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The Racing Tack

by Ron Sherry - US 44
December 1998

Over the last few years, advancements in ice boat technology have radically changed the face of DN racing. For instance, the new bendy rigs have ushered in a new era of speed. However, they have also presented us with a new challenge in tacking…mast rotation problems. The following article details several techniques that have been developed by the masters of the sport in answer to this challenge, as well as some strategies for completing a smooth racing tack while maintaining speed.

The ultimate goal of a racing tack is to complete the maneuver as smoothly and safely as possible without losing speed. Before you tack, make sure there are no other boats in the area and that you have a smooth and snow free area in which to tack. To begin the tack, start turning the boat up toward the wind. Start the turn slowly with the main sheet all the way in. Keep the sail in tight and start to slide your body forward in the cockpit. When the sail tacks, lower your helmet to the cockpit floor in front of the seat back. To accomplish this, anchor your heels in the hiking rack and bend your knees to pull yourself forward. Having your helmet on the cockpit floor means you do not have to ease the sail as much to get your head under the boom and you can maintain greater speed through the turn. This trick also equalizes your weight over all three runners and gives you better steering, making for a smoother tack.

When the sail tacks, ease the sheet just enough to get your head under the boom. Continue to lay the boat off and push the boom forward and to leeward with your leeward hand. As you do this, ease the sheet and use your knees and your weather hand to steer. Usually the mast will rotate at just about the same time the boat goes up on a hike. Let the boat hike, slide your body back into position and ease the sheet slightly. The boat will then begin to come down from the hike. As it does, sheet the sail in hard. This will cause the boat to hike once more. Ease the sheet slightly and before the boat comes all the way down from the second hike, sheet it in hard again. This second hike will help you to accelerate back to top speed. Smoothly completing a tack using this technique will send you off toward the next mark with very little loss of speed.

If the mast does not rotate using these techniques, do not lay off and pump the sheet. Laying off assures you to lose distance to weather, as well as putting more pressure on the leech of the sail and less pressure on the front of the sail. This allows the front of the sail to luff and the luff curve ill keep the mast from rotating. If you try tacking the boat and the mast does not rotate, Jan Gougeon recommends that you head the boat up toward the wind and allow it to slow down a little. This Reduces the apparent wind pressure on the leach of the sail and will maximize distance to weather and minimize your losses. No matter which technique you use to rotate the mast, this first step is the most important.

After the boat slows down a little, lay the boat off slowly and push the boom forward and to leeward, while adjusting the sheet. There are many techniques for this maneuver, no one better than another; simply try each one and decide which works best for you. Chip Cartwright slides forward and uses his toes to rotate the mast. Mike O’Brien uses his shoulder. Some people kick the boom. I have had the most success by sliding my leeward foot back so I can press my knee against the weather side of the boom. I then use my leeward elbow against my leeward knee to leverage the boom over. The boom is connected to the sail, which is connected to the mast by the luff rope that is in the back of the mast. A mast that has not rotated has the luff grove to windward. By pushing the boom to leeward, it pulls the luff groove to leeward where it belongs.

The Europeans have developed a solid hound that is about four inches wide. The side stays are connected at the outside of this four-inch bar. When tension is placed on the weather shroud, the solid hound rotates the mast. Perhaps a Sarns’ triangle and U-strap put on backward with the bent wings toward the front would have the same effect.

Once you understand the dynamics of this issue, it is easy to come up with a solution that works for you. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact me at Composite Concepts. The phone number is 586-790-5557, the fax number is 586-792-3374, and the email address is


Good stuff -- as I read it, I felt as if I were actually in the boat trying to tack; and I learned that those second hikes that sometimes seem to happen on their own are actually a good thing. (As in, I meant to do that!) No more easing the sheet too much, laying off too much, sitting up too far and pumping the sheet at the tack to weather... here's hoping!

Jori Lenon
US DN5397