Faster Penalty Turns
Faster Penalty Turns
Completing your penalty turns quickly and efficiently allows you to get back to racing that much sooner, perhaps even salvaging your position in the fleet. "Technique" from our November/December 2010 issue.
Spins at the windward mark
If you foul somebody at the weather mark, the rules say that you need to get clear of the other boats before you do way to do this is to complete your mark rounding and then reach away from the fleet. If there’s an offset mark, reach past the offset and do your penalty out beyond it. If the offset is a long way from the weather mark, you might continue to sail upwind, instead of bearing off for the offset, then do your circles above the offset leg. That’s a tough one though; by the time you sail far enough up to be able to turn and circle a couple of times, it’s probably quicker to go beyond the offset mark, which is why I try to never try to do circles between the weather mark and the offset mark. Make sure you’re far enough from the windward mark (or offset mark) so you can start your circles with a jibe without then turning up into boats bearing away at the offset mark.
Turns on the run
Why start downwind penalties with a jibe? Think about jibing around a leeward mark, heading up and immediately tacking. The first part of the penalty turn is just like that. This is pretty easy on a dinghy, but once you add a spinnaker to the equation or a much larger boat, with a lot of crewmembers, it becomes more an issue of communication, and of getting the jib up and the kite down. Here’s where practicing really pays. Raise the jib and, if you have a symmetrical spinnaker, take the pole down. Sail your normal course to the mark until your team is ready to do the turns. If you have a big staysail, you may not have to put the jib up, and you can trim the staysail for the turns as you would the jib. The quickest and cleanest way to deal with the spinnaker is to jibe onto the spinnaker, often known as a “Mexican” or “Kiwi” takedown. That way, you jibe, and the spinnaker falls onto the boat. That also leaves the chute on the correct side for hoisting once the turns are completed.
Decide whether the spinnaker needs to be put below deck or if it can be held on deck. Once the spinnaker is down, manage your circles, in terms of sail trim and boathandling, just as with an upwind penalty. You don’t need to accelerate between downwind circles for quite as long. The goal is to complete the turns and get your spinnaker up and drawing as quickly as possible.
Pro Tip: In the midst of the possible chaos caused first by the reason for having to do penalty turns and then having to actually execute the turns, it’s easy to lose track of just how many turns you have made. Assuming you have at least one other person on the boat with you, assign someone other than the skipper to count tacks and jibes during the penalty turns. Otherwise, you might find yourself in the protest room for not having completely fulfilled the penalty or, equally disastrous, giving up valuable distance by doing more turns than necessary.