Reaching and racing: Is the pendulum swinging back?

Published on January 14th, 2014

Ken Legler, longtime college coach at Tufts University, and well known event PRO, shares his observations on race course trends…

I see some movement back toward reaching legs for certain one design type racing in 2014. College racing is seeing some reaching now and not just the short team racing offsets. With many major college hosts now providing two fleets, variations of the trapezoid are becoming more common. Olympic classes also use trapezoids with loops added in.

However, I don’t see the Etchells class reaching; those hulls just don’t reach well but they do enjoy really close racing on the W/L courses. And skiffs cannot reach at all unless the wind is light. They don’t even want an offset leg. I guess it would be like riding a bike in a 30-knot cross wind but I don’t know, I’ve never sailed a skiff. I’ll take my chances on the bike.

Many of the most memorable races I sailed when young included reaches. A J/24 Worlds with an around Jamestown race, windsurfing races, and Laser regattas with crazy fast and long reaches immediately come to mind. The best were a number of 420 regattas at Yale in huge waves. You could head up and plane in between breakers of surf, then head off downwind with the breakers because, unlike skiffs, 420s are easy to tame even in a blow.

In marginal surfing conditions, training and technique separates the best from the rest in Optis, Lasers and Finns on the usual W/L courses. Unless those classes include a little variety, such as a screaming reach once in a while, the rest might just quit. Are championships so sacred that all courses must be standardized so that only the most well trained at W/L can ever win? If so, those classes will shrink.

Of course it is up to the class, but I’d like to see moderately powered sport boats, such as the genre of sprit rigged J Boats, try reaching in about 25% of their championships races. Race committees could learn to set a long reach with just the right angle for the conditions. Too tight on a windy day and you might lose the back end of the fleet. Too broad and short in light air and it becomes a parade. Moving a gate mark up and out is not good enough. That creates the old “Gold Cup” style courses with short meaningless reaches which is why most reach legs were eliminated in the first place.

Long modified triangles will provide the length for separation and strategy, and getting the angle right to gently challenge the mid-fleet group with boathandling could work well. But it will be a hard sell. We have a generation of sailors with limited reaching skills, many of whom claim there is no skill in reaching as they are just parades.

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