Yacht Racing for Dummies – What Happened Next – Part 2

Two More Dueling Yachts – Port Starboard Fight Out as They ‘head upwind’.

Two More Dueling Yachts – Port Starboard Fight Out as They ‘head upwind’.


Again, let me start by saying how much I love this image. For me, it signifies the drama and passion of yachting and yacht racing.  There is a possibility that this image has been photoshopped – I forgive! Because all seasoned racers know this is common and scary, more of that fear, emotion, and the sheer power of natural forces on display.

Two Duelling Race Yachts

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Setting the Scene

So, as this is for “dummies,” who would like to know what is going on and why?

To start with, they are both heading ‘up-wind. Modern sail design allows life with sails operating like aircraft wings to create ‘lift’ and make this possible. But it’s not that simple!

To get ‘lift,’ you need an ‘angle of attack’ of around 45 degrees. What does that mean! Well, unless the wind hits the sail at an offset angle, diminishing amounts of lift will be created. Around 45 degrees is the optimum compromise as these yachts want to go where the wind is coming from.


This is both the act of changing the side hits the boat AND the name for the repeated zig-zagging necessary to get up-wind. You lose time on every occasion, but if you only do one big ‘zag,’ and the wind changes, you could find yourself starting almost again!

The Verdict

So, the point being, as yachts zig-zag up wind, they will cross.  And an I explained in my last post that discussed Windward & Leeward fight out as they ’round the mark’ there are rules that govern this.  This rule is rule number 1 (well 10 actually, but the first one in the section “When Boats Meet – Racing Rules”  It states:

“When boats are on opposite tacks, a port-tack boat shall keep clear of a starboard-tack boat.”

Port and Starboard

So what is Port & Starboard who, in our main image, is on which? Well, the “tack’ you are on is defined by the side of the yacht the wind is hitting (roughly speaking), and Port is the left-hand side when facing the bow (front).  So in our image, the yacht in the foreground is on Starboard.

Right of Way

Therefore the yacht nearest us has the right of way (ROW). And it’s going to be a close-run thing! At this point, the Port Yacht thinks she can pass ahead safely and keep the lead. But she would have needed nerves of steel. Judging the speed and distance is a very skilled job and often goes wrong.

Starboard can’t just crash into her! The rules also say you have to avoid a collision, but if she needed to change course to avoid port, she could protest, and Port would be forced to take penalty turns! More about that in a future blog.


If your Port tack yacht, you have to keep out of everyone’s way.  If you think your ahead, then “go for it,” you can’t win races without being brave.  But I did say brave… not stupid!


In the image of the crashing yachts, according to rule 10, who is in the wrong?

Do you agree with my interpretation? Are you a novice or have you learnt something new? Let us know what you think.

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