must foot or boats will tack to leeward and ahead and round the mark
inside of you. Take advantage of your option to foot to position yourself so that
someone tacking below you can’t lay the mark and someone who takes your stern overstands.


In addition to using footing and pointing for positioning, there are classic times
that call for one or the other regardless of position. In general you foot to reduce
leeway or side slippage, and gain steering control. Examples are: sloppy water, before
port-starboard crossings, before and after tacking. You point to take advantage of the
potential close winded conditions. Examples are: smooth water, steady wind, after
footing for control, and when over powered, especially on smooth water and with light crew.


At every post-race rap session the subjects of boat speed and going the wrong way
are bantered about vigorously. Sometimes someone gets credit for a smart move or super
boat handling. Seldom does a discussion occur about our subject. I’m suggesting that
we should all pay more attention to when to foot and when to point.


SAIL TRIMThird tactics article by Bruce Goldsmith



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3 thoughts on “When to Foot and When to Point

  1. As a lover of living near bodies of water….sailing has been on my bucket list. One day… I’ll get there :-) Thank you for letting me live vicariously through your above blog, even if it was for just a moment :-)

  2. I am lost for now with the words of sailing. It’s like a foreign language at the moment. I can’t speak it yet. However I can watch the Luna Rossa Prada team practice racing in Auckland harbour and it makes me stop the motor and drift and just stare with wonder. The dance of the turns and the lifting of the feet as if performing flamenco. Beautiful.
    I hope one day to know how to read the wind and the water and sail like a pro.

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