Jim Saltonstall looks at the race winning moves in Falmouth

Thursday July 20th 2000, Author: Jim Saltonstall M.B.E., Location: United Kingdom
Falmouth offers a number of fantastic race areas both in and out of the harbour, depending on the event requirements and - that all important factor - the weather!

Many major yachting and dinghy events have been hosted by Falmouth, all in a very professional manner, by either the Restronquet Sailing Club or the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club. Excellent food, accommodation and camping facilities are in abundance in the area. Like all popular venues - book early to avoid disappointment.

Race Areas

There are two possible race areas in the harbour - North (to the east of Mylor) and South (to the east of Flushing). Outside the harbour, the main race area is to the west of the busy harbour entrance.

Inside the Harbour - North Race Area

Popular with dinghy fleets, the race area due east of Mylor is a super patch of water - large enough to set a championship course.

Wind Direction

340-020 degrees: The northern sector - this is the clearest wind direction in the upper harbour area. But wind shifts are still very significant, up to 15-20 degrees in the middle/upper wind range, and even more in light winds. Being in sync with the wind shifts as you come away from the starting area or leeward mark is vital. Make sure you know your numbers on the compass and your tacking angles in relation to the shore. If the port layline for the windward mark is close to the western shore, then the port side of the course will be favoured for breeze. There will be more pressure due to the wind convergence along the shoreline. It’s possible that you may also get headed as you go towards the shore on starboard tack, and lifted as you come out on port tack. If the race committee set the course further to the east, then left of middle will pay for the wind. There is less pressure on the starboard side of the course due to the wind divergence along the shoreline.

045-120 degrees: Very shifty with the wind blowing over relatively high land. Eyes out of the boat. Know your high and low numbers on the compass and tacking angles relative to the shore.

130-180 degrees: Go left for the wind - there is more pressure near the eastern shoreline. It’s likely that you will be headed as you get closer to the shore on starboard tack, and lifted on port.

180-200 degrees: This direction provides a relatively clear wind blowing up the harbour, but it will still be shifty. Go left for the breeze as there will be more velocity on the port side of the course due to the wind convergence along the eastern shore.

225-315 degrees: The westerly direction for the breeze is very tricky in this race area, it becomes very shifty as it blows over the high ground to the west. Eyes out of the boat to use both the shifts and the gusts.

300-340 degrees: The north-westerly wind tends to be gusty. As you approach the western shore on starboard tack, you tend to get more headers, with lifts on port tack as you sail towards the windward mark, almost parallel to the shoreline.

Inside the Harbour - South Race Area

To the east of Flushing and the north-west of St Mawes. This race area is more open to the northerly and south-westerly winds.

Wind Direction

340-030 degrees: It normally pays on the windward leg to work the port side of the course, getting the extra wind velocity provided by the convergence. There is the possibility of a header as you go in on starboard tack and lifts back out on port. Check this out pre-start, as it depends on exactly where the race committee puts the course in relation to the land-mass on the left side (looking upwind).

030-130 degrees: 'Orrible, due to the wind coming over relatively high ground to the east, so eyes out of the boat using shifts and gusts.

130-210 degrees: Head for the left upwind, to get into the wind convergence along the south-eastern shoreline. There will be more wind on the port side of the track.

210-270 degrees: Upwind, go left of middle for the wind, as on the starboard side of the course, near the north-western shoreline, there tends to be less velocity due to the wind divergence.

270-340 degrees: 'Orrible again, as the wind comes across the higher ground to the north west. Usual rules apply: eyes out of the ship looking for the shifts and gusts.


The tide in the harbour is quite strong - especially during spring tides - and follows the deep water channels which are clearly marked on the chart. The tide is significantly stronger in the deep water channel. Great gains and losses are made by knowing exactly where the channel is and what the tide is doing. The port and starboard navigational marks will help you to find the location of the channels. Tidal data, along with depth of water, will play a major role in your race strategy thinking. It could even cancel the favoured side for the wind - especially in the lighter breezes.

Outside the Harbour

Lying to the west of the harbour entrance, this race area is a perfect stretch of water for events. It can, however, get a little crowded, with anchored ships awaiting orders. Normally, they leave plenty of room for yachting as the Harbour Master is very friendly with the Falmouth race officers!

Wind Direction

330-100 degrees (through clockwise): Racing in the middle of Falmouth Bay with the wind anywhere in this sector, it normally pays to go left up the beat. The reason is the wind convergence along the shore, and the header going in on starboard tack and the lift coming back out on port.

100-200 degrees: This is the clearest wind direction in Falmouth Bay, when the gradient wind is at its most stable in both direction and velocity. Tide now plays more of a role in the decision making process, because there is no real advantage to the left or right with this breeze. The exception is a sea-breeze day, when the land can become hot enough to pull the wind around to the south/south-west as the day gets older.

180-240 degrees: For the wind, left-of-middle normally pays, as there is a wind divergence zone along the western shoreline. There is, therefore, less wind on the starboard side of the course.

240-330 degrees: This is a shifty direction - use the shifts to the left of the middle, as you do not want to be on the starboard side of the course near the northern shoreline. There is less wind near the shore.


The tide flows anti-clockwise around the bay during the ebb tide and clockwise with the flood. It is stronger to seaward. Check the depths on the chart, and be able to identify where you are on the water in relation to the deeper/shallower water. Tidal direction and strength can alter your race strategy plans in relation to the favoured side of the course for the wind. Therefore, make sure you do your tidal homework properly (see below), especially with spring tides and light winds.

Sea Breeze

A clear blue sky and light north-westerly wind in the early morning are the signs for a good sea breeze in Falmouth. The sea breeze usually begins just before midday, from approximately 170 degrees, and backs slightly in its direction as it develops and fills. Thereafter, it tends to follow the sun as the day gets older - veering to the west.

Other Information Sources

Admiralty Charts

32 (Detail Inside the Harbour)

Admiralty Small Craft Charts


Tidal Information

Tidal Stream Atlas of the South Cornwall Coast by Mike Fennessy (may be difficult to find)
Yachtsman’s Tidal Atlas: Western Approaches and Channel West, published by Reeve-Fowkes
Admiralty Tidal Stream Atlas Number 250 (English Channel, no detail of Falmouth area)

Tourist Office

Falmouth, phone: 01326 312 300

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