Recommended Courses

The following table shows recommended courses for each fleet based on wind direction. A notation of (2|3) indicates to select 2 or 3 laps based on wind speed, forecast, and sunset. A notation of (2) indicates to select between 1 and 2 laps based on wind speed, forecast, and sunset.

Start MarkWeather MarkLeeward MarksFinishCourse BoardDistance
S or SW Wind
Spin ▲CE (red)C (red)Z (red)ECZ (2|3)3.17 / 4.68
Non-Spin ⚫CE (red)F B (red)Z (red)EFBZ (2)3.06 / 5.97
SE Wind
Spin ▲CG or F (red)Z (red)GCZ (2|3)2.60 / 3.83
Non-Spin ⚫CG or F (red)Z (red)GHBZ (2)1.71 / 3.29
NW Wind
Spin ▲FC (red)Z F (red)Z (red)CZF(2) Z3.16 / 5.33
Non-Spin ⚫FC (red)E H B (red)Z (red)CEHBZ (2)3.25 / 5.60
N Wind
Spin ▲DC (red)E (red)Z (gr)CEZ (2|3)3.24 / 4.75
Non-Spin ⚫DB (gr)H G (gr)Z (gr)BHGZ (2)1.78 / 3.37
NE Wind
Spin ▲DH (gr)E (gr)Z (gr)HEZ (2|3)3.72 / 5.58
Non-Spin ⚫DH (gr)F D Z (gr)Z (gr)HFDZ (2)2.14 / 4.28
E Wind
Spin ▲DF (red)C Z (red)Z (red)FCZ (2|3)4.20 / 6.37
Non-Spin ⚫DF (red)B Z (red)Z (red)FBZ (2)2.11 / 4.35
W Wind
Spin ▲FD (red)F (red)Z (gr)DFZ or DF2Z2.69 / 4.38
Non-Spin ⚫FD (red)E G H (red)Z (gr)DEGHZ2.59

Background Information

After you have been racing a while, you will probably notice that most sailboat race courses are slight variations of a few basic themes. The starting line is square to the wind, the first mark is directly upwind from the middle of the starting line, the marks are left to port, and the course itself is a combination of triangles and straight upwind/downwind legs. While the racing rules allow nearly any shape of course design, there are some good reasons why most Race Committees follow these basic guidelines.

The first rule of thumb is that the starting line should be square to the wind and square to the course to the first mark. This is true whether the first leg is upwind or downwind, but is particularly important for upwind starts. The reason is simple: if the starting line is not square then the end that is closer to upwind or closer to the first mark has a significant advantage and all of the racers will want to start in the same place. Or course, not all of the boats will fit in the same place at the same time and the result can be difficult right-of-way situations, fouls, and even collisions.

The second rule of thumb is that the first leg should be upwind. First, this makes the start easier without boats going over early, but the main reason is to spread the boats over the course so that they don’t all arrive at the first mark at the same time. Because racers have to tack to go up wind, the best direction to sail is a matter of opinion and fleet tends to split up on windward legs with some going more right and others going more left. The result is a less-crowded mark rounding at the weather mark and fewer chances for anyone to break a rule

Marks are usually left to port in fleet races for a slightly different reason. When two groups of boats are approaching the weather mark with one group on port and the other on starboard tack, the mark rounding tends to go more smoothly and the rules are easier to apply if the mark is rounded to port so that the boats that do not need to tack have the right of way on the approach. If a port-tack and a starboard-tack boat are approaching a starboard mark rounding, the right-of-way boat (starboard) must tack in order to get around the mark. When she starts to tack, she retains right-of-way only until she reaches head-to-wind and then becomes a sitting duck for any other boat on the course, port or starboard. Once she is on port tack she regains some rights, but now she must keep clear of any boats approaching on starboard tack. The result can be real chaos if very many boats reach the mark at about the same time. Starboard roundings are used in match racing because each boat only needs to worry about one other on the course and the extra tactical complexity makes the race more interesting.

Finally, most race courses have in common the overall course design. Most race course designs, except for long-distance races, are variations of triangles and windward/leeward legs. First of all, this makes life easier for the Race Committee because they don’t have to worry about accidentally breaking one of the other rules-of-thumb and in addition these types of courses are easy to set up, describe, and operate. Upwind and downwind legs provide the most opportunity for tactical decisions that allow you to pass other boats, and as a result are very popular for racing high-performance boats. The triangle course has the advantage of keeping the lead boats away from the large group of boats still coming upwind by making them sail to the gybe mark first, and it also had the advantage of keeping the boats moving on hot summer days when no one wants to sail straight downwind. For this reason a triangle is often preferred for club races and is pleasant to sail. An Olympic course where a triangle is followed by a windward/leeward lap combines the two and by the time the straight downwind leg starts, the fleet is usually spread enough to reduce the number of interactions between downwind and upwind boats.

Setting the Starting Line

As a racer you should know how to set a starting line. HOW else Will you be able to criticize the race committee if you haven’t done it yourself? Believe it or not, this activity alone can be moderately challenging for all race committees


  1. Make sure you have enough anchor line to let out a scope of 3-to-l (three feet of line for every one foot of depth)
  2. Pull your boat alongside the chosen starting mark and take a wind reading on your compass.
  3. The bow of the committee boat should be pointing almost directly into the wind
  4. Watch the wind for several minutes to see whether it shifts to the right or left.
  5. Drive your boat at a 90-degree angle just abeam from the starting mark when you are satisfied with the wind direction. The committee boat is usually on the starboard end of the line when facing windward per US Sailing, but set it up on the side that makes the most sense due to the constraints of our marks and the river.
  6. Make sure that there is enough room for the largest fleet to safely negotiate the starting line You don’t want to be at the wrong end of a short starting line!
  7. Drop your anchor when your distance is safe enough to fit the largest fleet and the line you draw from your starting mark to the committee boat is perpendicular to the wind. Keep in mind how much anchor line you will be releasing to keep yourself perpendicular.

Understand that the wind sometimes shifts unpredictably, which can make your starting line seem overly favored on one end. Try not to make it the committee boat end unless you want to get close and personal. Weather reports may indicate if wind shifts are predicted

This is not the America’s Cup — it is Thursday night racing. do the best you can. It is better to get in a race than to sit around waiting for the race committee to perfectly’ set up the starting line

No matter how good a job you do, some racer will still have a complaint for you back at Tidewater.

Just smile and know that they will have their own night of race committee duty.

Goals/Guidelines for Suggested Courses

1) Weather mark is the same for all fleets

2) Leeward mark should be different

3) All fleets finish from the same direction

4) Avoid “buttonhook” roundings

5) Avoid the mooring field on an East wind

6) Confirm there is enough water depth when approaching the starting line – especially when starting at F, G, and H marks

7) Avoid E to F direct courses, or use G as a boundary mark to keep boats away from hazard

8) Use Z in courses to provide flexibility in shortening courses if the wind dies.

9) When a Tug with barge is coming into the starting area, use the postponement flag to allow them to pass.


S/SW Wind: The Nonspin course is stretched out to F rather than H, but a once-around is suggested with an option for twice, while the Spin fleets could go 2 or 3 laps. Since the Nonspin course goes from E to F, you can put in a green G, to keep the fleet further away from the uncharted shoal area between E and G. Note that G then is a Boundary mark, not a Rounding mark (no buttonhook around G).

NW Wind: On the second time around for the Nonspin fleet, only they use B to separate fleets. The Nonspin course is complex enough that it could not carry a 2 for twice around.

W Wind: Note that these courses can’t be shortened once posted.