Jim Saltonstall looks at racing in Torbay

Friday July 21st 2000, Author: Jim Saltonstall M.B.E., Location: United Kingdom
Torbay is a large bay, facing east and situated on the English Riviera. It is one of the most popular venues for major yachting events in Great Britain. The venue is serviced by three clubs: Royal Torbay Yacht Club to the north; Paignton Sailing Club in the middle; and Brixham Yacht Club to the south.

All three clubs have - in my opinion, which I’m entitled to, as I live in a democratic country - an excellent reputation for hosting major events. They offer first class hospitality, a friendly atmosphere and a professional approach to the running of big events, both ashore and afloat. But book early to save disappointment, as it is a very popular venue.

Race Areas

The three race areas could operate easily at any one time: north, middle and south in the bay. However, if there is just the one major event going on at one of the clubs, then they normally plum for the middle of the bay, or the area nearest to the club hosting the event.

North Race Area

Wind Direction

330-040 degrees: 'Orrible direction for Torbay, with the wind coming over the top of a high land mass to the north it is all over the place. This is both a competitor’s and a race committee’s nightmare. Should you have to race in this wind direction, don’t forget to take the prayer book with you! The wind shifts over a wide arc - perhaps 80 degrees. Worse, the wind is very gusty as it comes over the top of the hill. Normally, the race committee will not race you here. They will take the fleet further to the south or east, away from the land for cleaner wind.

040-090 degrees: A clearer direction for the wind and also for the sea. The wind coming anywhere from the eastern sector will give you the roughest sea state, with big waves and swell having gathered momentum along the English Channel. It normally pays to go left up the beat for the wind, as there is more velocity on the left, as well as the header on starboard tack as you go in towards the shore, with lifts as you come out on port tack.

090-140 degrees: This is the clearest sector for the wind, whilst racing in the northern circle in the bay. The wind now tends to be more stable in both direction and velocity. So the tidal scenario will play more of a role in the decision making process, which we will address later.

140-270 degrees: We are once again land locked and back into the shifts mode, however, even this sector for the wind can be broken down into smaller sectors:

140-220 degrees: In this sector, the wind is not too bad in terms of direction and velocity, as you are quite some distance away from any high land mass. The shifts are over a narrow arc - 10 degrees, with not too much change in velocity. Know your numbers on the compass, highs and lows, as on starboard tack with the wind in this direction, there is no land for reference.

220-270 degrees: Use the shifts left-of-middle, where you will find more velocity in the wind. If you get too far over to the right too early, you will find less wind on that side of the course.

270 degrees: In the northern circle with the mean wind at 270 degrees, it once again pays to work the shifts left-of-middle, because of the divergence - a lighter wind band along the northern shore line.

270-330 degrees: With the wind now in the north-west sector coming over relatively high ground, it’s back into the shifty/gusty mode. Once again, know when you are high and low on either tack, and keep your eyes more out of the boat, looking for the gusts and shifts.

Middle Racing Area

Normally positioned due east of Paignton, this race track is the furthest from the land to the north and south.

Wind Direction

330-040 degrees: From this sector, the wind is still in the shifty mode. So use the shifts, but work the course left-of-middle, looking for the increase in wind in the convergent band to the left. In the top left hand corner of the course, you may find a lift on port tack, on or near the port layline, so be careful not to overstand the mark.

040-140 degrees: This is the clearest direction for the wind and the roughest for the sea state. We have raced in some big waves and swells when the wind is in the eastern sector - exciting stuff! The wind is at its most stable in both direction and strength, no great gains either side of the course, tide may be a factor now, which we will look at later.

140-180 degrees: Facing the wind direction, we now have the land mass on our starboard side. If you get close enough to it, there is less wind, so you will need to be working the beat middle and left, for more wind.

180-240 degrees: Shifts again with the wind in the south-to-south-west sector, with the land mass now predominantly on the starboard side. Once again we should be working the shifts middle-to-left for more wind, staying away from the divergence wind band on the right side of the course.

240-330 degrees: Shifts again, watching for high and low numbers on the compass. The shifts are more frequent and over a wider arc as you get closer to the shore. Also, keep in mind that as you get closer to the shore, if the windward mark is within half a mile of it, the first shift of wind as it blows from land to sea is to the right, so look for more lifts on port tack when you close with the land.

South Race Area (North of Brixham)

Wind Direction

330-020 degrees: Small shifts, coming off the northern shore, but small and not that frequent. Do not tack on them unless they are large enough to gain an advantage in the design of boat that you are in.

020-120 degrees: If the wind is a north-easterly, this is a rough part of the bay with the backwash of waves coming back at you from the south-west corner. This is the clear wind sector with the wind at its most stable in both direction and strength.

090-140 degrees: Once again, we now have the land mass on the starboard side of the course. That is the divergence side for the wind, there’s less wind on the right, so work the beat middle-to-left to stay in more pressure.

140-240 degrees: This is back to the shifts off the shore scenario, the numbers game on the compass, heads out of the boat looking for the shifts and gusts. We need to know which is the lifting tack out of the starting area, and the same thing at the beginning of subsequent beats. Don't forget that as you approach the windward mark area, there may well be more lifts on port tack if the windward mark is within half a mile of the shore.

240-270 degrees: We are still in a shifty sector for the wind. However, the land mass is not only ahead of us to the west, it is also to the left and south of us, creating a convergence area of wind. We should be working the shifts on the left side of the course (looking upwind) in more pressure. And looking for the header as you go in on starboard tack towards the shore, with lifts on port as you come out.

270-330 degrees: A similar scenario to the above. Shifts, with more pressure on the left side of the course upwind. There should be lifts on port tack over on the port layline for the windward mark.

Sea Breeze

The signs for a sea breeze in Torbay are little or no gradient wind, clear blue sky in the early morning, with a light, western sector wind. As the land heats up, and the cumulus clouds develop, the sea breeze normally comes in from 160 degrees (ish). Then backs slightly as it fills in. It then follows the sun in the afternoon, ending up at around 240 degrees (ish) in the evening. In the afternoon, protect the starboard side of the course!


The main flood stream flows from south to north across the face of Torbay, and the ebb from north to south. In the bay, the flood tide may have a clockwise rotation, with a back eddy anticlockwise along the northern shore. During the ebb, there maybe an anticlockwise rotation around the bay, with a clockwise back eddy along the southern shore of the bay. All this being more so during spring tides, as there is not much movement during neaps.

Other Information Sources

Admiralty Charts

26 (bay and harbour detail)
1613 (general coastal chart)

Tidal Information

Yachtsman’s Tidal Atlas: Western Approaches and Channel West, published by Reeve-Fowkes
Admiralty Tidal Stream Atlas Number NP250 (English Channel, no detail)

Tourist Office

Torquay, phone: 01803 297 428

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