April 5, 2023
Layline – An imaginary line on a beat or run that shows a boat’s course when she sails her optimum upwind or downwind angle in the existing wind conditions and is heading straight toward the leeward or windward mark.
A layline seems like such a simple thing – a dotted pathway on the water that leads you straight to the next mark. But dealing with laylines while you are racing is not always so straightforward. When sailors approach the edges of the course, too often they overstand the next mark, understand it, miss wind shifts, get stuck in traffic or end up in bad air. As a result, it’s common to see boats make race-winning gains (and race-losing losses) near laylines.
If you want to be successful at managing laylines you need several skills. The first is simply knowing where the laylines are. This can be tricky because laylines move constantly as conditions change.
A second skill is planning when you will get to the layline. Though conventional wisdom says to keep away from laylines, you have to reach them sooner or later in order to round the mark, so timing is key! You need a bag full of strategic and tactical tricks for handling common layline situations.
Three good reasons to fear laylines.
Some sailors treat laylines as if they represent the edge of the earth. These boats are so intent on staying off laylines that they often end up approaching the windward mark on port tack inside the zone, looking (usually unsuccessfully) for a gap in the line of starboard tackers.
Other sailors are oblivious to the potential dangers. They rush toward laylines like there is always a miracle puff on the other side. Not surprisingly, they are usually the boats that come reaching into the windward mark.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. The layline is not always a bad place to be. In fact, there are times when you can gain by getting to the layline early or even overstanding. However, the rule of thumb is that you should generally stay off laylines until you are fairly close to the mark.
Next time: Six ways to identify a layline.
Dave Dellenbaugh is the publisher, editor and author of Speed & Smarts, the racing newsletter. He was the tactician and starting helmsman on America3 during her successful defense of the America’s Cup in 1992 and sailed in three other America’s Cup campaigns from 1986 to 2007. David is also two-time winner of the Canada’s Cup, a Lightning world champion, two-time Congressional Cup winner, seven-time Thistle national champion, three-time Prince of Wales U.S. match racing champion and past winner of the U.S. Team Racing Championship for the Hinman Trophy. He is currently a member of the US Sailing Racing Rules Committee (and was its chairman from 2005-2008).
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