WHEN TO FOOT AND WHEN TO POINT

by

Bruce Goldsmith

Reprinted from Rebel Rabble December 1980

Maybe you have wondered what happened to the boat that was right next to
you for most of the way up the windward leg, but all of a sudden was at the mark 
way ahead of you.  You know you did not do anything drastically wrong-but what 
did he do that was so drastically right?  Just how did he getaway?

     Your "boat speed" was good, you hung in there for most of the weather leg, 
only to be on the outside of 8 boats that "Just squeezed around the mark" ahead 
of you, or you were on the inside of 8 boats that "powered over" you as you tried
to squeeze around the mark.  You simply ended up in the wrong place!  What really 
happened was that your judgement of when to foot and when to point has not been 
cultivated.

     To change direction when sailing to windward, you can tack of foot or point.
You have to continuously choose where you would like to be relative to other boats 
within these limitations.  This article will explore when to foot and when to point.  
Footing is steering below a normal windward angle to gain more forward speed at the 
expense of windward pointing.  Pointing is steering closer to the wind than a normal
windward angle to gain windward distance at the expense of speed.  Either can fine 
tune our position without such a drastic measure as tacking.  The difference in the 
effective sailing angle between footing and pointing might be up to 25 degrees, where 
as tacking varies between 70  and 100 degrees.

The basic rule is to foot to the headers and point to the lifts.  In this way you 
end up on the upwind side of the next shift relative to boats around you.  When we 
consider footing and pointing, we always have six different ways to go instead of 
just two.  The top sailor is constantly juggling the six possibilities of: sailing 
either tack, footing. pointing, or normal.  He picks spots that can be reached by one
or a combination of the above that will improve or protect his position.  Usually 
footing or pointing is a subtle way of positioning yourself on a few boats around you.  
For example, assume you are 20 yards astern of a pack but in clear air.  Footing puts 
you in bad air, sailing normal gains nothing.  Tacking gains big if wind lifts later, 
but loses big if wind heads.  Pointing avoids bad air, gains if wind lifts later, 
loses slightly if wind heads, but allows a tack that gives clear air ahead and to 
leeward of the pack rather than just to leeward.  Now we again have the option of 
pointing up or footing, where as any other choice but pointing would have given us 
no choice.

     Sometimes footing or pointing can cause more than subtle positioning.  
The most extreme usually occurs right after the start or near the weather mark.  
After the start, you generally cannot tack because of starboard boats, so close 
attention must be paid to keeping your air clear by footing or pointing.  If boats 
to weather are rolling over you, you should foot only as much as you need to keep 
your sells ahead of their wind shadow.  If boats to leeward are pinching you off, 
you must point enough to stay to windward of their backwind.  When both problems 
exist, you either started late or are just plain slow.  Normally, however, it is 
a time to be very aware of footing or pointing.  If successful you are in the first 
row among the leaders, if not you are automatically in bad air and back in the pack 
looking for a place to tack.

     Near the weather marks it can become very critical to foot or point.  For 
instance, you may be just short of the starboard layline on starboard tack.  Pointing 
gets you around the mark ahead of a wall of starboard layline boats.  If you don't 
start pointing soon enough, a tack loses to the whole wall.  When you have overstood 
slightly, you must foot or boats will tack to leeward and ahead and round the mark 
inside of you.  Take advantage of your option to foot to position yourself so that 
someone tacking below you can't lay the mark and someone who takes your stern overstands.

     In addition to using footing and pointing for positioning, there are classic times 
that call for one or the other regardless of position.  In general you foot to reduce 
leeway or side slippage, and gain steering control.  Examples are: sloppy water, before 
port-starboard crossings, before and after tacking.  You point to take advantage of the 
potential close winded conditions.  Examples are: smooth water, steady wind, after 
footing for control, and when over powered, especially on smooth water and with light crew.

     At every post-race rap session the subjects of boat speed and going the wrong way 
are bantered about vigorously.  Sometimes someone gets credit for a smart move or super
boat handling.  Seldom does a discussion occur about our subject.  I'm suggesting that 
we should all pay more attention to when to foot and when to point.

SAIL TRIMThird tactics article by Bruce Goldsmith