Sailboat Racing Basics for GRSC (PHRF or keel boats) by Kathy Mathews

For more racing information go to

The boat used in this document is a J/30, Scars & Scrapes, that performs end-for-end pole gybes and uses a single spinnaker sheet and guy. The purpose of this document is to provide basic sailboat race instructions to novice crew and new skippers.

Welcome New Crew or Skipper

Most boats dock at Grand River Marine/Sailing Center, Harbor 220, Fairport Harbor Yacht Club, and Grand River Yacht Club. Detailed directions and maps can be found at

Race Times (consult your skipper for exact times)

Club races are held Wed. evenings and Sun. mornings. The boat promptly leaves the dock at 6:15 p.m. on Wed and 8:30 a.m. on Sun. It is helpful to show up a few minutes earlier to make your last trip to the bathroom, to change your clothes, and to help rig the boat. The first warning flag is at 6:50 p.m. on Wed. and at 9:50 a.m. on Sun. For exact fleet start times see

Sometimes the boat will enter races at other marinas. These races are called regattas. Regattas are typically held on a Sat and Sun. Typical regattas entered are Mentor Regatta, Cleveland Race Week, Lakeside Regatta, and the Grand River Sailing Club Regatta. For a copy of the club and local regatta race schedule see

If you can't make a race, please call and let the skipper know immediately.

Race Courses

GRSC race course is outside the Fairport Harbor. It consists of 8 marks labeled A through H centered on a start mark labeled S.

There are approximately 40 different courses. The list is kept at

For lat/long information and intermediate course angles see

The Sunday race is a trapezoid followed by two windward/leeward legs. The race starts at S mark. The race is approximately11 nautical miles long. The race consists of 9 legs and a typical pattern is



  1. Short beat (at mark hoist chute and douse jib or barber-haul the jib)
  2. Short leg of the trapezoid (tight reach, at mark hoist chute and douse jib if not already up )
  3. Long leg of the trapezoid (at mark you may have to hoist jib and douse chute)
  4. Short leg of the trapezoid (tight reach, at mark hoist jib and douse chute)
  5. Long beat (at mark hoist chute and douse jib)
  6. Long downwind (at mark hoist jib and douse chute)
  7. Long beat (at mark hoist chute and douse jib)
  8. Long downwind (at mark hoist jib and douse chute)
  9. Short beat to the finish

On Wed the race is usually a triangle or trapezoid course. The race starts at S mark. The race is typically 4 nautical miles long. We race a short course on Wed. so that we are not racing in the dark. The triangle race consists of 4 legs:


  1. Beat (hoist chute and douse jib at mark)
  2. Spinnaker reach (gibe chute at mark)
  3. Spinnaker reach. (hoist jib and douse spinnaker at mark).
  4. Beat to the finish

However, depending on wind and weather, the course can vary. In rough weather races start behind the breakwall. Care needs to be taken not to hit the sandbar near the main harbor entrance. Regatta race courses are determined by the club sponsoring the race.

Port and Starboard

Port = Left

Port is color-coded red.

Starboard = Right

Starboard is color-coded green.

Starting Line

PIN is on PORT. Committee Boat is on Starboard. (Pin = Mark.)

Flag Sequence

In 2001 GRSC went to a five-minute start sequence refer to the rule book and course card for more information at

The starting signals will be in accordance with RRS Rule 26.3 System 2:

Signals will be made at five-minute intervals. Each signal will be lowered one minute before the next signal is made. Each Fleet or Division will start in accordance with the timetable included on the Course Card.


You are going upwind. Sails are in tight. Boat is heeled over. You are sitting on the high side of the boat (unless no wind, then you are on low side of boat). You feel the wind when you are beating.

Downwind, Reaching i.e.-when the spinnaker (chute) is up

You are going downwind. Sails are NOT in tight (sails are eased). You are sitting near in the middle and the back of the boat. It feels like the wind has died when you are going downwind.

Starboard Tack

In general, boats on starboard tack have right of way of boats on port tack. A starboard tack boat is a boat with wind coming over the starboard side of the boat. The sails will be on the port (left) side of the boat.

