This article was originally published in November, 2000 on SailNet.
Used in lieu of a single leeward mark, leeward gates are a great addition to the sport because they help to eliminate some of the problems associated with overcrowded mark roundings by offering competitors a choice of rounding either the left or the right-hand mark. Additionally, the use of a leeward gate also has the potential to reward those sailors who arrive first, as well as those capable of better boathandling, so itís really an enhancement of the game on a number of levels.
When you are leading a race, deciding which gate to round is one of the most stressful parts of your day. Pick correctly and you stay ahead, pick incorrectly and all the gains youíve made go down the tube. If the race committee is using a leeward gate on your racecourse, the first thing to do is to determine if the gate has been set prior to your start. If so, sail over to the gate and do a wind check between the marks. Just turn the boat head to wind so that you can judge which of the gate marks is most upwind. (When your boat is head-to-wind, if your bow is pointing more toward the left-hand mark, then the right-hand one is more upwind, and vice versa. Barring any change by the committee, you now know which mark sits closer to the weather mark, and all things being equal, thatís the mark you should choose to round when you come downwind.
If the gate is not set until after the start, it will likely be much tougher for you to discern which mark to round after the run. The following are some of the things I look for as I approach a leeward gate:
- Which side of the course will be favored upwind? If there are no other concerns, thatís the side of the gate to pick.
- Do you have to go one particular way on the upcoming beat (say thereís a boat you need to cover or the current is stronger on one side of the course than the other)? If so, work hard to get inside at the gate mark on that particular side for the upwind leg.
- Is one gate mark noticeably more upwind than the other? If so, work toward the inside of that particular mark.
- Is there a large pack of boats ahead of you intent on rounding one particular mark? If so, then go to the gate mark with the fewest boats and youíll escape the congestion earlier.
I donít recommend that novice racers try this right away. Itís a much better idea for them to start out by selecting a mark well ahead of time and then hoping it remains the least congested mark. After youíve had a chance to get accustomed to being among a crowd of boats rounding leeward gate marks, then you can attempt to get fancy and try making those last-second decisions.
Keep these simple prescriptions in mind, and over time, youíll find that the use of leeward gates really does enhance the sport.
Suggested Reading List
Negotiating Leeward Gates by Dobbs Davis
Making Mark Roundings Work for You by Dan Dickison
Optimizing Your Practice Time by Carol Cronin
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