What are upwind tactics? Up wind tactics involve positioning yourself compared to other boats or groups of boats to take advantage of wind shifts or current. There are many levels to upwind tactics.
The first and most important level of upwind tactics is the wind shifts. I think of sailing upwind like climbing a ladder. The steps or rungs of the ladder hang perpendicular to the wind direction. The boats on the same rung are the same distance upwind. This ladder rotates as the wind direction changes. The boats closer to the new wind direction are on a higher rung now and the boats furthest from the new wind direction are on a lower rung. Example, when two boats are sailing side by side on starboard tack and they see a 10 degree left shift. The boat to weather is now behind by a ladder rung.
There are a number of tactical principles to keep in mind as you sail upwind.
1. Keep clean air- You control your own race. Look ahead and plan your tacks, you need to look ahead and position yourself clear of crowds.
2. Cross when you can- This is even more true in the extremely shifty stuff. Take the opportunity to consolidate your gains.
3. Don’t let others cross you- when the wind shifts, don’t let the boats who made gains on you consolidate. Look upwind and find the next shift.
4. Avoid the laylines- Once you have reached the laylines your options are gone. Pick which side of the course is favored and try to be middle to that side. Always be aware of where the mark is. There is one exception to this rule and that is when you are huge fleets. In big fleet racing it is best to work the edge of the favored side.
5. Leading, never ducking- In more cases than not it is best to lead the big crowds. Tacking ahead and to leeward.