Knots to Know

There are 3 basic knots you need to know for racing:

Practice these knots until you can do them in your sleep.



You always wrap a line CLOCKWISE on a winch! Winch handles turn in the winch in both directions. Scars & Scrapes has 4 winches; 2 for halyards and 2 for jib sheets. The 2 winches for the jib sheets are self-tailing winches. There is a special collar on the top of the winch that holds the sheet in place under load (replaces a horn cleat). To use the self-tailing feature, place 2 or more wraps on the body of the winch. and then led the line into and around the collar at the dog ear . The dog ear is the silver protrusion on the collar.

Rope Clutches a.k.a. Sheet-Stoppers

Rope Clutches are used to secure halyards. With the lever down, when you pull on the end of a halyard it passes through the clutch. When you quit pulling the clutch engages and prevents the line from moving regardless of the load on the other side. To allow the halyard to move in the opposite direction (as in dousing a sail), pull the lever up and back as far as it will go. Moving the lever disengages the clutch and allows the halyard to run freely in both directions. You can think of a rope clutch as a diode or check valve.

Basic Sail Controls

Parts and Names on a Sail

Boat Maneuvers

There are 5 basic boat maneuvers while racing;

Each maneuver is now described.

Tack with Jib.

Tack means turning the boat approximately 90 degrees into the wind. The mainsail and jib must both be moved to the other side of the boat. The helmsman will let the crew know it is time to tack by yelling "Ready to Tack?" Each crew member gets into position for the tack and replies "Ready". The jib trimmer must remove the winch handle and place it in the winch pocket. Now the helmsman will push the tiller to start the turn and yell "Helms to Lee". When the boat is 1/2 way through its turn the sails will start to flap. The helmsman will yell "Break" signaling that the jib trimmer is to release the jib sheet. The pit person will be pulling in on the other jib sheet to bring the sail over to the other side of the boat. The jib trimmer will then cross the boat and start grinding in the jib to its correct position. In heavy air, the foredeck person will help pull the sail in by yanking on the clew. The foredeck person will also skirt the jib (pull it to the inside of the lifelines). Then the pit person prepares the unused winch for the next tack by placing 2 wraps on the winch and placing a winch handle in the winch. The mainsail trimmer will be adjusting the traveller car and mainsheet during the tack. The rest of the crew crosses from the old high side of the boat to the new high side of the boat. The maneuver is complete when the pit person, jib trimmer and mainsail trimmer go and sit on the high side of the boat.

Gybe with jib

Gybing the boat means to turn the boat away from the wind. This turn is more dangerous than a tack because the boom moves violently across the boat. Anyone in the way of the boom can be seriously hurt. Only the mainsail trimmer's job changes between a tack and a gybe. The mainsail trimmer pulls the mainsheet in until the boom is centered . Then as the boat is turned and the main goes limp, the mainsail trimmer pulls the boom across to the other side of the boat. Then the trimmer must be ready to release the sheet to trim the sail if needed. In a gybe, the helmsman will yell, "Ready to Gybe?" The crew will respond with "Ready". When the helmsman starts his turn he will yell, "Gybe Ho". When the boat is 1/2 way through the gibe, the helmsman will yell, "Break".

Spinnaker Hoist

The spinnaker hoist requires lots of preparation. The spinnaker lines must be run through the blocks and attached to the spinnaker . The halyard must be attached to the sail. The bitter ends of the spinnaker sheets must be placed in winches with winch handles. Spinnaker snatch blocks must be set. The spinnaker pole must be raised with topping lift and downhaul attached. Most of this preparation will be done at the dock before the first hoist. But for following hoists, all preparation must be repeated while under sail including packing the spinnaker.

General trim rules for the spinnaker pole are make a straight line with the pole and boom. And, the pole should be at a right angle from the wind vane. Anyone not flying the sails moves to the center and rear of the boat.

General rules for the spinnaker snatch blocks on reaches are to use one snatch block at a time. The one in use will be the side of the spinnaker pole. When sailing downwind in rolling seas, then use both snatch blocks.

