Home Topics Rules & Tactics Lee-Bow or Duck? Plus 5 Upwind Sailing Tactics from World Champion Nick...

Lee-Bow or Duck? Plus 5 Upwind Sailing Tactics from World Champion Nick Craig


This post on upwind sailing tactics is an excerpt from Tactics To Win by Nick Craig. Nick is the ‘Champion of Champions’, having won the Endeavour Trophy six times. He has also won 35 National Championships, 5 European Championships and 12 World Championships in a variety of classes. He was named YJA Yachtsman of the Year in 2011 and the Yachts & Yachting Amateur Sailor of the Year in 2013.

The Lee-Bow Manouvere

When to use the lee-bow tack?

The lee-bow tack can be a very powerful tool when things get close. The real power of the move is forcing your opponent to tack onto the unfavoured tack. Being in phase with the shifts and pressure is vital for that so you know when it is right to go for a lee-bow tack and when it is better to take a duck.

lee-bow sailing tactics

Diagram: As you approach an opponent what do you do?

leebow upwind sailing tactics

Diagram: If you are expecting a lift, stay on port (the favoured tack), ducking if necessary

lee bow tack or duck

Diagram: But if you are expecting a header, you should lee-bow on starboard (the favoured tack) and hopefully force your opponent off on port (the unfavoured tack)


How Close Should You Lee-Bow?

How close you can legally tack to another boat’s lee-bow varies greatly by boat (e.g. an Enterprise tacks very quickly so you can tuck in close to an opponent). However, a lee-bow tack is very hard to pull off in a B14 which has wings, moves fast through the water and is slow to tack. Close-quarter 2-boat tuning is a great way to learn where the ‘point of death’ is with a lee-bow (i.e. the place where you can no longer live with being lee-bowed and you quickly slow up or slip sideways).

The lee-bow position varies significantly by class. The lee-bow position is when you kill the lane for the windward boat so they either slip to leeward into your wind shadow completely or can only stay to windward of you through excessive pinching, resulting in a loss of speed.

How Does The Lee-Bow Effect Work?

The lee-bow effect works via the wind exiting your sails at a tighter angle than they enter your sails as your sails work as an aerofoil. This angle change varies by boat so the effectiveness of a lee-bow tack varies by boat. Also, some boats can handle a lee-bow situation better than others depending on how well the rigs eat dirt and how well the foils work. So, for example: a Merlin Rocket is very hard to lee-bow; an OK relatively easy.



4 bonus upwind tactics for when you’re in Attack Mode

Note: Tactics can be grouped into 3 categories. Attacking, consolidating, and defensive. You adopt an attacking tactical mindset if you need to gain places. Whereas, you adopt a defensive mindset when you want to preserve your lead over your competitor(s). Click here to read about defensive tactics.

  1. If you are sailing in a pack or group of boats, you should aim to find shifts or pressure that move you into anti-phase with the pack around you so you are sailing in clearer pressure. Other boats’ sails generate a lot of dirty wind and wind likes to bend past obstacles. So you will advance even if the shifts / pressure you take are average because you will have clearer air than the other boats. On the sea, splitting will mean you sail in more consistent waves which are easier to steer in an effective rhythm.

dinghy tactics to win

Diagram: Try to get in a different phase to the boats around you


  1. If it is late in the race and you have a few boats to potentially attack with no risk of being overtaken, you should throw in lots of tacks or gybes in the hope of forcing an error from your opposition. Good boat handling helps. If you are very close to your opponent, but they are covering well, you can try a dummy tack to split with them whilst on a good windshift / pressure. You should aim simultaneously to attack and defend by loose covering the boats behind whilst splitting with those in front, ideally on a decent shift or pressure.
  2. You should seek to leverage starboard advantage. To overtake someone on port you need to be a boat length clear. To catch another boat up on starboard, you only need to be within a boat length. So planning your final approach on starboard can be almost a 2-boat-length gain in tactical advantage. In close situations, or late in a leg, you should aim to get on the right-hand side of your opponent so that you end up with the starboard tack advantage. As ever, picking a good shift or decent pressure is a more effective way to overtake than this.
  3. When attacking, you can ‘put the hammer down’ in moderate or windy weather to find an extra burst of speed just when it is needed (e.g. a marginal lee-bow), trying to roll someone to force them to tack. You should hike and work the sails extra hard for perhaps a 10 second burst. This work rate will be harder than your opposition unless they are doing the same thing at the same time, which is rare. Of course, you should use this tool judiciously as you don’t want to end up drained for the rest of the race.


For more tactical top tips Tactics to Win can be bought from Amazon here.

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