In the middle of the Glenmore Reservoir, you'll see a pontoon boat. This is where we start and finish our races.
Sailboat races always start and race upwind (into the wind) first.
The pontoon boat is at anchor, so it always points into the wind. The starting line is set perpendicular to the wind on the left side of the pontoon boat, between the pontoon boat and a floating mark in the water a couple hundred feet away.
The volunteers on the pontoon boat use flags and sounds to let sailors know when races will begin. When you are on shore, you may hear the sound signals we use to count down to the start of a race.
As boats are preparing for their start, they choose a position downwind of the starting line based on their strategy for the upcoming race. Sailors determine their race strategy on a number things like where they see the stronger wind, where they think the next wind will come from, the angle of the starting line relative to the wind and the position of other boats. Races are won and lost at the start.
First Upwind Leg
After the start, it often looks like boats scatter and heard in all different directions. Because sailboats don't sail straight into the wind, the zig-zag course they sail upwind allows boats to get to the upwind mark. Decisions when to tack ("tacking" is turning the boat when zig-zagging upwind) are made based on some of the same things sailors were considering before the start (wind shifts, other boats are blocking their progress, etc).
Right of Way
The basic rules of the road when sailing are easy. There are two of them.
Boats on Starboard and those which are Leeward have the right of way.
* these are boats with the wind coming over the right side of the boat / who have their main sail on the left side of the boat
* these are boats which are downwind of other boats
The Windward Mark
After the start this is the next place every boat has to go. So, it can get a bit busy here at times. Boats will round the windward mark going counter-clockwise / leaving the mark on the left side of their boat. Many fine point / technical rules about rights of way at this mark.
With the windward mark safely behind them, boats seek the freshest winds for the downwind ride. But... there's a bit of a twist. The boats in the lead now have the boats behind them "sitting on top of them" / blocking their wind. It isn't as nasty as it might sound... it's just part of the game. Boats in front have to consider this when strategizing their downwind run and the boats behind are looking to catch up some by slowing down the boats in front.
The Leeward Mark
With all boats headed towards the leeward mark before heading to the finish, this is another point of some congestion on the water. As the race has been going on for a while at this point, things are a bit more spread out and boats are likely to have a bit more room to make their rounding strategically before heading upwind to the finish.
Congrats, you stayed with us this far. The Finish Line is to the right side of the pontoon boat and it's usually only about 80 feet long. At the finish, there can be some close finishes where boats are less than a boat length apart after a half hour of racing!
That's close !!