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Types of Race Courses


At Cowan Lake it has been the convention to use triangular, windward-leeward or a combination of these configurations with both the starting and finishing legs to windward. These courses are sailed with the marks usually left to port. It may not be improper, but it is advised not to use the reverse course (marks to starboard).


Windward-Leeward Course

The preferred configuration is the windward-leeward course, because both the upwind and downwind legs are considered tactical for all classes of boats in all wind ranges, whether spinnaker boats or not. The only case when it should not be selected is if the wind is blowing across the short axis of the lake, resulting in a small course area which would become crowded if there were multiple fleets racing as is the case in club racing.

Although it is important that the windward legs be as precisely set and maintained as possible, it is even more important that the leeward legs be true. A leeward leg with one tack favored, even a little, results in the fleet sailing the whole leg on one tack – negating the tactical advantage of selecting it. The marks should be adjusted as required.

An offset mark is usually set to be rounded immediately after the weather mark so boats arriving on the port layline do not encounter boats bearing off at the mark. The offset mark should be about 6 boat lengths or more from the weather mark and about 20º to leeward of being square. This enables spinnaker boats to hoist and power up before gybing. It is essential the offset mark is well above the port layline or the advantage of the offset is lost.

Two marks configured to form a leeward gate are usually set up at the leeward end of the course. Approaching boats are to sail between them and round either one. They should be positioned about 8-10 boat lengths apart and square to the wind. This has been increased because the zone increased to 3 boat lengths. It is legal to adjust one of these to keep them square even when there are boats on the leg. Be careful while adjusting them if a boat is approaching. It’s prudent to drag the most leeward

one back upwind to make them square.

Gates of a Windward-Leeward Course


Triangular Course

No flag is displayed when this course is being used. The lack of a Windward-Leeward flag or an Olympic flag indicates that a Triangle course is being utilized for the current race.

The principal feature of the triangle is the two reaching legs. Reaches are not considered tactical unless the wind is strong enough to allow planing. Although OK for regattas, where skills are expected to be higher, reach to reach spinnaker gybes under these conditions may be challenging for some club racers. The triangle course covers a larger area, so when the wind direction does not permit a long beat, it is a practical alternative to the windward-leeward course.

The triangle may be a right triangle, an equilateral triangle (60º-60º-60º), or a scalene triangle (unequal sides). The equilateral triangle results in rather close reaches and requires a wider course area and is seldom used here. The right triangle or sometimes a flatter version of it is common here. It provides two equal reaches and when it is flatter, the gybes are easier. The scalene triangle may be used either to fit the course area or to provide variety in the courses. One reach is tight and one reach is broad. Monohulls generally prefer the first reach to be the broad reach. The tight reach should be set to permit spinnakers to be flown, but with some difficulty. 



Olympic Course


The Olympic course is a triangle course followed by a windward-leeward course. This option has proved to be a popular choice when the wind direction does not favor a windward-leeward course. It combines the advantages of a larger course area with a good number of tactical legs. We do not set offset or gate marks for the windward-leeward legs. 



Course Size

The size of the course selected depends on both the area available and the wind strength. The issue is providing a race of appropriate duration. Club races and perhaps invitational regattas may strive for races of 30-60 minute length, while championship events should be 45-90 minutes. This may be accomplished by adjusting the course size, configuration, the number of laps or a mixture of same.


Start and Finish Lines

The location of the starting line depends on whether the event is multi-fleet or not. In a multi-fleet event, consideration must be given to the earlier starting fleets arriving at the leeward mark before all the fleets have started. This is more likely for a small course, a fresh breeze or in the event of a general recall. In this case, the starting line is better positioned to leeward of the leeward mark and to starboard of it as well so the mark is outside of the layline from the pin.

The starting line length should be chosen to prevent crowding. As a rule of thumb, the line should be 1.25 times the aggregate length of the largest boats. For example in a 20' Highlander regatta with 15 starters, the line should be 375 feet long.

A good way to set the starting pin is for the mark setting boat to slowly motor to windward with the mark streaming behind with the full anchor line out and the anchor in the boat. When the buoy is in position the anchor is let go. When the anchor hits bottom the buoy should be in the correct position.

The angle of the starting line should be such that boats may start anywhere along the line with little disadvantage, but it is wise to set the pin end about 3o to windward to discourage crowding at the committee boat. If the fleet is well spread along the line at the start it is a good line.

The starting line should not be set so close to a shoreline that maneuvering at the pre-start is compromised. It should be set or adjusted just prior to beginning the start sequence. The orange line flag is displayed when the line is set. It may not be adjusted after the preparatory signal.

The finish line is usually set at the weather mark unless the course has been shortened. The finish boat anchors about 4-6 boat lengths from the mark on the “outside” of the course. The angle of the finish line is set square to the course from the previous mark.

Consider setting up a separate finish mark so boats rounding and boats finishing do not interfere with each other. Use a small yellow mark to distinguish it from the turning mark. They must to be advised at the previous mark.

If the windward leg is long, a start-finish line can be set part way up the leg. This has the advantage of enabling the committee boat to be used for both starts and finishes without having to move. This can substantially shorten the time between races, but it needs to be declared whether the line is open or closed to boats after their start.