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Lightning Class Association


by Greg Gisher
Fisher Sails
Columbus, Ohio


There is no luck, good or bad, involved in winning races.

Consistency is the key:

Races are won by losers’ mistakes, not necessarily by winners’ superb sailing.
  • So minimize mistakes.
  • Be patient.
  • Above all, do not gamble...
  • Play the odds.
Must develop a set game plan:

Rules we would stick to whether behind or ahead.

  • Rules that we stick to in heavy or light winds, flat or choppy water.
  • The plan is to beat the competitors, not the clock (at least in one design racing).


Must have consistent boat speed to maintain the set game plan:

Boat Handling—Practice

  • 80% of good boat speed comes from good teamwork.
  • Good teamwork comes from practice.
  • Must be able to change gears smoothly.


  • Automatic sailing.
  • Confidence.

Boat Preparation

  • Sails—must be competitive and must have the knowledge on how to use them.
  • Hull, board, rudder - smooth, stiff, and free of dings.
  • Rigging - Don’t skimp here! Boat must be able to be adjusted easily and while hiked out (important).


Don't try to outguess Mother Nature:

  • Be ready for any condition.
  • Try not to slant your program too much for any one condition.

Must have a working knowledge of the rules:

  • Don’t want to be a sea lawyer.
  • But, don’t’ want to be taken advantage of.


30 minutes before the start:

  • Get to the start area not just the racing area.
  • Sail upwind getting used to the breeze—up or down? Which side?
  • Is there a patter to the shifts?
  • Find a buddy to check out the wind on the opposite side of the course.
  • Are there marks set? Is the course square to the wind?
  • Work on your compass headings (if applicable)
  • Build your game plan with your crew.
  • But, do not let what you think you have learned dictate you entire game plan.
  • Be flexible!


10 minutes before the start:

  • Check the line to determine the favored end.
  • Methods:
    • Luffing main
    • Head to wind
  • Check your boat over for last minute breakdowns
    • Is your trim and tuning OK?
  • Pick up line sights to help with mid-line sag.

5 minutes before the start:

  • Again, check the line.
  • Again, check your compass headings:
    • Has the wind shifted?
    • Persistent or oscillating ?
3 minutes before the start:
  • Check and choose the favored end of the line:
    • Do not commit—just be close!
  • Start to set up your approach:
    • Port tack,
    • Starboard luffing,
    • Vanderbilt.
  • Your approach should be the same for every start - whether windward end, leeward end or middle favored line.
Last minute before the start:
  • Where do you want to be?
    • Remember game plan
  • Positioning:
    • Close to weather boat
    • As far away from leeward boat as possible
    • Defend!
      • Park the boat unless
      • You need to bear off to discourage those who want to “intrude”
  • Use your crew to help you read other boats moves, take information and react…this is important!
  • Watch for mid-line sag:
    • Use line sights
  • Do not be early!

15-20 seconds before the gun:

  • Drive into your hole.
  • Must begin to accelerate.
  • You bow must be poked out so…
  • You have clear air.
  • Have a crew look for “ways out” if start is looking shaky.
At the gun:
  • Must now be at top speed…
  • With clear air...
  • And on the line (with the rest of the fleet).
  • Concentrate very hard - this is the time to go the fastest! Try to break out from the pack.
  • If a bad start, do not wait for it to change—bail out as soon as possible!


  • Remember to play boat position - the Iarger the fleet the more important as opposed to course position.
  • Keep air clear.
  • In lighter winds head towards velocity increase.
  • In heavier winds head towards the shifts.
  • Never commit early to either side of the course (or the fleet).
  • Wait to see which side begins to develop...
  • Then work yourself closer to that side, but...
  • Not all in one tack.
  • Never be the farthest boat out on a side (unless you have a founded reason: i.e. geographic or persistent shift, current, etc.
  • When in doubt of your next move, cross the rhumb line.
  • When deep in the tank—get back to the middle.
  • To get back in phase—get back to the middle.
  • Try not to cross a boat, either ahead of behind, unless on a lift.
  • Take your longest (favored tack to the mark first).
  • Watch your relationships with other boats as you cross and re-cross—use their gains for your gains.
  • Try to approach the weather mark on port tack (unless deep in the tank).
  • When your competitors splits with you ask yourself why?
  • Play the odds—never put yourself in a position where if anything changed, you would be vulnerable.
  • Keep the whole game picture in mind - do not win the battles but lose the war!.


  • Best tactic is no tactics (if possible).
  • Go fast and open up (close up) distance.
  • Long range goal is to be inside at the mark.
  • Never sail high on a reach unless...
  • Do not be greedy! Be patient for opportunities to make your move.
  • Defend against a large bunch of boats behind.
  • Attach against a large bunch of boats ahead (when few close behind).
  • Defend, when ahead by at least 2-4 lengths, by positioning yourself ahead and to leeward (between them and the mark).
  • When a competitor is close behind avoid luffing matches - keep him on your weather quarter - but "tell" him you will not let him pass.
  • When competitors are close ahead - stay on his leeward quarter to keep him low. Make your move at the appropriate time (but never before!).
  • Once committed high or low stay there.
  • At the gybe mark be aggressive, but "talk" to your competitors first.
  • Save the fancy offensive moves on large bundles of boats until the very end of the leg.
  • Again, do not win the battles and lose the war.


  • Time to be slightly more aggressive—attack.
  • Which reach tighter? Which tack favored?
  • Watch boats behind and over your shoulder—protect.
  • Approach the weather mark from different layline than your competitors unless you are faster ...
  • Then do not gamble at all stick with them and grind them down.


  • On this leg play the course (and shifts) more than the fleet - get there the fastest.
  • Again, do not gamble—stay near the rhumb line unless you are certain a side is favored.
  • Stay on the gybe that takes you closest to the mark unless....
  • You see a puff that could jack up your speed.
  • Keep your air clear.
  • On the last gybe, try to approach on the starboard tack.
  • Round the mark (all the marks) with a tactical rounding—wide then tight.


  • Set your goal early—attack or defend?
  • If defending, work your competitor to the un-favored side.
  • Sit on their wind when they are sailing the direction you do not want them to go.
  • Loose cover (not on their wind) when they are sailing where you want.
  • Stay between wind and competitors.
  • Try to "herd" (baaaa!) your competitors all to one side.
  • If you are faster and decide to attack—play the shifts more aggressively.
  • If you are slower be conservative—stay near the middle and defend—consolidate.


  • Set up for the finish long in advance.
  • Try to select which end is favored on the downwind leg (closest end to leeward mark).
  • Never cross the line in the middle.
Enjoy your racing!

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