Never let the downhaul completely off! No downhaul can cause the spinnaker pole to go straight up and the boat to go out of control. Never let the spinnaker pole hit or press against the forestay! The force on the forestay could break it and cause the whole mast to fall down!

If we get into trouble with the spinnaker (heeled over to far), it is the spinnaker sheet you release!

Preparation of Spinnaker Gear

Move the spinnaker ring all the way down on mast. Place spinnaker pole jaws up and attach to mast. Place other end of pole just to the right of the forestay. Placing the pole to the right of the forestay means you are preparing for a "starboard (spinnaker) set." If the pole is placed to the left of the forestay, then you are preparing for a "port (spinnaker) set." Attach the topping lift to the top bridle of the pole and clip it in the jaw at the mast. Tighten topping lift at sheet stopper. Make sure the downhaul is attached to the bottom bridle of the spinnaker pole. Make sure bridle is not twisted. Run the starboard spinnaker sheet through the back block and carry the shackle end all the way forward around all rigging. Continue until you are around the forestay and clip shackle to the port lifeline behind the bow pulpit. Then place the sheet into the jaw of the spinnaker pole. Then take all the slack out of the sheet and tie a slip knot at the back block to keep the sheet in place. Coil the remainder of the line and drop in the cockpit by the tiller. Now take the port spinnaker sheet and run through the back block. Take the shackle end around all rigging and attach to lifeline behind the port bow pulpit. Then take all the slack out of the sheet and tie a slip knot at the back block to keep the sheet in place. Coil the remainder of the line and drop in the cockpit by the tiller. For a port set, the spinnaker lines would be places on the starboard side of the bow pulpit. The last thing to do is to attach the spinnaker snatch block on the pole side of the boat.


The Hoist

When you are close to the mark the spinnaker bag is attached to the lifelines on the port side of the boat near the bow (for starboard set, the opposite side of the pole). The 2 clews are attached to the snap shackle ends of the spinnaker sheets. The halyard is taken from the mast and attached to the head of the spinnaker. The halyard must be checked to make sure the halyard is not twisted around the headstay, else the spinnaker won't come down. The lazy jib sheet is then removed from the winch so that the pole can be raised. Working together, the foredecker and pit person raise the spinnaker pole with the topping lift on and the downhaul off. The downhaul is then put on with a few inches of slack. The unused jib winch is then prepared with the guy (two turns around the winch and insert a winch handle). The spinnaker sheet is then prepared on the jib halyard winch. When the skipper calls for "Pre-feed the Guy", the pit person pulls the end of the spinnaker clew to the end of the spinnaker pole by pulling on the guy while the foredecker opens the bag. When the skipper calls "Hoist", the mast man pulls the spinnaker halyard as fast as he can. In the mean time, the jib trimmer has cleated off the jib sheet and starts to trim the spinnaker sheet. The mainsail trimmer eases the main sheet, traveler and backstay. The pit person releases the jib halyard while the foredecker pulls down the sail and secures it to the deck. The mast man eases the outhaul and cunningham while the pit person eases the main halyard. The hoist is complete when the foredecker and mast man move to the middle and the back of the boat when they are done with their duties. At this point either the foredecker or mast man will relieve the pit person from trimming the guy.

Spinnaker Gybe

The skipper will tell the crew it is time for a gybe. In preparation of the gybe the spinnaker pole must be trimmed back. That means the downhaul will be eased and the guy pulled as the spinnaker sheet is eased. Remember this is a team sport. Three people must be working together do trim the spinnaker back; the skipper, the sheet trimmer and the guy trimmer. The skipper will be turning the boat more downwind as the 2 trimmers adjust their sheets. Then the skipper will tell the foredecker to go to the mast. The foredecker will approach the mast from the high side of the boat (opposite side of the pole). When the foredecker is ready and on the skippers' command, the foredecker will unhook the spinnaker pole from the mast. Then the foredecker hooks the pole to the spinnaker sheet. Then the foredecker unhooks the spinnaker pole from the other spinnaker clew and hooks it to the mast. During the foredecker's acrobatics, the sheet and guy trimmers are working together to keep the spinnaker flying in front of the boat. Their job is not to let the spinnaker collapse. Unfortunately this is much easier to say than do. At the time the foredecker hooks the pole back onto the mast he yells "Made!" That is the signal to the skipper that he can complete his turn and gybe the mainsail. The mainsail trimmer will gybe the main as described earlier.

