James Stevens considers a problem sent in by a Yachting Monthly reader who wants to know how to avoid a fleet of racing dinghies?

Alan is returning to his mooring up a tidal river after a day sail in his 9m yacht Starburst. He has one crew member, Jack, who has sailed with him for years. Alan is an experienced sailor, first racing dinghies before buying Starburst about 10 years ago.

Starburst is in the channel with the wind, about 13 knots, directly aft and the main out on starboard tack. The jib is goose-winged, held out by the pole.

The height of tide is 4m and has started ebbing. Starburst draws 1.5m.The channel is marked with lateral buoys which are laid in a charted depth of 2m. Outside these the depth gradually decreases to drying heights about a cable outside the channel.

The local sailing club, to which Alan belongs, is running a dinghy national championship. On its way up the river, Starburst is confronted with a fleet of highly competitive dinghy sailors. The leaders are on port tack with some of the boats behind on starboard trying to sail into clear air.

Jack thinks Alan should simply sail through the middle of them, claiming that he is constrained by his draught. He believes that if dinghies are racing in the channel, they can expect to have to avoid yachts.

Alan is concerned that the leaders will tack soon on to starboard making Starburst the windward vessel. What would you do?

A fleet of racing boats bearing down on you can be a daunting sight. What is the right thing to do?

How can yachts avoid a fleet of dinghies?

The dinghy sailors will realise that it is going to be very difficult for a yacht to completely comply with the sailing rules in a confined channel. On the other hand it would be courteous for Alan to impede them as little as possible. The competitors have enough to contend with without avoiding yachts ploughing through the fleet.

Alan will know from racing dinghies that the best sailors will stay in the main channel where the favourable tidal stream is strongest.

His best plan is therefore to steer to starboard, gybe the jib or roll it up, and sail into the shallow water outside the starboard hand buoys. The height of tide will allow Alan to sail over drying heights keeping a close eye on the echo sounder and chart plotter.

It is much easier to gybe the jib or roll it away if the pole has an after guy preventing it from swinging forward to the forestay.

Starburst will probably have to gybe on to port, but this should cause less disruption outside the channel, and most of the fleet will have sailed past. Both the dinghies and the yacht have to make allowances.

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