Boat Positions on a J/30

A J/30 has six boat positions.

1. skipper/helmsman

2. jib trimmer

3. foredecker

4. pit person

5. mainsail trimmer

6. mast man

Each position is now described. Exact job descriptions will vary with the skill sets of individuals and teams.

Jib Trimmer

1. is the look out for other boats and directs skipper accordingly (looks around jib)

2. trims jib as necessary

3. help with spin takedown

4. trims spinnaker sheet

Main Trimmer

1. keeps traveler lines clear

2. adjusts traveler and main sheet as required for good trim

3. adjusts backstay as required

4. be prepared to take helm from skipper if required


1. stands on bow at starts (and whenever else skipper calls for it) to tell skipper of traffic

2. prepares pole

3. prepares spinnaker lines

4. prepares spinnaker snatch blocks

5. attaches spinnaker to guy, sheet and halyard

6. helps pit man raise the pole

7. opens spinnaker bag and releases halyard if clipped on

8. helps halyards up in heavy air

9. helps get spin down & clip halyard off

10. puts pole away so boat can tack

11. calls waves/wind changes

12. skirts jib

13. yanks clew of jib in during heavy air tacks

Pit Person

1. timekeeper

2. prepares boat

3. keeps lines clear

4. pack spinnaker

5. manipulates control lines as needed

6. pre-feeds guy on spinnaker hoist

7. operates radio and loran

8. determines race course

9. prepares winches for tacks

10. tails winch on tack


1. steers the boat to go fast

2. coordinates team moves (tack, jib, spinnaker up, spinnaker down)

Mast Man

1. stands at the mast helps haul up the halyards making sure not to pull halyard into the block causing the halyard to jam

2. secondary timekeeper

3. secondary lookout

4. helps with spinnacker take down

5. trims guy when spinnacker is up

6. trims outhaul, boomvang and outhaul

7. helps foredecker as needed

8. tactican

Major Equipment List For a J/30


For your own safety it is important that each crew member knows the following:

location (and how to operate) of the halyards

location (and how to operate) of spinnaker topping lift and downhaul

location (and how to operate) of the main sheet

how to operate a winch

location of lifejackets

location of rigging knife

location of bolt cutters and toolbox

location of first aid kit

location of flares

location (and how to operate) radio, loran/GPS

location (and how to turn on) battery

location (and how to turn on) electrical panel

location of anchor and rode

location of fire extinguishers

location of engine key and how to operate the engine


While sailing is one of the safest sports around, nobody should underestimate the force of a sailboatand her rig in moderate to strong winds. Keep the following in mind:

1. Always snub a line under load around a winch or cleat.

2. Stay away from all moving objects-booms, poles, jib clews, traveller cars, winch handles.

3. Don't step in the V formed by a line running to and from a turning block.

4. Don't sit where a line or block may hit you if something breaks.

5. Don't try to do 2-man jobs by yourself.

6. Keep all lines coiled and neat.

7. Don't assume that a shipmate is performing his end of a job until you actually see him do it.

8. When trimming a halyard, sheet or any other line, always look at the object it is connected to.


Clothes/Foul Weather Gear/Sail Gloves

It is important that crew have warm clothes and shoes for cold water racing. On cold, wet days bring a spare set of dry clothes and shoes to change into after the race. Foul weather gear is also important. The easiest place to buy boating equipment is Blystone's or West Marine in Mentor. Campmor, Boat/US, West Marine, and M &E Marine Supply are all excellent catalog stores for boating supplies.

Race Committee Boat (CB) Duty

Each GRSC boat will take its turn as race committee boat. The race commitee boat is the boat that starts and finishes races. It takes 4 people to do a good race committee boat job. Please volunteer to help with CB duty as the skipper can not do this job alone. Details for performing CB duty is found at A schedule of CB duty is posted at CB assignments are assigned at a lottery meeting held in April of each season.

Boat Delivery

To move the boat to another marina for a regatta is easier with crew. Please volunteer!

Make Sure You Have Fun

Racing is an intense sport. Sometimes yelling occurs-don't take it personally. We really are out there to have fun (and win)! We try to socialize too! After the race on Wed, we go to the local bar for burgers and beer at Fritz's. After Sunday's race we gather at the GRM pavilion for beer, pop, hotdogs and snacks. 

Let's Practice

Racing is a team sport. To do well boat crews need to practice as a team.

Time Commitment

Sailboat racing takes about as much time as a bowling league. Tournaments can be likened to regattas. The only exception is that sailboat racing is in a compressed schedule ie-you sail more days a week than bowling. But all in all, it is roughly the same number of times. We want you to commit to the schedule. In return, you'll get to experience an expensive sport with little cost to you. And it is lots of fun!

Confused by Sail Language

If you have never sailed, this document has probably been very confusing. Don't worry you'll learn it. To get started on "sailing as a second language" see the attached glossary of important sailing terms.

Want More Sailing Info? Or go to

Go to the library! There are lots of books, magazines and videos on sailing. Mayfield Regional Library has a good selection of books and videos. Or surf the web and see what you can find.

Glossary of Important Sailing Terms

Abeam. At right angles to a boat.

Aft. Toward the stern.

Apparent Wind. The wind felt on a moving boat.

Back. To trim a sail to windward. A counterclockwise shift in the wind direction.

Backstay. A stay running aft from the upper part of the mast.

Batten. A plastic slat inserted in the leech of a sail.

Backwind. Wind flowing from a forward sail into the leeward side of an after sail.

Beam. A boat's greatest width.

Bear Away. To head off, away from the wind.

Bearing. The angle to an object in relative or compass degrees.

Beat. A course sailed as close to the wind as is efficiently possible, or a close-hauled course.

Bitter End. The end of a line.

Block. A pulley made up of a sheave that rotates on a pin or ball bearings and hung from sides called cheeks.

Boat Speed. Speed through the water.

Boom. The spar that extends and supports the foot of a mainsail.

Boom Vang. A tackle system that restrains the boom from lifting.

Bow. The most forward part of the boat.

Broach. To get out of control and head up sharply, usually when sailing off the wind.

By the Lee. Sailing on a run with the wind coming over the quarter on the same side that the boom is trimmed, making a sudden jibe likely.

Chain Plates. Straps on the hull to which stays are secured.

Cleat. An object to which lines under strain are secured.

Clew. The after lower corner of a sail.

Close-Hauled. Sailing as close to the wind as is efficient; also called beating and on the wind.

Companionway. Steps leading down from the deck to the cabin.

Cunningham. A line controlling tension along a sail's luff.

Depower. To lessen heeling forces by making sails less full or allowing them to luff.

Douse. To lower.

Downhaul. A line that holds an object down.

Downwind. Away from the direction from which the wind blows.

Ease. To let out a sheet; to reduce the pull on the helm.

Fake. To make large loops on deck with a line in order to eliminate kinks.

Fast. Secure.

Fender. A rubber bumper hung between the boat and a pier.

Fend Off. To push off.

Following Sea. Waves from astern.

Foot. The bottom edge of a sail.

Fore. Prefix indicating location toward the bow.

Forestay. A stay running from the foredeck to the mast, on which a jib is set.

Forward. Toward the bow.

Foul. To tangle or to violate a racing rule.

Furl. To roll up and secure a sail.

Genoa. A large jib whose clew overlaps the mast and mainsail.

Gibe. To turn a boat away from the wind (not into the wind like a tack). Also spelled as gybe or jibe.

Gooseneck. The fitting securing the forward end of the boom to the mast.

Guy. A line controlling the position of a spinnaker pole.

Halyard. A line or wire rope that hoists a sail and keeps it up.

Harden Up. To head up.

Head. The top corner of a sail or toilet.

Headsail. A jib.

Headstay. See forestay.

Head-to-Wind. With the bow heading dead into the wind.

Helmsman. The person who is steering.

Hike. To lean over the windward rail to counter the heeling forces of the sails.

Jib. A sail carried on the headstay or forestay.

Jibe. To turn a boat away from the wind. Also spelled as gibe, and gybe.

Knot. One nautical mile per hour. A unit of speed.

Lee. Contraction for leeward.

Leeward. Downwind.

Lifeline. A coated wire, supported by posts called stanchions, that encircles the deck to restrain crew from falling overboard.

Luff. The forward edge of a sail. Also means flapping in a sail when it is not trimmed far enough or is backwinded or when the course is too close to the wind.

Mainsail. The sail hoisted on the after side of the mast.

Mark. A buoy used in a race course.

Mast. A pole supported by standing rigging from which sails are set.

Masthead. The top of the mast.

Nautical Mile. A unit of distance = 1.15 statue mile or 6076 feet.

Off the Wind. Reaching or running.

On the Beam. Abeam.

Outhaul. A sail control that secures the clew of a boomed sail, and adjusts the tension along its foot.

Pinch. To sail too close to the wind when close-hauled.

Points of Sail. Close-hauled, reaching and running.

Port. The left side, facing forward.

Preventer. A line that restrains the boom from jibing accidentally.

Pulpit. A stainless-steel guardrail around the bow or stern.

Quarter. The after section of the boat.

Reach. To sail across the wind.

Reef. To decrease a sail's size.

Rig. The spars, standing rigging, and sails or to get a boat ready for sailing.

Rigging. The gear used to support and adjust the sails: standing rigging includes the spars, stays and turnbuckles; running rigging includes the sheets and halyards and their blocks as well as sail controls such as the outhaul and boom vang.

Rope Clutch. A rope diode. It replaces a horn cleat in securing a line. Also know as a sheet stopper.

Set. To raise a sail.

Shackle. A metal hook that secures a line to a fitting.

Sheet. The primary sail-control line, which pulls the sail in and out. Also means to trim a sail.

Sheet Stopper. A rope diode. It replaces a horn cleat in securing a line. Also know as a rope clutch.

Sheave. The roller in a block.

Skipper. The person in charge of the boat.

Snub. To wrap a line once around a winch or cleat so most of its pull is absorbed.

Spar. Any mast, boom or spinnaker pole.

Spinnaker. A light, ballooning sail used when sailing off the wind.

Spreader. A strut holding the shrouds out from the mast.

Stanchions. Metal posts supporting lifelines.

Starboard. The right side, facing forward.

Stay. A wire supporting the mast either from forward from astern or from the sides.

Stern. The after most part of the hull.

Stow. Put things in their proper place.

Tack. With the wind coming over one side or the other such as starboard or port tack. To change tacks by heading up until the sails swing across the boat. The forward lower corner of a mainsail or jib.

Tail. To pull on a sheet or halyard behind a winch. Or the section of sheet or halyard behind a winch or cleat.

Telltale. A piece of yarn tied to sail or shrouds to help the crew determine wind direction.

Topping Lift. A line or wire that holds up the boom or spinnaker pole.

Traveler. A track on which slides a car connected to the main sheet blocks; by adjusting the location of the car, the crew can change the mainsail's angle of attack to the wind.

Trim. To pull in a sheet.

True Wind. The wind's direction and strength felt by a stationary object.

Upwind. Toward the direction from which the wind blows.

Vang. A boom van. To pull down on the boom with a boom vang.

Winch. A geared drum turned by a handle used to pull halyards, sheets and other lines under strain.

Wing-and-Wing. With the jib and mainsail set on opposite sides when sailing on a run or broad reach.

 Last Revised: 01/26/2002. Counter started on 02/09/02.